Saanich approves strategy restricting areas for off-leash dogs

Saanich approves strategy restricting areas for off-leash dogs

After weeks of opposition and protests from dog owners, the District of Saanich will move forward with its “People, Pets and Parks” strategy, reducing areas for off-leashed dogs.

Saanich council members unanimously voted to implement the strategy which will take effect over the next five years, reducing the number of areas where dog owners will be allowed to have their pets off-leash.

The move has been met with protests and an online petition.

Currently, bylaws allow for dogs to be off-leash at all parks — if they’re under control.

“It’s just heartbreaking for us really,” said Jackie Gay, a dog owner.

Gay is one of many dog owners who have vocally opposed the strategy. She is an amputee and her husband uses a wheelchair.

“When I walk my dog, I walk on crutches in PKOLS (Mount Doug) park. I take him there every day. The thought of walking him in and out of a gated area … it just takes away all the joy that we have,” said the owner.

The proposed strategy would allow dogs to be off-leash at just 57 parks which is just a third of all the parks in the district. 12 of those parks would be fenced-in.

The goal, according to the District, is to provide better spaces for people with and without dogs. But residents like Gay say they’re concerned over the accessibility.

The mayor adds that accessibility will be top of mind as they make the transition.

“I know this has been really challenging for a lot of folks and that this will have impacts for people who have used our parks for off-leashed exercise for our dogs,” said Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock.

Along with the parks is a proposed 1.5-kilometre trail loop within PKOLS that would be leash-optional. Dogs would still be welcomed throughout the rest of the park so long as they’re leashed according to Murdock.

It was environmental impacts at parks like PKOLS that were a major factor in the vote to approve the strategy.

“We also heard from the W̱SÁNEĆ leadership council that PKOLS is an important location for the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples and they support the strategy that would further degradation of that place,” said Murdock.

Many dog owners have challenged those claims.

“The only damage that I’ve ever seen has been by people leaving picnic stuff after long weekends that doesn’t get cleared up properly and I personally go and clear things up like that myself,” said Gay.

Saanich staff will next begin work on changing the bylaw and educating people on the new rules. An amended bylaw is not expected until the fall.

Oli HerreraOli Herrera

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