Lisa Dow lets her yellow Labrador retriever, Finnegan, off his leash to play at Connaught Park as often as she can. She’s new to the area and knows she isn’t allowed to do that, but other dog owners have told her people do it anyway.
“I guess everybody says they just watch for the white truck with the yellow thing – the city,” Dow said. “They [animal control] only come here if there’s been a complaint of an issue.”
She said she’s never had a problem.
Dogs must be leashed in public spaces, except when they’re in a designated area where they’re allowed to run free, according to a city of Vancouver bylaw.
Kitsilano’s only off-leash dog area, Hadden Park, is too far and too secluded for many of the neighbourhood’s dog owners. Lots of them see the beach park as unsafe and inconvenient, so they ignore the bylaw and let their dogs run free in non-designated parks.
Connaught Park, next to the Kitsilano Community Centre, is a popular off-leash destination. It’s not an off-leash park, however.
The park’s frozen sports fields have been taken over by canines fetching tennis balls and puppies digging into the remnants of snow men. Signs at the entrance warn park users that dogs must remain on their leashes and that failure to do so could result in a $2,000 fine.
‘You can’t take them on the bus’
Hadden Park sits in the northeast corner of Kitsilano, far from many of the neighbourhood’s dog-loving residents. That makes it difficult for many dog owners to reach.
Allan Horton usually walks Mac, his West Highland white terrier, to Connaught Park because it’s near his home. Horton and his 11-year-old dog haven’t been past West Broadway since they moved to Kitsilano. Hadden is too far away for them.
The park presents health and safety concerns for dog owner Camiel Pell and others. It lies away from the typically busier Kits Beach and Vanier Park and does not have lighting for night-time use.
“I’m not going to a weird, secluded beach in the dark,” Pell said.
The City’s bylaws restrict off-leash use at Hadden Park to certain hours. From May to September, people can let their dogs off-leash from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. From October to April, hours extend from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“If you’re going to make it a dog park, make it a dog park all the time,” Pell said.
She’s also had other problems at Hadden Park, where her Jack Russell terrier has unearthed some unsettling things.
“Last week she ate human feces and chewed on a syringe,” Pell said
Barbara Bergmann found one of her two small dogs chewing on a hypodermic needle on one of their trips to Hadden.
Bergmann said she prefers the convenient proximity of Connaught Park.
“This one I can walk to; the other one I have to drive,” Bergmann said. “You can’t take them on the bus.”
She knows she’s not supposed to let her two dogs off their leashes at Connaught, but she often does anyway.
“I’ve been warned before, and I accept that warning,” she said.
Ilona Lo started a petition last year to get more off-leash parks in Kitsilano.
She proposed two new locations: Connaught Park and Arbutus Walk.
She collected 320 signatures and took the petition to the Vancouver City Council, which wasn’t interested in making the changes.
“We didn’t get enough signatures, unfortunately,” she said. “It was not a sufficient amount to make an impact.
“When we spoke to the council, it was not their priority.”
Lo started the petition when she noticed the number of dogs in Kitsilano.
Even though dog owners know they aren’t supposed to let their dogs off their leashes in certain places, she said, they have few options.
“Rather than break the law, why not change the law?” she said.
City wants to maintain status quo
Vancouver’s parks board commissioners aren’t interested in creating more off-leash areas.
“They want to maintain the existing status quo,” said Bill Manning, manager of parks. “It is a very contentious issue.”
He explained that parks board commissioners created a Dog Strategy Task Force in 2006 to determine how to move forward on the situation.
The group dissolved on schedule more than a year later without reaching consensus.
“The park board isn’t looking to make any changes to the off-leash program until there’s been an overall review,” Manning said. “We’re not looking at creating any new off-leash locations at parks we presently have in our system.”
It wouldn’t matter how many signatures were collected, right now, parks commissioners won’t be making any changes to existing parks, he said. However, dog parks can be added to new park developments.
“We’re hoping that we can put that back on our agenda for mid-next year,” Manning said.