One Vernon woman is spearheading a movement to have a select portion of Marshall Field go to the dogs.
Darlene Hainer presented a multi-page petition to Vernon council Monday, calling for the city’s on-leash only bylaw at the facility to be changed. Hainer wants to see the area between the soccer fields and Vernon Creek become an off-leash area for dogs.
“The current bylaw states it’s an on-leash park only,” said Hainer, who has been walking her dogs at Marshall Field for nine years, and was supported by approximately 40 people at Monday’s meeting. “Dog walkers use the facility 365 days a year. No sporting groups use the facilities from October to April so we are not interfering with anything else at that time.”
The signage indicating the park is on-leash only is totally inadequate Hainer said.
“One small sign at one entrance from (the) east parking lot,” she said. “While gathering signatures (for petition), it was amazing how many regular dog walkers had no idea it was a leash-only park.”
The current on-leash only bylaw has been in effect for four years.
There are no issues with baseball, tennis and pickleball at the facility because their areas are fenced.
“We understand dogs can’t be on the fields, particularly the soccer pitches, but if there is concern about the dogs creating problems, an alternative would be for owners to put dogs on-leash during game times,” said Hainer.
Coun. Akbal Mund said he’s at Marshall Field once a week and while on a recent visit dropping off his daughter at the Vernon Toyota Indoor Sports Centre, he took a walk from the centre to Lakers Clubhouse and around the area. On his walk, Mund counted nine poops and two dogs running on the soccer fields off-leash.
“There’s got to be some kind of system there for those irresponsible dog owners to maybe pay a higher fine if they’re caught running on the field,” said Mund, who is a dog owner himself.
“It’s got to be controlled, or I don’t see this going anywhere. Soccer is the biggest sports group in this community, with more than 4,000 participants. There’s going to be a large concern from them going, ‘Why do we have off-leash dogs and now we have to deal with them?’ How would you address that going forward?”
Said Hainer: “I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don’t particularly like picking up other dogs’ poop. It’s bad enough having to pick up my own dog’s poop. Why don’t we fine those people who get caught doing that instead of going ahead and saying to everyone out there picking up poop that you can’t be out here anymore off-leash? I don’t want them (dogs) on the playing fields.”
Dogs cannot be exercised properly while on-leash, said Hainer.
“They need freedom and space to run and play,” she said. “Putting dogs on-leash changes the whole dynamic of the interaction. They need to be socialized. Owners are very good to intervene if there is any aggressive behaviour.”
Hainer said she has never seen a serious dog encounter in the nine years she’s been walking her dog at Marshall Field.
Coun. Scott Anderson, who is also a dog owner, asked Hainer if she thought dogs were partly responsible for the erosion of the creek bed.
“That’s laughable,” she said. ” During the last two years in springtime, if they for one minute think that the dogs are creating any kind of a problem compared to the problem caused naturally by the erosion during the floods, it’s just ludicrous.”
Hainer suggested erecting a fence demarcating a walking area between the soccer pitches and the creek.
Couns. Brian Quiring and Kelly Fehr, also dog owners, liked the idea of a fence for the proposed portion.
It’s the second such petition to be launched asking for the facility to be off-leash. An online petition at change.org, launched approximately eight months ago, calls for the facility to be off-leash and for a chain fence to be installed. The organizer hoped to get 500 signatures. As of Thursday, there were 511.
Staff will bring a report back to council at its next regular meeting.
Note: This story has been updated to include the online petition.