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Tofino council vows to tackle off-leash dog concerns

District council working on strategies to mitigate longstanding issue
Tofino is looking into strategies to deter dog owners from letting their pets run free in public spaces around town. (Westerly News file photo)

Summer hasn’t quite arrived on Tofino’s doorstep just yet, but the town’s infamous dog days have already landed on council’s desk.

Under Tofino’s Animal Control Bylaw, all dogs are prohibited from being off-leash in any public spaces, including beaches, but district staff have historically struggled to enforce that bylaw. During their March 22 regular meeting, council reviewed two letters from residents, one clamouring against the havoc out of control pets are wreaking and another urging them to establish an off-leash dog park.

“We’ve seen growth in the number of people here (visitors and residents), and we’ve seen even higher increase in the number of dogs,” wrote Todd MacAllen.”Even in town, unleashed dogs wait outside businesses and run ahead of their humans on the MUP (Multi-Use Path).”

MacAllen suggested he and his wife are dog owners and their Chesterman Beach property gives them a front row seat to the number of dogs roaming freely, adding that some wander onto their property.

“All beaches have become de facto off-leash dog parks—and all within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. I daily witness dogs chasing birds on the beach, which is unacceptable. Unleashed dogs harass me if I walk our leashed dog on the beach—also inappropriate,” he wrote.

He added the issue has made him hesitant to take his leashed dogs onto the beach.

“During the pandemic, I held off from making this complaint and in the bigger picture, this isn’t the most critical matter, but it has become untenable and requires change,” he wrote. “The (Pacific Rim) National Park Reserve recognizes that off-leash dogs are unacceptable and manages enforcement. Tofino has a responsibility to do the same.”

The second letter was from resident Alabama Chevrier who suggested the absence of a space for dogs to exercise and play is leading many residents to disobey the leash laws.

“Tofino dogs need a safe space where they are free to exercise and socialize without the restriction of a leash. These needs are close to impossible to fulfill while tethered to their owner,” Chevrier wrote. “The only fenced areas in Tofino are the tennis court and basketball court in the Village Green. This leaves owners to use the surrounding beaches, as well as the elementary school field, as their dog’s playground.”

She suggested an area could be designated for dogs in the short term while a more permanent off-leash facility is considered.

Coun. Cathy Thicke said she appreciated the letters and added that she herself feels vulnerable walking along the beach with a leashed dog.

“These letters point to the fact that we have some issues here in Tofino that we need to resolve. I for one would really like to see council support bylaw in these matters and I would really like to see us address this in time for the shorebird migration, which starts at the end of April,” she said. “I know that’s an ambitious thing, but at some point we’ve got to think about this much more seriously. With the letters coming forward and the concerns raised by (the Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network), we have an issue where we have a lot of animals and we have a lot of people in our area…I think we need to do some work here.”

Coun. Duncan McMaster agreed.

“We see these letters every year, but we’re seeing them more often now. There’s definitely a problem and it’s definitely getting worse and it will get a lot worse as we get into the summer,” he said. “We have a problem that’s getting worse all the time and I don’t like to hear that we can’t do anything about it. I would say we’re choosing not to do anything about it and we need to do something about it before we have a serious accident.”

Council unanaimously agreed to direct their staff to present a report on possible strategies around off-leash dogs at the town’s next Committee of the Whole meeting on April 4.

“I appreciate the tenor of the conversation with council,” said CAO Bob MacPherson. “In a little bit of defence of our bylaw department, this is the time of year when we have one bylaw officer on and we’ve got some casual help as well. So, with miles and miles of beaches, I think council understands that we can’t have bylaw (staff) everywhere all at once, but let’s talk about what the endpoint is that council wants to see and then our responsibility as staff is to tell you what resources are required to get there.”

During their Committee of the Whole meeting the evening prior, on March 23, council asked their manager of protective services Brent Baker about off-leash dogs and he likened the issue to illegal fireworks displays, explaining that perpetrators are often long gone by the time bylaw staff can respond.

“In order to manage off-leash dogs, you have to be there to see every off-leash dog. We get calls from people saying there’s an off leash dog here or there but, if it takes us five minutes to get there, the dog is generally no longer there,” he said. “Unless we have the resources to be everywhere all the time, there are challenges. Being fully resourced to meet all those needs is probably our best chance at making a positive step.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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