Communication concerns raise hackles of dog owners

Greater communication called for between Oak Bay Parks and various users at Windsor Park

In July and August dogs are allowed in the park off-leash from sunset to 9 a.m. The rest of the year

Dogs at Windsor Park, and the impact on sports field users is a bit of a never-ending story. It reared its head again this year, when a handful of concerns over dog digging and excrement left behind in Windsor Park kick started conversation at the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission.

“We’ve and complaints about dog holes in the past,” said Chris Hyde-Lay, Oak Bay parks manager, adding complaints, compared to the amount of users, are pretty minimal. Parks figures about 30,000 people use the park annually, from the dog owners to sport enthusiasts such as cricket, rugby, soccer, baseball and croquet. There’s even the occasional fly fisherman spotted in the field.

“It’s for everybody,” Hyde-Lay said. They hold two meets a year with all the users to air and address concerns, which range from bookings to other user groups.

The PRCC asked that staff compile information to include an inventory of green spaces in the municipality, statistics on field user groups as well as past recommendations and reports regarding dog usage in the park.

That raised the hackles of the Windsor Park Dog Owner Group, who compiled a report filled with recommendations to make Oak Bay more ‘dog friendly’ five years ago.

In 2011 Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen sought feedback suggesting how Oak Bay could be more dog friendly.

Dog owner Chris Ash, still actively involved in the Windsor Park Dog Group, co-authored the report and gave it to Oak Bay in May 2012.

“They put a heck of a lot of work into it,” said Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, council liaison to the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission. “It has a lot of great recommendations and they put a lot of thought and effort into that report.”

Based on those recommendations, council allowed dogs on McNeill Bay beach between sunrise and sunset and prohibited them from Kitty Islet.

“In 2013 when council got the report … there were 21 recommendations, they only acted on one,” Ash said. Other recommendations included a three- to six-month pilot project to provide poop bags in parks, similar to programs in Victoria and Saanich. Or something similar to Mount Doug Park, which has a canister where users put extra bags in and “take a bag leave a bag.”

“I think people were left dangling and wondering. We found ourselves in a conflict with other groups and were really perplexed because maybe if they had followed up on some of those recommendations maybe we wouldn’t be here now,” Ash said.

Braithwaite hopes to broker some new ideas and open lines of communication after meeting with the group to determine what council might do to alleviate concerns.

“Their group is very, very good at policing themselves,” said Bratihwaite, echoing Hyde-Lay’s words. “They try to ensure none of their members do things that would harm the field. I think they’re very good at that. Unfortunately, it’s what happens outside of their group.”

For example, if early park goers discover a hole dug overnight – whether by a dog, rabbit or another animal, Braithwaite noted – perhaps Oak Bay could simply provide the fill and users the manpower.

“If we had even a bucket of sand somewhere where they could fill that hole, they would do that, they’re willing to do that,” Braithwaite said. “That’s something Oak Bay could do to limit the danger of someone twisting an ankle on that hole.”

Other suggestions for improved interaction include more signage to make dog owners more aware of certain areas are off limits at certain times. However, the concern isn’t all one way, Braithwaite said, sometimes for example sport users leave athletic tape on the field for pups to ingest.

“The concern from the Windsor Park Dog Group is that there’s been a little bit of a lack of communications between the commission and staff and the dog group. They’re hearing there are issues when really there’s just a want for conversation around the dog report and some of the recommendations in the report,” said Braithwaite.

“They’re just looking for a little more communication between commission and themselves.”

She plans to share insight with the PRCC in hopes of opening those lines of communication.

“They (Windsor Dog Park Group) are such an asset to that part of the community. They get together, they talk, the get along,” Braithwaite said.

In the long run, it’s about finding a balance for all park users, Hyde-Lay said.

“It’s a real social time too for the dog owners,” he said. “That’s what recreation is all about.”

 

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