As the District of Squamish unveiled some suggested plans for five off-leash dog areas in the municipality, post-it notes of feedback quickly filled the comment section.
On Sept. 26, the District held an open house, detailing how the off-leash dog areas may work, and where. Chris Baker, the bylaw and animal control supervisor for the District, said 912 people contributed feedback on a survey in the spring, which informed many of the ideas presented at the open house.
The five proposed areas are the Judd Beach trails, Squamish River Dike, Merrill Park trails, Mamquam River trails and the Valleycliffe Stawamus River Dike trails.
There are currently three off-leash areas for dogs in Squamish, but Baker notes those areas are relatively small.
"We tried to find a good distribution so that every neighborhood had one that was fairly accessible. That was one of the main principals, then just areas where we thought it would work — where the terrain lends for the safety of the dogs and also places that people would be attracted to as well," Baker told The Chief at the open house.
Some of the suggested areas have time restrictions on when a dog can be off-leash: between dawn and 9 a.m., then again at 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Some of the comments at the open house showed concern that these times may not work in the winter, when the sun sets much earlier. Others added these hours may not fit for shift workers.
The time restrictions, Baker said, are "so that two different user groups can use that same space. We're going to try that out and maybe try... different time restrictions in different areas."
Of the five areas presented, at least one would be designated as an off-leash area without time restrictions. Some of the areas would also require seasonal closures for wildlife. Baker said the times will be decided based on the feedback received from the open house and the online survey.
"The idea with having that separation is if there's a person who's afraid of dogs, that they know when dogs would be leashed in that area, and then they can go and jog and not be worried.
"We're not reinventing the wheel on this, either. It's working in a lot of other communities, so I expect that it will work well here in Squamish," Baker said. "I think the only reason why we're having little bits of conflict right now is just because there isn't a lot of clarity, and that enforcing on-leash in the entirety of the district just seems to everyone to be a little unrealistic."
The presentation also focused on owner responsibility within the off-leash areas: maintaining the required licensing and dog tags, having 100 per cent recall, a maximum of three unleashed dogs per person and an increased fine for bad behaviour. Ultimately, the currently-named Animal Control Bylaw would be named the Animal Responsibility Bylaw. Penalties for dogs left in hot cars may also be added to the bylaw amendments, one of the recommendations that is taken from a model bylaw the SPCA has written, Baker said.
"People like to think of themselves as responsible, and people don't necessarily like to be controlled," Baker said of the bylaw name change.
"I think just in general, the idea of owner responsibility is needed in terms of creating that harmony," Christina Moore, spokesperson for the District, said. "We know there are many great dog owners out there, and so that behaviour needs to be really modeled across the board for this program to work and for those who aren't as comfortable with dogs to still feel comfortable in their environment on the trails and the areas that they enjoy recreating in."
A resident and dog owner at the open house, Marion Lindsay, said that she believes there's a huge need for off-leash areas in Squamish.
"I'm pleased that they have five areas because I think you need at least that in this town," she said. "I'm not crazy about the restrictions in the times, due to shift workers, but I see they do have one area that is available all of the time, so that's good."
Residents at the open house also raised concerns about the lack of enforcement by bylaw officers, and how that could impact whether people follow guidelines.
"One of the things this program will help us with is better focusing our resources. Right now, with trying to enforce the leash law throughout the entire District ... it's tough," Baker said. "With this, we'll be able to focus an officer in a specific area for a certain amount of time, so hopefully it'll make them a lot more effective."
Volunteers could also help at the off-leash areas, similar to Whistler's village hosts and park hosts, Baker said. They could help people understand the rules and answer questions. (People interested in volunteering can contact email@example.com.)
Next, the revised bylaw will go before council.