Saanich councillor calls for review of off-leash areas for dogs

A Saanich councillor is calling for a review of dogs on beaches and off-leash areas, and proposing limits on off-leash use of the eastern portion of Cadboro Bay’s shoreline.

Coun. Karen Harper’s proposal led to a packed Saanich council chambers Monday night.

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Harper said one of her concerns is that off-leash areas are sometimes feared by the elderly, those with disabilities and others.

“My last two dogs were German shepherds and those are big dogs, and as a result I’m probably more aware of how careful you have to be with dogs when they aren’t on leash because dogs are enthusiastic,” said Harper, noting she has owned dogs most of her life. “No one’s saying the dogs have to be vicious to be problems.

“Dogs can be very, very friendly, but there are people who can be quite leery of dogs.”

Harper said she has heard from those both for and against the idea of a review, and was surprised by the “blowback” from simply asking for options to be studied.

She said in her report that the eastern portion of Cadboro Bay’s shoreline has been the only urban sandy beach in Saanich that is a year-round off-leash area since 1997, and it is “deluged” in the summer.

Many people allow their dogs to run through adjoining Gyro Park to get there, the report said, which can lead to conflict and “presents danger to children in the playground.”

People in overflow seating in the hallway said the majority of letters received by council on the matter were against the report.

Audience member Lyn Wray said the report “came out of the blue” and contains “extreme” language.

“It doesn’t seem to reflect the park certainly that I see every day,” she said. “I see people enjoying the beach and their dogs.”

Harper suggested giving consideration to the rule Oak Bay has for Willows Beach, where there is an off-leash ban from May through September.

“It’s how do we find that right balance,” she said of her proposal. “How do we get to that place where we can have it all come together in an appropriate way where nothing’s being harmed?”

That includes ensuring that birds are not chased and their habitats, such as sand flats and shallows, are not disturbed, she said in her report. “Heavy traffic, as well as dog feces and urine, reduce the hatch rate of the eggs.”

Harper said she realizes dogs need to be able to run, but “they need to be able to do it in an area where it’s not going to cause a problem.”

Harper said not everyone agrees that dogs running freely is a problem. “So clearly there’s a dialogue that needs to be had, and part of having a report will start that dialogue.”

One issue that has emerged is belligerent owners, which is one reason Saanich animal-control officers now go to beaches only in pairs, she said in her report. It also increases their protection from dogs, she said.

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