On Thursday, June 22nd, over 100 people and their dogs gathered in front of the District of Saanich municipal hall with placards in hand to protest the strategy they call restrictive.
They were gathering because they are in opposition of the district’s proposed People, Pets and Parks Strategy.
The current bylaws allow for all parks in Saanich to be “leash-optional”, but Saanich has recognized that this has led to delicate ecosystems in parks being damaged and limits accessibility to parks for those who don’t want to be around off-leash dogs.
The suggested new bylaw would see 57 of the district’s 171 parks have leash-optional areas while 12 parks and one beach will be designated as fully leash-optional parks.
Those designated leash-optional parks are:
- Brodick Park
- Cuthbert Holmes Park
- Emily Carr Park
- Hyacinth Park
- Houlihan Park
- Lambrick Park
- Layritz Park
- PKOLS (Mount Douglas Park) will have a 1.5 kilometre loop that is meant for off-leash dogs
- Rainbow Park
- Regina Park
- Rudd Park
- Sierra Park
- Cordova Bay Beach has also been identified as a year-round leash-optional area
Saanich Councillor Teale Phelps Bondaroff told Victoria Buzz that the new bylaws have been well thought out to protect the parks while allowing for enhanced accessibility for dog owners and non-dog owners alike.
“What the original People, Pets and Parks Strategy ws exploring how we can share space in our parks and make sure that everyone felt welcome in our parks,” explained Phelps Bondaroff.
“That conversation is one that has been going on since 2021.”
“Now we have a detailed plan that proposes changes and some people see those changes as restrictions to privileges they previously enjoyed and some people see those restrictions as not quite going far enough in making sure that parks are available for everyone.”
Happy Dogs in Saanich Parks is an Facebook advocacy group whose aim is to ensure Saanich makes evidence-based decisions regarding who uses its parks, when they use them, why they’re used and how.
They have been key players in organizing the pushback against Saanich’s new strategy and have been rallying several of the district’s residents to make their voices heard in opposition to the proposed bylaws.
One Saanich resident reached out to Victoria Buzz to share her concern over the People, Pets and Parks Strategy and to share how the new bylaws would impact herself and other dog owners.
“I am absolutely 100% against this plan,” said Claude-Orphée Lafond in an email to Victoria Buzz. “I find it highly restrictive and unreasonable, and a terrible waste of taxpayer money.”
“I’m a daily user of Kings-Haultain Park, Allenby Park, Browning Park, Mount Douglas and Braefoot Park and many other little neighborhood parks where I can walk with my dog off leash.”
“I always pick up her poop and always call her by my side when we meet other dogs or people on the trail to be sure my dog isn’t bothering no one. I’m very mindful of other people who can be scared of dogs or people having reactive dogs on leash.”
“I never encounter problems with off leash dogs or their owners,” she added. “95% of those dog owners are very responsible people who are acting exactly like me.”
According to a survey done by the district, 73% of daily park users are dog owners, two of three Saanich residents have no concerns with off-leash dogs in parks and beaches and many respondents expressed their belief that there are benefits to most parks being off-leash.
While dog-owners and non-dog owners speak out on the issue, one key element that has no voice in this debate are the fragile ecosystems that exist in Saanich’s parks. The proposed strategy seeks to protect the park that dogs can have a heavy ecological impact upon.
“It’s not just sharing space, it’s protecting our delicate ecosystem,” Phelps Bondaroff told Victoria Buzz. “When I talk to people about Saanich, the number one thing people love about it is our green space and our parks.”
“We have so many parks and some of them have delicate ecosystems like coastal Douglas fir or Gary oak meadows and one of the things that I’ve seen is the degradation of trail space on PKOLS, formerly Mount Doug.”
The Sanich councillor explained that the trails in PKOLS are ‘braiding’ — which means new paths are forming which weren’t there before.
This in combination with the widening of the trails is one reason he believes a fair compromise would be to allow off-leash dogs on a 1.5 kilometre loop of the cumulative trails in which dogs can run free, while the rest of the trails are preserved.
“As these parks are being used by more and more people, we should be exploring ways of protecting these ecosystems, so they don’t become degraded,” Phelps Bondaroff said.
“Pets aren’t necessarily right on the trail, they might be rambling through the undergrowth and that could have an impact on these spaces — that’s one of the concerns we;ve had raised by many residents as well.”
Next week, on Monday, June 26th, people who would like to have their voices heard on the proposed People, Pets and Parks Strategy can attend the special municipal council meeting at 6 p.m.
Following that meeting, council will deliberate and direct staff to either amend the bylaw, or they will take the next steps in implementing the strategy.