Jousting over where dogs are free to roam: A debate about leashes on beaches

Cadboro Bay beach users have unleashed a barrage of heated arguments in reaction to a Saanich councillor’s proposal to review the impact of allowing dogs on the beach.

Coun. Karen Harper’s recommendation for a review said the eastern portion of Cadboro Bay’s shoreline has been, since 1997, the only urban sandy beach in Saanich that is a year-round off-leash area and is overwhelmed in the summer.

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Harper cited concerns for the elderly, people with disabilities, children, other dogs, the environment and wildlife in asking for a report by municipal staff.

But after hearing about 35 presentations, including 27 against conducting a review, councillors recessed after 11 p.m. Monday and will reconvene to discuss the issue at a special council meeting on March 2. No further presentations can be made, but written submissions will be accepted until noon that day.

Saanich resident Jerry Donaldson argued against having a review. “The post-apocalyptic hellscape that she [Harper] talks about is nothing like anything I’ve ever seen down there.”

After that, Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes told speakers that their comments must remain focused on the review, not the councillor, and that they be respectful.

A majority of speakers supported the view that the off-leash area of Cadboro Bay, for the most part, works for dogs and people, that there are bigger threats there to wildlife and the environment than dogs, and that if better enforcement is needed that’s a case for bylaw officers.

“There’s bigger fish to fry in this world, and let’s leave the dog beach alone,” Debbie Simpson told councillors.

Those in favour of a review argued that there is a threat to people and the environment in the off-leash area.

Ramona Johnston, in favour of a review, painted a stark picture of how inflamed the issue has become. Johnston said she has been threatened while asking dog walkers to pick up excrement or asking dog owners to refrain from encouraging dogs to harass herons.

Johnston said her suggestions have been met with “profanity, threats and vindictive behaviour including throwing dog feces at me, on my property, and leaving it in my mailbox.” Police have been called.

She said that after learning of Harper’s comments last week, she was raising a peace flag on her property when a woman told her: “You heard me, you better lock your doors.”

Dawn Thiessen, also in support of a review, summarized the mood of the room, saying: “This is obviously an emotional issue.”

She said she recognized a third of the people in the council chambers and is friends with many. But she said, “we have been threatened on the beach” when approaching people about dogs chasing the herons or dogs jumping on children and seniors.

“We talk to people and say please pick up your dog poo and we get yelled at,” said Thiessen.

“If we need to look at how to enforce our bylaws let’s find a way,” said Thiessen. “I want to look out and see people and wave and have them wave back at me and not be angry and making threats at me when I’m working in my garden.”

Harper said Tuesday that workshops for the recently completed local area plan dealt with environmental concerns, specifically bringing up the issue of dogs on beaches. “I’m not coming up with this stuff out of thin air.”

Some people likely turned out to Monday night’s meeting thinking that there would be a vote on a dog ban, she said. “Personally, I don’t think it needs to be a ban.”

Harper said despite the emotion of the meeting, she is feeling optimistic, having heard back from more people on Tuesday encouraging her to carry on. She said the dialogue she hoped for has started and that’s a good thing.

“It’s how do we find that right balance,” Harper said.

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