Off-leash dogs an election issue
 
Sandra Thomas
Vancouver Courier

For the members of ICare, the behaviour of irresponsible dog owners perfectly illustrates the complete disregard Vancouver residents have for others.

That's why Celena Benndorf, one of the founders of ICare (Informed Citizens Advocating for Responsibility and Enforcement), says the group made dog-related problems its top priority for the civic election.

"We want to use this election to hold these politician's feet to the fire," said Benndorf. "And we want some firm commitments they'll be enforcing the bylaws."

ICare sent out a questionnaire to all of the candidates for parks board and council to find out their views on dogs and the parks board's off-leash program. Benndorf said many ICare members are dog owners concerned with what they see as the sense of entitlement and irresponsible behaviour shown by some of their peers.

Benndorf pointed to research completed for the parks board, and reported earlier in the Courier, that found while only 15 per cent of Vancouver residents own dogs, 60 per cent have experienced or witnessed problems with off-leash dogs and 82 per cent want animal control bylaws to be enforced.

Questions in the survey to candidates included their views on a moratorium on the off-leash program and replacing it with a new program, fencing or containing off-leash areas for safety and whether they support the mandatory disposal of dog waste in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Benndorf said several incumbents replied with notes saying they wouldn't complete the survey because their past actions speak for themselves. NPA parks board chair Korina Houghton, running for city council, replied in part: "We must enforce our bylaws more stringently, [the parks board] did begin this in 2008. I have actually heard complaints about too much enforcement at the park board. Also, we must find a way to ensure tickets that are issued are paid. And certainly we must increase the number of dogs that are licensed."

Green Party candidate Stuart Mackinnon said in part that bylaw enforcement is the best way to change the habits of dog owners, but he added off-leash areas must be offered within walking distance of owners. Mackinnon also supports a dog-waste composting program. ICare noted in several cases that while an incumbent did not respond to the survey, their past record on council or at the parks board shows they are "not committed to responsible dog ownership or enforcement."

Formed in 2006, ICare was inspired by the city's Project Civil City program to reduce public disorder. The group's original focus was enforcement against irresponsible dog owners ignoring bylaws such as letting their pets run off-leash in non-designated areas and not picking up their dog's poop.

Once the problems around irresponsible dog ownership have been resolved, the group plans to tackle other issues it believes affects quality of life in Vancouver, such as late-night bar hours.

For the survey and responses, go to www.icarevancouver.org.

© Vancouver Courier 2008


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