The first debate of the proposed new animal bylaw is four months away but already councillors are marking their territory over whether or not the city should have a mandatory leash bylaw for dogs.
On Monday night city council received an update on what the draft bylaw will include. Administration prepared the report to ensure it understood what council was asking for on each of the key points the new bylaw will address.
But of all the provisions, whether or not dogs need to be kept on a leash continues to dominate most of the discussion. Neither Coun. Malcolm Parker nor Coun. Cathy Heron were shy about sharing how they intend to vote when the bylaw returns in March or April for a vote.
“There is strong evidence of dog issues with safety and people being annoyed,” said Parker. “We have to take a firm position on this.”
It was Parker who proposed dogs be leashed at all times except in city dog parks and on private land, such as farmland. What Aaron Giesbrecht, manager of policing services, suggested to council Monday night was two different kinds of parks dog owners would be able to use. The first would be “dog-friendly parks” such as Lacombe Lake Park and a proposed second park in Campbell, which are designed specifically for dogs to play off-leash.
Giesbrecht’s second suggestion would designate at least one park in each community as an “off-leash area.” Such areas would not have any amenities specific to dog recreation, but would be an open space where owners can let their dogs run off-leash.
Every other location in St. Albert would be considered on-leash.
“Our intent was to look at each neighbourhood and have an off-leash area for that neighbourhood,” Giesbrecht said.
A preliminary list of criteria for off-leash areas has also been assembled in an effort to minimize problems where off-leash dogs and residents mix. Parks branded as off-leash areas must not have any playground equipment, cannot be located at parks specifically designed for very young children (like a tot lot) and, while parks with programmable space like soccer fields can be considered, dogs must remain on-leash if an organized activity is taking place.
Coun. Cathy Heron said the city needs to enforce the bylaw it already has instead of creating a new one. The current bylaw says dogs may be off-leash anywhere except where it is specified that they must be on a leash.
“I will never support this (new) animal bylaw,” Heron said. “I think the current bylaw is sufficient and when you hear speakers (to council), if we enforce the current bylaw, we would not have the same problems.”
Chris Jardine, general manager of community and protective services, said the current bylaw just doesn’t work.
“The biggest challenge with enforcement is the bylaw is unenforceable,” Jardine said. “One of the key messages is the more clarity we bring in, the easier it is to enforce.”
Giesbrecht also said administration would plan a publicity blitz once a new bylaw is passed to make sure pet owners are aware of the new bylaw. He also advised putting a longer transition period from the old bylaw to the new bylaw in place, anywhere from six months to a year, depending on how different the new animal bylaw is from the old.