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Saanich council to sleep on decision about off-leash dogs in parks

Dogs can be off-leash if controlled by owner in all Saanich parks; rule change would limit off-leash dogs to certain areas.
June 22: Protesters at Saanich Municipal Hall who oppose restricting off-leash dogs in parks to certain designated places. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich council’s decision on what to do with the draft of its controversial “People, Pets and Parks” strategy will have to wait another day.

After more than four hours of public input on the draft report, council voted late Monday night to recess until Wednesday evening when it will receive a full staff presentation and deliberate on the next steps.

Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff said council had plenty to chew on after the marathon public input session, which was dominated by Saanich residents who either wanted the strategy scrapped altogether or changed to find some balance in the district’s parks.

“One of our neighbours pointed out that we should take some time to mull over the feedback,” he said, noting he had a mound of notes to consider. “I think returning to the issue with a bit of time to rest and to reflect, I think will result in a better decision.”

The strategy, in the works for two years, is billed as an attempt to balance the interests of park users, dog owners and commercial dog walkers.

The current bylaw allows dogs to be off-leash under owner control in all parks. The biggest change suggested in the strategy would be an update to the Animal Bylaw to require all pets to be on-leash in Saanich parks unless they are within a designated leash-optional area.

And it’s that major change that most residents took issue with Monday night.

Dozens of dog owners told council the leash law would create undue hardship including discriminating against those with accessibility issues, would hamper the mental and physical health of both animals and dog owners and simply wasn’t warranted as no problem has been identified.

Many told council the proposed law tackles a problem that just doesn’t exist.

The strategy was characterized by residents as a document that would create more problems than it would address, and certainly would not be worth the estimated $7 million it could cost to implement.

The draft has identified 57 of Saanich’s 172 parks that could have off-leash areas, and 12 of those would have fenced off-leash areas.

The strategy recommends a 1.5-kilometre trail loop within PKOLS (Mount Douglas Park) and a four-­hectare fenced area with trails in Cuthbert Holmes Park. It is also recommending that Cordova Bay Beach be off-leash year-round.

Residents seemed to be on side with some of the strategy’s recommendations like better waste management, increased park maintenance, better signage and increased education and communication.

Council will reconvene at 6 p.m. Wednesday to deliberate.

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