The prospect of dogs being leashed on the Holland Creek Trail continues to be a major talking point in town.
So much so, a bumper crowd arrived at city hall last Monday for the municipal services committee meeting where the topic was brought up for discussion yet again.
“There was a discussion at parks and recreation,” said Coun. Duck Paterson, council’s Parks, Recreation and Culture representative. “I was under the impression that a different motion had passed and that the trail would be divided in two. We have to keep in mind that the trail was built for the people and the community so it has to be safe for the people using it. I understand that dogs are part of and dear to families.”
Paterson is for leashing the dogs, at least on some parts of the trail, as is Mayor Rob Hutchins, but Coun. Steve Arnett still wants more public input.
“I’ve said before, if a dog attacks a human being it should be put down immediately, unless it was defending itself,” said Arnett. “I really do think we need to bring this forward for more public discussion. I’ll go to the wall to make sure the young and the elderly are safe but I think we should find a balance rather than a full ban of off-leash.”
Coun. Gord Horth is on the same page and has already stated his desire to keep the trail as off-leash as it is currently, with dog owners required to keep their dog “under control.”
“I agree with my colleagues that public safety is paramount,” said Horth. “The vast majority of sensible dog owners using the trail have well-behaved dogs. We have a lens here and we’ve focused it on the dangerous dogs and we’re going suddenly from that to all dogs on-leash. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and clearly, if we’re taking this drastic action, more public consultation is needed.
“In January, we had one aggressive dog complaint. We have 1,000 licensed dogs in Ladysmith. A reasonable approach is to try enforcement and get our animal control officer out there. I’m on the trails constantly and I’ve never had a problem in 20 years with my young children and now my adult children.”
Coun. Jill Dashwood admitted she is “struggling” with the issue.
“There’s lots of people with opinions both for and against,” she said. “I know quite a few people who have been bitten, but in a way, I agree with Councillor Horth, why should we jump into one thing right off the bat? I agree with Councillor Arnett and safety is first. If a dog bites without being provoked, then enforcement is paramount. This process [making the trail on-leash] should be a little slower.”
Coun. Bill Drysdale, who chaired the meeting, is leaning towards putting the dogs on-leash.
“I’ve been bitten three times by a dog in my life. Some are recommending the north side of the trail be on-leash. By default, I’d vote to have on-leash, because if we don’t, that would mean we’re disregarding the bitten ones and that’s not being respectful.”
Horth seems set to stick to his guns.
“Westwood Lake is one of the most heavily-used trails on Vancouver Island and guess what, it’s off-leash, but they have enforcement issues,” said Horth.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Drysdale allowed members of the packed crowd to stand up and speak.
“I was on the trail today (Feb. 17) and there was 15 people and 12 dogs,” said Ladysmith resident Deb Baker. “Some are for, some are against. It’d be a good idea if some more members of council would come and walk the trail too.”
Another Ladysmith resident, by the name of Mr. Davies, doesn’t think the topic is a safety issue at all.
“I’ve used the trial every day for the past nine years. One time, I was glad my dog was off-leash, as 20 metres in front of me was a bear. They run further from off-leash dogs and that’s safety for me. Joggers can go to the school yard; we can’t go there with our dogs. It’s a beautiful trail that everyone needs to enjoy, but there’s not a safety issue up there. You’re spending a lot of time on an issue that doesn’t exist.”
A recommendation is to come from Parks, Recreation and Culture soon.