Dog owners in North Cowichan could soon have access to more off-leash areas, and an increase in licensing fees to help pay for them.
At the municipality’s council meeting on Jan. 20, staff were directed to prepare a report on the possibility of adding three sites in the municipality that are in or near foreshore areas as off-leash dog parks.
The Pender Street stairs in Genoa Bay, the foreshore in Crofton Beach Park and the foreshore from Cook Street to Vista Grande in Chemainus are under consideration to be added to the municipality’s current list of off-leash parks as of Jan. 1, 2021, for a trial basis.
If council gives the green light to the proposal, the new off-leash rules wouldn’t apply during the summer months, from June 16 to Sept. 30.
Ernie Mansueti, North Cowichan’s manager of community services, told council that the desire for more dog access to oceanfront beaches has consistently been an ongoing request from the community.
But he said concerns were raised during a public survey that was recently held on the issue; including dog waste left at off-leash sites, public safety, conflicts between the dogs and users, the size of the proposed parks and some respondents had a preference for fenced dog parks rather than more oceanfront accesses.
“Other communities that have gone through a similar consultation process found that there tends to be overall community support for dogs in parks, but those who reside in close proximity to proposed off-leash locations often raise concerns,” Mansueti said.
“In North Cowichan, this was very much the case as the survey on this topic had the highest response rate to date of any consultation in North Cowichan or the Cowichan Valley Regional District.”
Mansueti said issues around the non-pick-up of poop, unleashed dogs when not permitted, and aggressive and barking dogs in parks, forestry and beach areas needs to be addressed.
He said having the municipality effectively show consistency, enforceability, and relevance of bylaws for dogs in parks and other designated areas would alleviate some concerns and trepidation about them.
“Updated, concise, clean and consistent signage is needed at off-leash areas to better describe dog-owner responsibilities, what constitutes dog-owner ‘control’, fines for infractions and the nature of the foreshore access,” Mansueti said.
Mansueti said the cost of the initiative has been estimated to be an additional $18,000 per year for the municipality, and suggested a number of ways the money could be recouped.
They include raising annual dog licensing fees, having Coastal Animal Control (responsible for animal control in the municipality) ticket more, bringing owners that have not licensed their dogs, or do not regularly renew their licences, into compliance.
“As well, if a currently unlicensed dog is impounded, the fees could be collected for all outstanding years that North Cowichan is owed,” Mansueti said.
“This would also be an incentive for people to renew every year.”
After some discussion at the meeting on Jan. 20, council decided to have staff prepare a report on the issues of increasing the number of off-leash parks and the extra funding to accommodate them.
Council also voted to update the municipality’s animal control bylaw to include a clear definition of “control” in relation to off-leash dogs.