Dogs can continue to be off-leash at three Saanich parks

Council votes to further discuss gas-powered leaf blowers in September

Saanich dog owners and their off-leash pets will continue to be welcome in Mount Douglas Park, Cuthbert Holmes Park and Panama Flats after council defeated a motion to prohibit off-leash dogs in the three parks.

Mayor Fred Haynes had recommended requiring dogs to be on leash to protect environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife in the park, with the potential to review the impact of the restriction at the end of the year. The mayor’s report said Saanich officials have reported “particularly high levels” of human-dog and dog-dog conflict.

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But councillors defeated the motion unanimously at a council meeting Monday evening.

Instead, councillors Zac de Vries and Karen Harper plan to bring forward a report proposing the development of a district-wide strategy to balance the interests of dog owners and dog walkers with the protection of sensitive areas and wildlife.

“This is about developing a strategy that supports our very diverse park users. And it’s about recognizing the need for safe and engaging parks for our residents, but also the need for off-leash recreation for dogs. The idea is we can come together, and if we do this right, we can foster community,” de Vries said.

Council is expected to discuss the idea at a June 14 council meeting.

Haynes said he brought forward a notice of motion to ban off-leash dogs in the parks to give the public a chance to respond to the idea. After an overwhelming response opposing the idea, the mayor said, he introduced the report by saying it should be withdrawn or defeated.

“Because we’d heard from so many people that it was not the direction they wanted to go. Also, there should be a more full consultation with all stakeholders,” he said.

Councillors heard from people on both sides of the issue. Many dog owners spoke of the benefits of having places to walk where their dogs can get more exercise, because they’re not on leash, while others urged council to move forward with a restriction to protect sensitive areas.

Julian Anderson, a park steward in Cuthbert Holmes Park, told council that despite signs asking dog owners to keep their pets out of the river and prevent them from chasing wildlife, some people fail to keep their dogs under control. He said it’s not uncommon to see dogs in the river, which disturbs waterfowl.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the damage that can be done by careless dogs and other people,” he said. “It’s important to prioritize the protection of wildlife. They don’t have a lot of good quality habitat left in urban area and we need to protect what is left.”

Councillors expressed concerns that the motion came forward without sufficient time for the public to weigh in.

Coun. Colin Plant said he and many of his colleagues were uncomfortable moving forward, because the public felt the idea was sprung on them too quickly.

Plant said he read nearly 500 letters from the public, most of which opposed any changes.

“For me, it was very clear, no matter how I feel about dogs, the public wants to have their say,” he said.

Councillors also discussed a phased approach to banning gas-powered leaf blowers, ultimately voting to have a broader discussion on addressing noise pollution in general at a strategic planning session in September.

De Vries said he brought forward a motion to expand the discussion because he recognized much of the debate around leaf blowers centred on the noise disturbance. “From there, we can identify the best way to have the biggest impact on noise pollution, with the amount of resources we have,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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