Take a stroll in Kitsilano and you will meet your fair share of dogs. Water dishes line the entrances to shops in this part of Vancouver, and it is common to find treats outside. Kits seems to give dogs the same treatment as any two-legged resident.
For some Kitsilano isn’t as dog friendly as it could be.
A group of local residents are lobbying the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation for a second off-leash dog park, arguing that one isn’t enough to meet the needs of all of dog owners.
“We’re not asking for special treatment or anything like that, it’s just having the dogs be a part of the community,” said Ilona Lo, an accountant with KPMG, who leads the group. “Kitsilano is known for being a dog friendly neighbourhood, so it’s about incorporating them into the community.”
The parks board is responsible for creating dog parks and acknowledges the intensity of the debate.
“Off-leash dog parks is a hot topic in Vancouver,” said Brian Quinn from the board.
“It’s a contentious issue that’s become more common in recent years. There are a lot of people that are pro-dog and a lot that are not.”
Kitsilano High School teacher Carol Moore drafted a petition, and Lo created a website and made posters to encourage interest.
“There’s a big void in the Kitsilano, Dunbar, Jericho area, and that’s why we want one here, to fill that void,” said Lo.
Listen to Ilona Lo explain why she became involved with the petition:[audio:https://thethunderbird.ca/html/wp-content/themes/WpAdvNewspaper/audio/dog.mp3]
There are roughly 101,556 registered dogs in Metro Vancouver, according to data published in The Vancouver Sun. Kitsilano has the most licensed dogs in a single area of Vancouver, roughly 2,050. This does not include the number of unregistered dogs.
There are over thirty dog parks in Metro Vancouver, but only one off-leash dog park in all of Kitsilano, located at Hadden Park. The local dog owners know it as the ‘dog beach’ and it is in the northeast corner of Kitsilano.
“It’s very difficult to get all the way out there. Unless you have a car, it’s really hard to walk all the way down there before work and then come all the way home,” said Lo.
There are also safety concerns.
“Due to the darker nights in the fall and winter, it is not a safe area – especially for women who own dogs – because of the lack of light,” said Moore.
The group suggests two areas in order to compromise. The proposed off-leash area is Connaught Park, as well as Arbutus Walk.
“We’re putting both the park and the walk on the petition because we understand the park is a sports field,” said Lo.
“Some people are concerned that we will be affecting sports games and things like that, so we suggested Arbutus Walk. That’s why the petition says ‘in the preference of the park and/or the walk’.”
There are different kinds of dog parks in greater Vancouver. There are permanent off-leash areas, and some parks have time restrictions.
In Hadden Park, owners are only allowed to let their dogs off-leash in the morning and evening during summer months. The rest of the year is open between the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Despite being far away, there are those who make the trek in order to experience the benefits of this particular park by the sea.
Colleen McGahan and her dog The Cowboy, better known as “Cow”, make their way from False Creek to Hadden Park whenever they can.
“Cow loves the ocean,” said McGahan.
When the petition was covered on the community blog kitsilano.ca it drew a range of comments.
“I walk through Kits Beach, Hadden Park and Vanier Park nearly every day and see plenty of people using the whole area as an off-leash park, ignoring the signs,” posted Jody.
“I’ve learned not to mention the rules to dog owners, who usually stare me down. We don’t need more off-leash parks, we need fewer dogs.”
The anti-dog crowd voiced their opinions too.
“I too live by Kits beach and I proclaim NO MORE DOG PARKS or how about just NO MORE DOGS,” posted Julia.
The process of creating dog parks is simple, though the issue at heart is more complicated.
A request is made to the board by a person or group, and is then evaluated. Once the board evaluates the need for the park, they will post signage in the area to encourage public comment. The board collects the information and presents a report to the board commissioners.
A meeting is held which is open to the public. This meeting serves as the final venue where public opinion can persuade or dissuade the panel.
Lo is hoping to gather more signatures in the coming months before presenting the petition to the park board in the spring.
The City of Vancouver faces a $60 million budget shortfall for 2010. The board, which faces a setback of $2.8 million, proposes to cut $600,000 to park maintenance and services.