Thursday, June 13, 2024

Saanich unanimously approves plan to restrict unleashed dogs in parks


A controversial motion put forward by Saanich has received unanimous approval from council and will  be implemented over the next five years.

On Thursday morning, June 29th, it was announced that the District of Saanich’s People, Pets and Parks Strategy was unanimously approved.

The final decision was reached after a long ongoing process — Saanich council claimed that the implementation of this strategy will end up benefiting everyone, dog owners and individuals alike.

And although the Saanich Parks leash-focused motion was only one element of many within the People, Pets and Parks strategy, it was the most controversial and gained the most attention and community response.

Saanich Council member, Teale Phelps Bondaroff, shared that they received over 350 emails and plenty of letters, capturing the complexity of the decision and the importance of pets to the public.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” he said.

“You have a vocal group of people who love their dogs and have practices that they’ve done for years…but you also have people who regularly avoid parks because they have concerns with off-leash dogs. It’s really a balancing act — trying to balance how we share space in our parks.”

However, Happy Dogs in Saanich Parks — a Facebook advocacy group speaking against the new strategy — felt ignored and frustrated with the lack of cooperation. 

“The Council acknowledged that the thousands of letters and calls they received were overwhelmingly against the leashing aspects of the PPP…Yet they approved it unaltered,” said Eulala Mills-Diment, member of Happy Dogs in Saanich Parks.

“How does that represent the needs of all Saanich residents — are dog owners not also citizens and taxpayers that deserve fair consideration?”

Phelps Bondaroff mentioned that the policies are also meant to promote the conservation and preservation of native species in delicate habitats as well as people and their cherished pets.

“Ecosystems were being damaged,” he said.

He wanted to emphasize that as the district population grows and the parks are increasing in use, the degradation of the parks is also becoming evident. 

“I saw this as a proactive measure…that ensures that we don’t love our parks to death and we ensure everyone is welcome in those parks.”

Mills-Diment has addressed her concern regarding the reality of the off-leash zones and the danger or inadequacy of many of the chosen parks.

“Of the 57 parks they have left for off-leash access, 20 have been assessed by the community as completely unsafe and/or unsuitable,” she said.

“We were not given any chance to have input or provide feedback on them.”

Because their group advocates for evidence-based decisions regarding the use of the parks, they put together a community-created map to showcase their assessment of designated leash-optional areas.

(Courtesy of Eulala Mills-Diment)

Despite pushback, the plan will move forward as discussed and advertised in their strategy document. Additionally, a new evaluation strategy for PKOLS park in particular was motioned. 

Because it’s a P4N park, the proposition is for a 2km off-leash loop. The evaluation will be done in consultation from the WSANEC leadership council. 

In the meantime, Phelps Bondaroff noted that education regarding the new policy will begin rolling out, that by the time the bylaws are amended and signage starts popping up in the fall everyone will be aware. 

With files from Curtis Blandy

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