Amanda Johnson with her dog Poppy. The two frequented Cedar Hill Corner multiple times a week for the last three years until University of Victoria closed the park to the public on March 30. (Amanda Johnson Photo)

Loss of UVic dog park deals a blow to socially anxious pets

Owners of non-socialized dogs seek safe space following closure of Cedar Hill Corner

Hundreds of dog owners who have frequented Cedar Hill Corner at the University of Victoria the past few years are now in search of an off-leash area to let Rover run free.

UVic closed the area on March 30 for COVID-19 reasons and has now posted a sign that it will not be reopening any time soon, as the school re-evaluates how it will use the land.

The area was a favourite for owners of dogs who are socially anxious and can’t go to every park, beach or hiking trail, noted Amanda Johnson, who frequented the Cedar Hill Corner. Its closure has got many locals whimpering as there are very few fenced-in, off-leash areas available in the region, said Johnson, who relies on Cedar Hill Corner as a safe place for her dog, a rescue from the streets of Taiwan named Poppy.

READ MORE: UVic closes Finnerty Gardens and popular dog park, Cedar Corner

“[Cedar Hill Corner] is international, it has rescues from all over the world,” Johnson said. “Everyone is very supportive of each other here. A lot of dog owners have used this place to help socialize and change their dog’s behaviours.”

Poppy, like many others who frequented the area, never got the chance to socialize and has anxiety issues. Now, Johnson is unsure how often she’ll be able to let Poppy off the leash to run.

“I thought Victoria was a dog-friendly area until I got a dog,” Johnson said. “There’s so many parks I can’t be in with my dog, and it’s hard to find a [place to rent].”

Johnson is one of 1,500 members of the Facebook page UVic Dog Park Pals, where there is a discussion underway on what the best options are.

One user is Katie Markham, who said there is no play between dogs like an off-leash play, even for dogs who have “leash aggression.”

“One of the best ways to deal with that is actually off-leash training,” Markham said. “You can feel the joy they are having.”

In nearby Saanich, most of its 170 parks are dog friendly, aside from environmentally sensitive places such as Cadboro-Gyro Park and Mount Douglas Park, from which dogs are banned from May 1 to Aug. 31 (dogs are permitted on Cadboro Bay Beach before 9 a.m.). Dogs can even go off-leash at those parks permitted that they’re well trained and will return to the owner when called.

READ ALSO: Public consultation of off-leash dogs on Saanich beaches continues

In Victoria, there are 13 “leash optional” parks that “responsible” dog owners may use. Oak Bay, the municipality that Cedar Hill Corner falls in, has plenty of restricted areas such as Uplands Park but also has 11 spots with no restrictions (Cattle Point, Haynes Park) and others that are seasonal, such as McNeill Bay and Willows Beach.

It all comes down to what Saanich calls “petiquette.”

Poppy (Amanda Johnson Photo)
UVic closes Finnerty Gardens and popular dog park Cedar Corner

One of the issues of beachgoing is that technically, all beaches between Saanich and Victoria are part of the Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary established in 1923, said marine wildlife advocate Jacques Sirois, who would like to see even more enforcement.

“Federal regulations state that loose pets are not allowed,” Sirois said. “The low numbers of birds on our beaches compared to the past have much to do with the omnipresence of loose pets.”

As for Cedar Hill Corner’s future, which makes up a portion of a 40-acre plot valued at $21 million by B.C. Assessment, it will remain closed “to public use,” as the land is re-evaluated for short and medium-term use, said Mike Wilson, director of campus planning and sustainability.

“This will include exploration of opportunities to support activities that require additional programmable space due to COVID-19, which could include both community and university uses,” Wilson said.

However, the long-term plan is to transition any use of the site to support the university’s academic mission, he added.

“Our first priority as an educational institution is to provide opportunities for students, scholarly pursuits and well-being of mind and body for members of our university community while continuing to offer public access to campus,” Wilson said.

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reporter@oakbaynews.com

CoronavirusUVic

 

Amanda Johnson’s dog Poppy walks in Cedar Hill Corner as a rainbow touches down. The fenced-in area is now closed to the public, a major loss to the dog-walking community. (Amanda Johnson Photo)

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