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LETTER: Off-leash dogs can be detrimental to park experience

Re: the letter ‘Dog owners shouldn’t be the scapegoat for problems in parks’ in the Jan. 6 Saanich News

Re: the letter ‘Dog owners shouldn’t be the scapegoat for problems in parks’ in the Jan. 6 Saanich News

Mr. Hawkes states that “Off-leash access to public parks and beaches is a privilege, not a right. Dog owners earn that privilege by being responsible and respecting the rights of other park users and the environment.” Mr. Hawkes may be a responsible dog owner. Unfortunately, many others are not, which has led to conflict amongst dog owners, between dog owners and non-dog owners, and with other users of our parks and beaches, as well as damage to native vegetation and disturbance of wildlife.

Mr. Hawkes claims that dog owners have lost access to Cadboro Bay and other beaches, yet the rules for Cadboro Bay presently allow dogs, if they are on leash. In fact, dog owners are now permitted greater access to Cadboro Bay beach than previously, following the recent removal of a 42-year-old summer prohibition. On-leash compliance is low and migratory birds are regularly chased by off-leash dogs.

We are longtime dog owners who enjoy walks with our dog. We believe that this privilege should not be at the expense of other park users’ enjoyment, or the health of the environment, or the well-being of wildlife.

As ecologists, and local Pulling Together volunteers, we are aware that off-leash, off-trail, dogs are damaging local ecosystems. The southern forests of PKOLS (Mount Douglas Park) have been restored with tens of thousands of volunteer hours. A significant portion of this restored area, where dogs have been allowed to run freely, has been severely degraded. The endangered Garry oak ecosystems in Knockan Hill Park are being damaged where people throw balls and sticks for their dogs. Many dog owners do not pick up their dog’s excrement, resulting in negative impacts on the environment and on other park users, including volunteers.

Multiple jurisdictions in B.C. have on-leash as the default in parks. Historically, Saanich has not. However, as Mr. Hawkes points out, the municipality is taking another look, in the form of an in-depth inquiry into pets in parks. A statistically valid telephone survey has already confirmed Mr. Hawkes’ claim that one-third of Saanich households have dogs. However, the survey also determined that 40 per cent of respondents avoid parks which are frequented by off-leash dogs and that 50 per cent of respondents have had at least one bad experience with an off-leash dog. These figures are revealing, and should be of concern to Citizen Canine, which promotes responsible dog ownership and consideration for other park users.

Ted and Lora Lea