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Saanich seeks more input on dogs in parks

An online survey will be open starting Wednesday and an open house will be held Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. at the Cedar Hill Golf Course Clubhouse
Off-leash dogs greet each other at Playfair Park in Saanich. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich is launching a second round of public engagement aimed at developing a pet policy for its parks, where off-leash dogs continue to be a hot topic.

“There are ongoing issues with respect to dogs in parks and on beaches that are regularly dealt with,” said Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock. “Certainly off-leash dog parks are a very popular topic.”

An online survey will be open starting Wednesday, Feb. 1, until Feb. 22, and an open house will be held Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. at the Cedar Hill Golf Course Clubhouse, 1400 Derby Road.

In last year’s survey, conducted in May and June, 200 people said there are too many dog restrictions and 134 said there are not enough. There were 142 responses about safety that included mention of discomfort with off-leash dogs.

One person said their concern with off-leash dogs has grown as they have aged and their sense of balance has diminished, and they are leery about morning walks at Island View, Cordova Bay and Cadboro beaches.

“I realize many of the dogs are simply excited and well-meaning, but it is a shame that I can no longer visit these beautiful beaches due to the constant presence of off-leash dogs,” the respondent said.

Another said Saanich parks are a great place for dogs and their owners to “socialize in a safe environment.”

“The majority of pet owners are respectful and always keep their pets under control,” they said.

Also commenting was a resident who said that Cuthbert Holmes Park is a good place for people and pets, but wildlife like ground-nesting birds have to be protected.

“There needs to be places for dogs to be off-leash but natural areas with sensitive species need to be protected,” they said.

A regular user of Playfair Park said meeting other dog owners in the park “is the most important part of my day and my dog’s day.”

Quadra/Cedar Hill Community Association president Susan Haddon said the two distinct points of view expressed in the first round of engagement — those concerned about off-leash dogs and those who support off-leash sites — will make it complicated for Saanich to come to a solution that “everybody’s going to be comfortable with.”

Chris Poirier-Skelton, president of the Gordon Head Residents’ Association, said information about the engagement process has been posted on the group’s website, but there hasn’t been a lot of contact from people commenting either way on what the policy should be.

“Usually if the people who live here are up in arms about something, they let us know about it,” she said. “But we’re not getting that for this particular issue.”

She said one of the pop-up dog parks set up by the municipality over the past two summers was on Blair Avenue in Gordon Head and got a lot of use. “People were all for it — they thought that was a great thing.”

Murdock said the pop-up dog parks were well-received, and people have expressed an interest in creating more permanent places where dogs can be off-leash.

The pet strategy should also address concerns related to protecting ecosystems, preventing wildlife disturbance, “and making sure that we’re being sensitive to the potential impacts of where those dogs can exercise,” Murdock said.

In the first round of engagement last year, over 1,800 survey responses were received and more than 50 people took part in virtual community consultations.

Paper copies of the survey will be available by emailing or calling 250-475-5522.

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