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Dog group hails Saanich leash changes as democracy in action

Biggest win is the decision to allow off-leash space on the district’s beaches, outside the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary, says CRD DOGG Society
Asta Dennis and Barry Dennis with their seven-year-old poodle Solveig in Rutledge Park this week. Saanich had initially proposed a requirement that all pets be on-leash in Saanich parks unless they’re within a designated leash-optional area. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich council’s decision to dial back new leash rules for dogs in parks is being hailed as democracy in action by one of the groups that had been fighting proposed restrictions.

Eulala Mills, interim president of the CRD DOGG Society, said changes to the Animals Bylaw endorsed by council Monday night will make a big difference for dog owners.

“Somebody asked me this morning how it felt to make a government blink. But this isn’t one person or even a small group of people — this is a very large community that had a sustained reaction and told their politicians they had got something wrong,” Mills said.

After hundreds of letters and packed council chambers at a series of public hearings on the topic, Saanich council on Monday night reined in its plans to require dogs to be on-leash in its parks.

Council asked staff to include within a new draft of the Animals Bylaw a series of revisions that include prohibiting dogs in playgrounds, allowing leash-optional activity between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. in all parks that are not zoned as conservation areas or natural park areas, maintaining all beaches outside of the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary as leash-optional with existing seasonal restrictions, adding the Glendenning trail to the summit at Mount Douglas Park (PKOLS) as a leash-optional area and removing proposed off-leash trail fencing at the latter park.

The revisions mark a major shift from initial plans to require all pets to be on-leash in Saanich parks unless they’re within a designated leash-optional area.

In an interview Tuesday, Mayor Dean Murdock said the revisions are in response to what council heard from the community.

“We’re not able to address everything, but I do think that we’ve recommended some changes or asked for some changes that are responsive to those concerns, but still stay focused on reducing the potential for conflict and protecting the natural environment and giving people space to enjoy the park,” he said.

Mills said the biggest change is the decision to allow off-leash space on the district’s beaches, outside of the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary, although she had hoped council would provide more options than 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

She also noted that dogs will be required to be on-leash in 90 per cent of Mount Doug.

“What we are going to hear the most about is the fact that the PKOLS trail is still less than two and a half kilometres,” Mills said, noting many dog owners had been asking for a “lengthy” off-leash walk at the park.

“I think they could have kept it at 85 per cent [on-leash] and still given us five or six kilometres.”

Mills said her group will take time to determine its game plan over the next month.

“We’re certainly going to be keeping a strong eye on this. We’ll see what our community tells us they would like us to keep doing,” she said.

Murdock said he’s disappointed the debate became so divisive, and admits it was one of the agenda items he was not looking forward to when he was sworn in as mayor last year.

“But I think that we’re able to come out of this process better off because of those recommended changes,” he said. “This is the nature of compromise — unfortunately it will mean that some people continue to be frustrated or disappointed with council’s actions, that in their view we didn’t go far enough either in protecting the natural environment or in loosening some of those restrictions.”

Saanich staff have indicated the draft bylaw with the new revisions could be back in front of council Oct. 30, at which point the community can weigh in again.

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