After months of public outcry, the District of Saanich is reconsidering its stance on unleashed dogs at local parks and beaches.
At a meeting Monday night, council advised staff to revise the parks and pets strategy it passed in June after hearing from pet owners that mandatory dog leashing in 84 per cent of parks was too restrictive.
"It was not something that they were comfortable with. It was going to take a lot away from them and they pushed council pretty hard," said Mayor Dean Murdock, speaking to CBC's On The Island Tuesday morning.
Murdock said he received a "proverbial mountain of messages" since the strategy was approved in spring and felt compelled to revisit the controversial plan and try to strike a balance between what pet owners want, the safety of everyone in public spaces, and what is best for the environment.
Residents protest the proposed strategy at the Saanich municipal hall on June 23. The strategy was passed unanimously by council in June and will now be revised after public outcry. (Trish Foughner)
The original strategy, which was to start being implemented this fall over a five-year timeline, was going to reduce the number of parks in the district where dogs could be off-leash to 57 from 172.
It also designated only one beach (Cordova Bay) as a year-round, leash-optional, sanctioned spot and reduced off-leash access at PKOLS (Mount Douglas Park) to a 1.5-kilometre trail loop after previously allowing dogs off-leash almost everywhere along the parks 21-kilometre trail system.
"The primary complaint that we heard was that you're taking away my ability to hike with my dog off-leash," said Murdock.
The mayor put forward a motion to amend the district's strategy with changes that include allowing dogs off-leash in certain parks where they were initially going to be prohibited between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m and allowing leash-optional dogs on the Glendenning trail to the summit at PKOLS.
The revisions also include keeping all beaches leash-optional (with existing seasonal restrictions) as long as they are outside of the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Eulala Mills, interim president of the CRD DOGG (Dog Owners for Good Governance) Society, said she was grateful that municipal leaders took a step back after listening to constituents.
She welcomed the expanded access to the beach, but said the changes do not go far enough, noting that not every pet owner's schedule can accommodate early morning park walks and access to PKOLS is still very limited. She expects council will continue to hear complaints about trail access.
"I think that's the one they are going to hear the most about," she said, speaking Tuesday on All Points West.
District staff has now been asked to make the proposed revisions to the animal bylaw and bring the amended strategy to council on Oct. 30. Once it has had three readings, Murdock says staff will then be asked to prepare an implementation plan that will be considered in the 2024 district budget.
Mills said the society will also take some time to review the details of the revisions as a group before lobbying for any additional changes.
"We are not a single voice, we are the voice of a community," said Mills.