Source: CBC (Extract)
Posted: November 07, 2023

After creating, approving, and then amending a new bylaw governing dogs in parks, councillors in Saanich, B.C., have finally adopted new rules.

The contentious changes involve stricter rules for off-leash dogs — previously allowed in nearly all of the district municipality’s parks, at all hours.

The new rules limit off-leash dogs to certain parks and designated areas, often for just a few hours each morning. However, dozens of parks still allow off-leash dogs around the clock.

“I’m hopeful that what’s in place largely sets conditions where everyone can enjoy the park,” said Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock.

“Perhaps differently than they did before, but they’ll still be able to to use our parks and enjoy them.”

In 2021, Saanich, which borders Victoria, decided to create a new animal bylaw in an attempt to strike more of a balance between park users with and without pets, and wildlife. Saanich is bigger than Victoria, both in population and square kilometres, and has 172 parks — 170 of which previously allowed off-leash dogs.

The bylaw that passed in June led to so much protest from dog owners that council revisited the updated animal bylaw and passed a tweaked version Monday night.

The new rules have off-leash areas in 99 parks, though nearly half — 43 — are only open to off-leash dogs between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. That’s compared to the earlier version of the updated bylaw, originally approved in June, which had just 57 parks with off-leash areas.

There is also a stricter definition on what constitutes a leash, effectively banning retractable leashes.

The updated bylaw passed six votes to two.

About 20 dog owners and supporters were at Monday’s council meeting, hoping they’d see another change to the rules at the last minute.

Eulala Mills is president of a group called CRD DOGG Society (Capital Regional District Dog Owners and Friends for Good Governance Society), which was formed this summer to push back against the changes.

She said there was one positive amendment — a return of several beaches to off-leash status — but that many of the off-leash parks are not big enough, or accessible enough, to be useful to dogs and their owners.

Mills said she understands that not all parks need to be open to off-leash dogs, but she and members of her group think council got the balance wrong.

“What we asked for was something that recognized the needs of people who wanted to take their dogs off leash,” Mills said.

“We’ve never asked for all of it. We’ve never said it didn’t need to change. And that balance didn’t need to be added for people who wanted something other than off-leash dogs.”

Murdock said he regrets the divisiveness the changes have caused, but said there was extensive public consultation — both formally, and through resident feedback at council meetings and in written messages.

He said staff will come up with a plan to monitor the rollout, and adjustments could come if parts of the new bylaw aren’t working.

Why change the bylaw in the first place?

According to a report in 2021, Saanich staff were seeing increasing conflict between park users, pet owners, and the environment, especially as more people used parks during the pandemic.

A landscape architecture firm, which consults on projects including park plans, was hired to develop a new strategy.

The idea was to create space for dog owners and space for those who may be afraid of dogs, but also to protect sensitive environments in parks, from both overuse and dog waste.

When will the rules come into effect?

The new bylaw is now in place, but will not be enforced immediately.

According to the District of Saanich, there will be an education campaign first to make sure all park users are aware of the new bylaws.

The district has not yet determined exactly when enforcement will begin.

The fines for having an unleashed dog in a prohibited area, and for being with a dog without a leash and collar, are each $150.