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More off-leash enforcement promised

The Doggie Park at Dyke and No. 3 roads is one of six public off-leash areas in Richmond. Dog walkers say there aren
The Doggie Park at Dyke and No. 3 roads is one of six public off-leash areas in Richmond. Dog walkers say there aren't enough of them.
— image credit: Pablo Dodda photo via Flickr

One of every four dogs was found off-leash during a recent city scan of a known hotspot for bylaw offenders, according to a Tuesday report promising greater enforcement this summer.

City employees covertly probed West Dyke Trail on eight occasions in March and observed 231 dogs—52 of which were off-leash, and at least 17 lacked dog licence tags.

Most of the dog-related complaints made to city hall this year—33 of 56 complaints being from one resident—originated from the dyke between Garry Point Park and Terra Nova.

Richmond's animal control bylaw requires dogs to be leashed and in control while in public areas. Off-leash animals present risks of dog attacks, bites and aggressiveness, according to the city, which recorded 55 incidents of dog bites in 2013.

"To address these types of incidents responsible pet ownership should be promoted. Two key factors that are accepted best practices, and standard in most municipalities, involve dog owners ensuring that the pet is wearing a valid dog licence and ensuring that their pet is on a leash, except when the dog is in a designated off-leash area," said Edward Warzel, manager of community bylaws, in a report to a council committee this week.

Planned is an "enhanced dog enforcement program," focusing on busy areas. Visitors to local beaches, dykes, playgrounds and trails might notice a greater presence of bylaw enforcement officers this summer.

"The focus of this program will be to educate the public regarding responsible pet ownership, increase dog leash awareness, and encourage dog licensing," noted Warzel.

The city is also deploying door-to-door dog licence canvassers this summer. The canvassers will accept credit card payments, or allow pet owners to connect with city hall's licensing registry by phone. They'll also be armed with information on the pesticide control bylaw.

As of April 1, 5,018 dogs were licensed in Richmond, including 67 dangerous dogs such as pit bulls. Annual fees for dog licences range from $10.75 to $267, depending on type of dog, if it's spayed or neutered, if it's deemed dangerous and when the licence is purchased.

The penalty for an unlicensed dog is up to $325, or up to $525 for an unlicensed dangerous dog, and subject to court prosecution for up to $10,000, according to city hall.

Bylaws staff blame a growing population for the increase in dog-related complaints.

"As the population in the area increases in density, these demands are expected to escalate and put additional pressure on fixed municipal resources," according to Warzel's report.

Jezebel Erding of the Woofer Walkers Dog Walking Services said the number of off-leash dogs in public spaces such as the dyke is a problem, but she pointed to a "huge" lack of off-leash areas. Existing areas—there are six in Richmond—are too small, she added.

"Richmond desperately needs more off-leash dog trails and not just areas to hang out. Dog owners, professional dog walkers and dogs all want to go for a decent walk, and not just in some square enclosed off-leash space. Those are all the reasons why there are dogs off leash on the dyke."

Vancouver has more off-leash parks, she said, yet some Vancouver dog walkers come here.

"We really only have two semi-decent off-leash dog parks in Richmond and the actual designated off-leash areas of those two dog parks just aren't big enough for Richmond's growing dog community. And then to accommodate Vancouver dog walking companies too is too much."

Longtime dog walker Lisa Hinch, from Walk N Roll Pet Services, also pointed to a lack of off-leash areas.

"Richmond has way more dogs than it has the ability to provide off-leash area for, and some are very inconvenient."

Hinch said one method some cities have successfully employed is time-sharing: allowing dogs to be off-leash at certain times of the day in some parks.

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