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Last dog strategy forum told bylaw enforcers too sweet

By Sandra Thomas-Staff writer

A new citizens' group wants the city's animal control officers to receive special constable status and the legal enforcement powers that come with it.

Kitsilano resident Celena Benndorf spoke on behalf of Citizens Advocating for Responsibility and Enforcement (ICARE) at the last of three community forums held across the city last week. The forums were hosted by the parks board's dog strategy task force.

The board formed the task force in July as part of an effort to find a balance in city parks between dog owners and other park users.

"We are on the same page with animal control officers on many issues," said Benndorf. "But we would like to see them profile people before they hire them. They seem to hire a lot of animal lovers who are really sweet, but we think the officers should be more assertive."

ICARE's wish list presented at the meeting included asking the city to provide the training animal control officers need to achieve special constable status, increasing the number of animal control officers dedicated to ticketing and having police assigned to the officers until they gain special constable status.

The group also wants animal control officers "performance managed," which would include setting ticket objectives and seeing officers reprimanded for poor performance.

Benndorf attended each of the three meetings last week, which were held on separate nights at the Roundhouse, Killarney and Kerrisdale community centres, and she spoke on the final evening at Kerrisdale. She said she heard similar stories at each of the meetings.

"I heard dog owner after dog owner stand up and insist that they are a responsible dog owner, but each of them had received a ticket for something like letting their dog run off leash," said Benndorf. "What I took from that is that when they use the term 'responsible' they mean that they take good care of their dogs, but don't follow the bylaws. And even though they're all 'responsible' they've all received tickets. They're just not connecting those dots."

Benndorf noted the information offered at the forums was mostly anecdotal and did not represent the voice of the majority of people in the city. Instead of using the information gathered from the forums, Benndorf would like to see the parks board and city work with the results of the Synovate study completed in 2003.

Of the three findings drawn from that survey, two indicate residents would like to see increased enforcement when it comes to dogs.

"That survey is statistically valid," she said.

Bob Cristofoli, supervisor of field operations with the Vancouver Animal Control Shelter, said while he agrees with some of the group's suggestions, the resources just aren't there.

"It would be great to have police accompany us all the time, but that would be pulling from their resources," said Cristofoli.

He adds animal control officers are already directed to ticket owners who aren't complying with bylaws, so ticket objectives aren't necessary. In November officers wrote 38 tickets to dog owners.

"But we could always use more bylaw officers," said Cristofoli. "We have 11 and Calgary has 24 or 25. Mind you Calgary is a bigger city, but we could use more officers."

Parks commissioner Ian Robertson, who brought forward the motion to create the task force, attended each of the meetings.

"Overall my take was there was lots of good advice given to the task force," he said. "And we heard more from the anti or no-dog side. The discussion was good for the task force to hear."

Robertson said the preliminary results of these community forums will go to the parks board, via the task force, and a second round of community forums will be scheduled for next March or April.

The Courier emailed the Vancouver Dog Owners' Association, but received no response.

For more information on ICARE, email i-care@telus.net.

published on 12/13/2006

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