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Retractable-leash ban in latest version of Saanich animal bylaw

The ban would come into effect when the new bylaw is adopted in coming weeks
An owner and dog walk down from the summit of PKOLS (Mount Douglas) in Saanich on Tuesday. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich’s new Animals Bylaw will ban the use of retractable leashes in the municipality.

Mayor Dean Murdock was the lone voice against the leash change.

“It’s not something that I personally supported, but it’s the direction that council chose to go in,” he said.

The retractable leash ban would come into effect when the new Animals Bylaw is adopted in the coming weeks.

Third reading of the bylaw passed by a vote of 8-1 on Monday, with Coun. Nathalie Chambers opposing it.

Murdock acknowledged that critics say retractable leashes allow dogs to get too far from their owners, resulting in a tripping hazard and the potential for environmental damage, but he said the ban would also apply to people walking their dogs in neighbourhoods, which he said goes too far.

It will also be difficult to enforce. “Enforcement’s always a challenge in that we can’t be everywhere all the time and we rely on people’s adherence to the bylaw.”

It’s the latest wrinkle in an Animals Bylaw that has divided the community. Monday night’s council meeting drew dozens of residents hoping to convince council the new bylaw was either too harsh or didn’t go far enough.

The new bylaw, which replaces an existing one that allows dogs to be off-leash under owner control in all parks, was drafted to reduce environmental damage to parks and head off potential conflict as a growing population uses parks more often.

When it was first introduced this year, it required pets to be on-leash in all Saanich parks unless they were within a designated leash-optional area. That drew protests from dog owners and professional dog walkers. Public hearings on the bylaw change were packed with people wanting to weigh in on both sides of the debate.

The bylaw that passed third reading Monday night will prohibit dogs in playgrounds, allow leash-optional activity between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. in all parks that are not zoned as conservation or natural park areas, maintain all beaches outside of the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary as leash-optional with existing seasonal restrictions, add the Glendenning trail to the summit at PKOLS as a leash-optional area, and remove proposed off-leash trail fencing at PKOLS.

Coun. Karen Harper said council needs to get the “balance right for an increasingly urbanized area, making sure that people, wildlife and our domestic animals can all have safe spaces.”

“So, from my perspective, that does mean we need to have areas where we have off-leash, but it also means we should have areas where we don’t have dogs at all, which isn’t in the current current proposal, which I find a bit sad.”

Coun. Zac de Vries said the new bylaw may not be perfect but he likes the fact that Saanich was willing to act and monitor the resulting effect, rather than send the bylaw back for endless study.

“I do think that we would be worse off from a kind of analysis paralysis,” he said.

Many of the residents who addressed council Monday insisted the compromise council eventually passed is likely to please no one.

Murdock said he regrets the divisiveness the bylaw change has created in the community. “I knew this strategy was going to come forward in the first year of the new council term and it was not something I was looking forward to. It’s been extremely challenging and it’s unfortunate how much divisiveness it’s created, sometimes pitting neighbour against neighbour.”

Several councillors said they were disturbed by intimidation tactics used by both sides over the last several months.

Murdock said such tactics contributed to people feeling unsafe about sharing their opinions and concerns with Saanich. “A healthy debate is the bedrock of the democratic process and anything that may have suppressed that discourse is is not just regrettable, but is shameful.”

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