It was three years ago Vernon’s Donia Strand was walking her Labrador dog, Barney, on-leash at a local on-leash dog park.
It was there, said Strand, Barney was seriously attacked by an off-leash dog. Today, Barney remains fearful of other dogs running up to his face to say hello, especially if the visitor is not attached to a leash.
Strand and her friend, Elizabeth Eckert, have started a group called SafeDogWalkVernon, and have begun a petition campaign at change.org requesting the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) enhance its dog control presence at its various on-leash parks because of what the pair say is “the many off-leash dogs in them and the safety concerns this represents.”
“It is unsafe to have unleashed dogs running up to and greeting leashed dogs,” said Strand. “We want safe spaces to walk without being harassed by unleashed dogs. Vernon is a beautiful city and as dog owners, we want to enjoy the outdoors safely with our pets and without worry.”
In the petition, SafeDogWalkVernon requests RDNO dog control start making appearances at on-leash parks to educate dog owners on its dog control bylaw, and leashing dogs in on-leash areas.
“Larger, clearer and more strategically placed signs reminding dog owners that leashes are required would also be helpful,” said the group.
Strand said her group would like to gather some emails in support of this at SafeDogWalkVernon@googlegroups.com and they will present these to the RDNO in a letter on March 1, along with the results of this petition.
Those signing the petition are asked to include name, address (only if you are comfortable including this), and a brief account of your experience with off-leash dogs in leash-only areas.
Eckert took to the Facebook page Vernon Community Forum asking to hear from people with similar experiences.
“If you have had a bad experience with an off-leash/at-large dog (at-large, meaning a dog roaming in public with no owner) could you please sign our petition, send in your experience to the email listed and share this with others,” said Eckert.
“I know if we band together to make change, we can make Vernon a safer place for our dogs (and kids). My son and I have a reactive dog because an at-large dog attacked him. Has this happened to you? Are you afraid to bring your dog to a public park like Kin Race Track, Polson Park, Marshall Fields or even in your community because of off-leash dogs?”
Strand said Commissionaires used to be responsible for dog control, and that they maintained a presence at parks like Marshall Field, Kin Race Track, upper DND and Polson Park, and as a result, there were far fewer unleashed dogs in leashed areas.
“There are many beautiful off-leash parks to accommodate those owners that would like to let their pet off-leash, but in on-leash areas, dogs should remain on-leash,” she said.
In a reply to the Morning Star when asked for comment, the RDNO said its dog control officers are dog owners themselves, and empathize with people that have experienced dog-related traumatic events. They are passionate, said the RDNO, about fostering a safe environment for the four- and two-legged community members.
“Our dog control officers conduct daily patrols on the many parks and trails within our service area, alongside duties like reuniting lost dogs with their owners, investigating reports of aggressive dogs, responding to excessive barking complaints, assisting the RCMP and the SPCA with cruelty cases, and providing public education,” said the RDNO.
“While most dog owners are responsible and follow the rules, we adjust our daily patrols accordingly when we receive numerous complaints from the same area, so it’s helpful when the public reports violations when they see them.”