Expanded access to McNeill Bay leads to more dog-friendly Oak Bay

Council approves dog pilot project

English Field Lab sisters Emily and Millie carry their rubber ducks along Willows beach.

English Field Lab sisters Emily and Millie carry their rubber ducks along Willows beach.

Dog owners in Oak Bay will soon be able to walk their canines on McNeill Bay Beach from sunrise to sunset.

Council has approved a pilot project to expand the hours dogs are allowed on McNeill Bay Beach throughout the summer months.

In a report presented to council Monday night, members from the Windsor Park Dog Group said expanding access to the beach is the most immediate need for dog owners.

“Dogs need reasonably big spaces (to exercise in), so we looked at a whole bunch of parks in Oak Bay,” Gloria Back, from the Windsor Park Dog Group, said Tuesday.

“(McNeill Bay Beach) is a very different kind of beach. It’s cold and windy.”

Back, along with Chris Ash and a small group of volunteers, tabled the report after Mayor Nils Jensen requested a dog management report in January.

Working with Oak Bay Parks, Victoria Animal Control Services, and the opinions of both dog and non-dog owners, the group identified six areas in Oak Bay that could be made more “dog-friendly.”

McNeill Bay was chosen as a good spot for dogs because it isn’t an “ideal” beach for people without dogs.

“It’s got big pebbles … it’s got a lot of goose poop there in the summer, so it’s not very hygienic for kids to play,” Back explained. “It’s a long strip and that’s where we feel that dogs can get exercise.”

For eight to 10 weeks, dogs will be allowed almost unlimited access on the beach. Dogs will be prohibited from Kitty Islet and McMicking Point, areas near the beach that will be reserved for families to use, Back said.

The current bylaw allows dogs on McNeill Bay from sunrise to 11 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to sunset, from May through September.

The pilot project is “a good way to move forward” in making the municipality more dog-friendly, said Jensen.

“Council came to the conclusion that it was a reasonable request to start with a small pilot (project),” he said.

The fact that the group’s report was so “thorough, well-researched, and balanced” lead to council’s unanimous vote for the project, said Jensen.

The project will go through two more bylaw readings in June before being implemented.

Other suggestions in the report, which consists of 21 recommendations, include looking at expanding access to dogs in other parks or beaches, as well as providing easier access to information regarding dog licensing and bylaws.

Spear grass remediation and a dog poop bag pilot project was also part of the report.

Council has asked Oak Bay parks to figure out costs and locations for the pilot project and bring recommendations back to council in late summer or early fall.

The poop bag pilot project would involve placing bags for dog owners to use in various areas of the municipality. Such programs already exist in Victoria, Saanich and Sidney.

“We acknowledge that not every dog owner is as responsible as they should be,” Back said, adding that the hope would be to see if people use the bags and whether or not the amount of dog feces in parks is reduced.

The McNeill Bay pilot project, along with other recommendations from the report, will be evaluated in the fall.

The dog management report can be viewed on the municipality’s website, oakbaybc.org, and public input is welcome.

“We’re looking at efficiencies, how can we make things better? How can we make our parks better, more useable?” Jensen said.

“We’re doing that on a wide range of issues across the board. … (Dog management) was just one of the many initiatives we have for community engagement.”