Saanich council has given its blessing to developing a strategy to balance the interests of parks users, dog owners and commercial dog walkers.
“We’re ensuring we’re making spaces for people to feel safe and comfortable, but also recognizing the need for off-leash recreation,” said councillor Zak de Vries.
Over the summer, Saanich will develop the terms of reference and options for hiring a consultant to create a strategy for its parks, along with developing regulations for commercial dog walkers.
“With such big parks, there are ways you can meet the needs of everyone and I think that will be a positive result,” said de Vries.
For example, de Vries said, in Mount Douglas Park, one of the many trails could be dog-free, for people who are afraid of dogs. There could be another trail for on-leash dogs and perhaps off-leash trails on the back of the mountain.
“We will look at all our parks and say: ‘How can we meet the needs of everybody?’ ” said de Vries. “It makes sense to have spaces where people can do all these activities and can feel safe.”
Council previously defeated a motion put forward by Mayor Fred Haynes May 30 to prohibit off-leash dogs in Mount Douglas Park, Cuthbert Holmes Park and Panama Flats.
De Vries said he has never seen so much public input on an issue.
“There were 540 unique letters, which was immense given the tight turnaround time,” he said.
Eulala Mills, who walks her eight-year-old mini labradoodle on the trails of Mount Doug every day, wrote one of those letters.
She heard about the proposal to prohibit off-leash dogs in the three parks a few days before the council meeting and began texting people and asking hikers if they knew what was happening.
“Nine out of 10 people hadn’t heard about it and they were horrified,” she said.
The weekend before the mayor’s motion, Mills handed out flyers and told people if they had an opinion on the matter, they should let council know.
An online petition gathered 660 signatures within 24 hours, all signed by people opposed to requiring dogs to be leashed in the three parks, she said.
“My issue was you cannot make a change like this which affects so many people’s freedoms without any consultation. This wasn’t democratic. It didn’t represent the will of the people,” said Mills.
She and others have since set up a Facebook group — Happy Dogs in Saanich Parks — to keep people connected.
Mills believes there has to be compromise.
“There has to be a way for more people to be in these parks and share them reasonably and collaboratively. It didn’t have to be us versus them,” she said. “We want to share these parks with all people who want to use it. And we want to be able to walk our dogs off leash.”
Mills also believes there has to be evidence there is a problem with off-leash dogs.