COLUMN: Dog ‘problems’ start with an owner

NANAIMO – City officials may be barking up the wrong tree when it comes to providing space in select parks for dogs to run off-leash.

I commend the city’s efforts to accommodate the needs of dogs in Nanaimo, but city officials may be barking up the wrong tree when it comes to providing space in select parks for dogs to run off-leash.

The city recently hosted another open house on the matter of off-leash dog parks, seeking feedback on existing parks and pilot sites and possible new locations.

As a dog owner myself, I know how important it is to allow dogs the freedom to run and play and stretch their legs. Too often dogs end up cooped up in a house or trotted around the block and they become overweight or unable to run, or both.

But I am not convinced that these designated off-leash areas are the answer.

I walk my dog in Colliery Dam Park – just around the corner from my house – and did so for several years before the upper lake area became an off-leash park.

I have noticed a few things since the change.

First of all, the number of dogs and owners in the area has greatly increased, which in itself is fine – it has allowed like-minded, canine-loving people to congregate.

Second, people and their pets often gather near the bridge, which is only several hundred metres from the parking lot, and allow their dogs run around and swim with other people’s dogs.

I’m also OK with this – some people are physically disabled and unable to walk, so this is one way of giving their pets some much-needed exercise – but it is the behaviours I’m noticing there that are problematic.

Some owners – just a select few, but it is always the few who ruin it for the many – allow their dogs to tear around and play aggressively with other dogs with no attempt at checking their behaviour.

My dog, who is now 13 and slowing down, has been bitten and bowled over by rough dogs as we pass through that one small section of the park. No apology from the owner.

I have also been chased and nipped when I go jogging or biking through the park – after one dog, a border collie, nipped at my heel, the owner actually smiled at me and said not to worry about the dog as it was friendly.

I guess he has a different idea of what friendly is.

That is my experience with Colliery Dam Park. I don’t know first-hand what the other dog off-leash parks are like, as none of the others are close to my house, but judging by the letters and beefs and bouquets sections of the News Bulletin, there are similar issues elsewhere.

The problem is the off-leash sign seems to have given some dog owners a sense of entitlement – like that section is “their” area of the park, where their dogs can do whatever they want.

But the behaviour problems deny the gentler animals a chance to enjoy some off-leash time. When there are aggressive dogs around, I don’t feel comfortable allowing my own dog off-leash in the area – in fact, we get out of there as fast as possible.

There are signs up reminding park visitors that aggressive dogs must be leashed, pets must be under the control of the owner and in the owner’s sight at all times, and owners must keep their dog from running up to and jumping on other people and their dogs.

Instead of designated off-leash areas, why not make any public park an off-leash area, but only to those owners with well-behaved and controlled pets?

There are several businesses and groups offering dog obedience classes in Nanaimo to help owners ensure their canine friends are under control – the conflict that uncontrolled dogs cause is unnecessarily stressful for all involved.

Send a bylaw officer out to enforce the rule – the city would more than make up the cost of hiring someone to troll the parks for this purpose by the number of tickets handed out.