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Saanich council softens planned restrictions on where dogs can be off leash in parks

Under existing rules off-leash dogs are allowed in all Saanich parks.
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A dog walker and pedestrians in Rutledge Park in Saanich. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich council has reined in its plans to require dogs to be on leashes in parks and residents will get another chance to weigh in on proposed revisions to the district’s Animals Bylaw.

At its meeting Monday night, council asked staff to include within the draft of the Animals Bylaw revisions that include prohibiting dogs in playgrounds, allowing leash-optional activity between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. in all parks that are not zoned as conservation areas or natural park areas, maintaining all beaches outside of the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary as leash optional with existing seasonal restrictions, adding the Glendenning trail to the summit at PKOLS as a leash-optional area and removing the proposed off-leash trail fencing at PKOLS.

The revisions are a major shift from council, which at one point considered requiring all pets to be on-leash in Saanich parks unless they were within a designated leash-optional area.

Mayor Dean Murdock said the changes are meant to signal that Saanich council had heard the concerns of the community and while they do not expect to appease everyone, he hopes people will take the message that council tried to address as many of the concerns as they could and that councillors remains focused on limiting conflict in the district’s parks.

Saanich staff have indicated a new draft bylaw could be back in front of council Oct. 30, at which point the community can weigh in again.

Monday night’s twist in the tale came after council took a two-week break from debating controversial bylaw amendments to accommodate the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting and to allow councillors time to reflect on concerns raised by hundreds of Saanich residents and dog walkers over new rules for pets.

Council had been considering significantly restricting where dogs can be off-leash in parks. The updated Animals Bylaw they were considering would have required all pets to be on-leash in Saanich parks unless they are within a designated leash-optional area.

But that rule attracted protests from dog owners and professional dog walkers over the last several weeks.

Public hearings on the bylaw change have been packed with people wanting to weigh in.

The existing bylaw allows dogs to be off-leash under owner control in all parks.

The proposed new rules would have allowed 57 of Saanich’s 172 parks to have off-leash areas, and 12 of those would have fenced off-leash areas, including a 1.5-kilometre trail loop within Mount Douglas Park and a four-­hectare fenced area with trails in Cuthbert Holmes Park. Cordova Bay Beach would be off-leash year-round.

Councillors considered the changes as part of the district’s implementation of the ­People, Pets and Parks strategy, an attempt to balance the­ ­interests of park users, dog owners and commercial dog walkers. Changes were proposed in an effort to reduce environmental damage to parks and head off potential conflict as a growing population uses parks more often.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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