Tofino dog owners should mark Dec. 5 in their calendars as the town’s municipal council is expected to take a deep dive into the district’s hotly contested leash laws.
“We encourage all parties interested in the off-leash dog discussion to attend the Dec. 5 committee of the whole meeting,” said Tofino mayor Dan Law during council’s first regular meeting of the term on Nov. 8. “That will be a chance for council to discuss the issue and, hopefully, we can all look for ways of finding a copacetic solution.”
Law’s words came after council reviewed three letters from local dog owners pushing back against the increased enforcement of Tofino’s leash laws, which prohibit dogs from being off-leash in all public areas.
“I am a local and a dog-owner who would like you to reconsider the structure of the recent enforcement of restrictions for off-leash dogs in all public places,” wrote Erica Rutter.
“I urge you to consider a more complex solution until we have the funds and space for a designated off-leash area.”
Rutter noted that council’s beach fire ban left leeway for people to continue having fires in an approved apparatus, rather than ban them outright.
“I understand that restrictions need to be enforced and changes need to be made for the safety of pedestrians, the cleanliness of the beach and the environmental impact on wildlife. I urge you to consider alternative options instead of mostly penalizing locals at all times of day, on all beaches, throughout all seasons,” she wrote.
She suggested bylaw staff are focusing on local dog owners while turning a blind eye to tourists.
“Bylaw staff approaching locals before 8 a.m. on empty beaches in off-season yet no bylaw presence for large groups of tourists on busy beaches throughout summer months seems unbalanced and fruitless, as the majority of impact must be during the summer months when beaches are crowded,” she wrote.
She suggested a schedule be drawn up allowing dogs to run off-leash in certain areas at certain times of day.
Andrea Ellsworth-Turner wrote that she was walking with her off-leash dog on Chesterman Beach and was issued a ticket by a bylaw officer.
“In response, I said that I plan to continue to walk my dog off-leash until there is an alternative off-leash option for dogs in town and the officer then let me know that Tofino is not obligated to provide an off-leash dog area. Which is highly disappointing. And a reminder of one of the many ways that Tofino caters mainly to tourism and not the locals,” she wrote.
She added she is frustrated by the absence of an off-leash dog area and said her six-year-old dog needs exercise that cannot be provided on-leash.
“If we can’t let our dogs off-leash on the beach, where can they get proper exercise?” she asked.
Ann MacDonnell wrote that one of Tofino’s beaches should be designated as off-leash.
“There are many tourists and locals alike that enjoy Tofino because of its dog-friendly atmosphere and its large beaches to let dogs run freely and get quality exercise,” she wrote.
“It’s also extremely important that dogs socialize and sniff new scents. Most local dog owners do not have fenced-in yards where we can let our dogs roam freely…The beaches and trails are key areas where we can all exercise together and enjoy the outdoors and it’s very important for dog training.”
She suggested dogs cannot be properly trained without being allowed off-leash and noted other communities, like neighbouring Ucluelet, have designated off-leash areas.
She added that easing up on leash laws would give the district’s “notoriously under-staffed” bylaw enforcement team more time to focus elsewhere and that people wanting to avoid off-leash dogs could choose a leash-only area.
She added that dog owners would be more willing to comply with leash laws if there was at least one area where their pets could be off-leash.
“For non-dog owners, I know that this may seem like a less important issue than some of the things on the councils’ table. To dog-owners, these pets are members of our family and these walks take up hours of our day,” she wrote.
“This is impacting our lifestyle and a huge part of why we love to call Tofino home. Improving the details of these restrictions while considering the opinions of those who are affected most is greatly appreciated.”
READ MORE: Tofino tweaks bylaw enforcement policy