Barking up the wrong tree

Resident upset with changes to dog access at Marshall Field

I

‘m appalled that recently our Vernon mayor and council, except Scott Anderson, voted to make the popular Marshall Field dog walk area on-leash only. Apparently, this is a solution looking for a problem. City staff were reported to have two reasons for recommending a change from off-leash to on-leash.

One is protection of the endangered spadefoot toad habitat, for which the city, in respect of a provincial Ministry of Environment agreement, has built or enhanced the ponds along the southern portion of Marshall Field.

I’m told most of the toads are in these ponds, and ponds on the old Lakers Golf Course, with much fewer in the creek, where some of our dogs like to cool off and play.

Of the kilometre or so of creek through Marshall Field, there are only a handful of spots, a small fraction of this distance, where dogs typically access the creek.

I appreciate that preservation of habitat for toads, and other creatures, means we should limit our impact upon these riparian areas to preserve connectivity. But does that have to mean no access to the water for our dogs? I think not.

City staff and council could easily find a more refined solution than a blanket loss of off-leash exercise for our dogs. How about no dogs within five metres of the ponds, and access to the creek restricted to two or three defined points?

The second reason given for going on-leash only is to reduce the number of dogs, and their droppings, on the playing fields, and to minimize confrontations between dogs, or dogs and people.

I understand the frustration with this issue, as I see a minority of dog-walkers and soccer parents continue to walk their pets across the soccer pitches. I agree this has to stop.

Will leashes stop dogs from going on the playing fields, or reduce confrontations? No!

The solution has nothing to do with leashes. It has everything to do with where owners choose to take their dogs, and how they control them, whether they’re regular dog-walkers or soccer parents. The onus should be on owners to guide and control their pets responsibly, using a leash if needed. I have no problem with fines for owners with dogs on the playing fields.

Councillor Cunningham was correct in pointing out there are other off-leash dog parks in the city, but Marshall Field is one of only two good ones with water access. The other is BX Ranch Park. The loss of one of Vernon’s best off-leash dog parks, without compelling reasons, or any effort to collaborate with users, is unacceptable.

On the issue of dogs at Marshall Field, Vernon council has failed to clearly define the problem, and to find solutions that are effective, supported by users, enforceable, and without significant negative consequences.

Where there are real problems with dogs, real solutions are available. Simply requiring all dogs to be on-leash is not a solution. It’s a call to arms.

Colin Heggie

Vernon