Tofino’s town council can’t seem to keep off-leash dog complaints down and is hoping their staff can come up with some new tricks to tackle the old issue.
“Our ultimate (desired) outcome is that we don’t have our citizens writing letters because they are fearful to walk on the beaches,” said Coun. Tom Stere during April 4’s Committee of the Whole meeting. “That is my ultimate outcome, that those people feel safe in the community that they are living in.”
Complaints from residents who believe off-leash dogs are destroying the local beach experience scampered onto council’s desk in March, prompting council to ask for a deeper dive into possible solutions, which came by way of a report from manager of protective services Brent Baker on April 4.
Dogs are prohibited from being off-leash in any public areas in Tofino, but Baker suggested
his department’s resources would need to be either increased or redirected from other areas to effectively enforce that law.
“With the resources that we have, would council like us to stop doing one thing in order to put more attention into another? It’s impossible to be everywhere at once. It takes a bylaw officer two hours just to patrol the town in the morning for people living in their vehicles and camping,” Baker said. “There just is not enough resources to be everywhere and you can look at that as an excuse, but the people that do this work every single day, work tirelessly and show up everyday with a smile on their face and are told everyday how they could do their job better. Unless we can start cloning people or provide some options, the challenge is going to continue.”
He said Parksville and Qualicum both have similar animal bylaws to Tofino, but also each offer designated off-leash areas for dogs to exercise and play, which Tofino currently does not.
“The bylaw staff in each of these communities report that off leash zones have made a real difference because it provides a legal option for those whose belief conflicts with the on leash bylaw,” he said.
He added that Parksville’s bylaw enforcement team focuses on education and occasionally hands out leashes, but “does not take any enforcement action on the beaches, ever.”
“They are very clear about the fact that they will not chase dogs at large,” he said. “They will only attend for a dog at large if it is in the care of somebody already. They will not go out to chase animals around town.”
He added many communities struggle to enforce leash laws.
“By the time the resources arrive on scene, the animals and owners have often moved on,” he said, adding that enforcing leashes can become problematic when the culprits are found. “The enforcement of dogs has a high likelihood of attitude, verbal abuse and physical aggression. Parksville just relayed to me that two weeks ago they had an individual smash out the windshield on their vehicle because they asked them to put their puppy on a leash.”
He added both Parksville and Qualicum provide clear information about what their bylaw teams will and won’t respond to.
“Currently Tofino does not, which gives the impression that protective services will and should do it all,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster questioned the point of a bylaw that can’t be enforced.
“Why do we have a bylaw saying dogs must be on a leash if we’re not going to do anything about it?” he asked. “We’ve done lots of education, so obviously that’s not working.”
Baker reiterated that resources would need to be added or redirected.
“There are bylaws that are challenging to enforce and it requires resources and being there to physically see it at that moment,” he said.
Coun. Tom Stere said he also has a dog issue and that dogs had been a topic of discussion at the recent Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention that Tofino council had participated in.
“There has to be an acceptance of reality that you have indicated in terms of the ability to enforce but also the realities of dog owners and in our particular location it will be a continual challenge regardless of a bylaw and regardless of how much enforcement effort is put in,” he said. “It’s not going to be one particular item that is going to do the trick on this.”
Coun. Al Anderson agreed.
“I know of at least two very serious injuries that have happened to people, I’m talking about broken limbs and disfigurement that have happened to people in Tofino and not everyone is a dog lover…All people should have the right to enjoy a beach and feel safe,” he said.
“I don’t know if we could ever have enough resources to cover it all. It’s one of those things like fireworks, like campfires, unless we’re going to have two shifts a day of patrolling beaches, which I don’t think anyone really wants to see that sort of enforcement presence, it’s going to be really hard…As we move forward, we need to have a plan and then decide how we’re going to resource it. Safety is my primary concern, safety and access to beaches for everyone.”
Coun. Britt Chalmers said she understood the difficulty of enforcing leash laws and suggested an off-leash dog park could mitigate the issue.
“This does come back year after year after year and it is increasingly becoming more of an issue,” she said. “I don’t think education works without the alternative for people to have an option.”
Coun. Cathy Thicke noted the district recently implemented new beach fire regulations and a similar route could be taken for off-leash dogs.
“I would like to see us have an engagement blitz with the public,” she said. “I think we need a targeted blitz to inform people why this is so important.”
She also suggested working with Tourism Tofino to help educate people through their channels so that visitors know what to expect when they arrive.
Coun. Jacky Challenger said joint messaging could help increase awareness.
“I think a lot of people see images of Tofino where dogs are running free all the time and it’s almost promoted in a sense that this is allowed,” she said.
CAO Bob MacPherson said district staff would work on putting a plan together to lay out possible next steps.
“I don’t think anyone had any expectations that we were going to come up with a plan that would resolve everyone’s concern with respect to dogs,” he said. “I hope that council can appreciate that this is a problem that was year’s in the making and is not going to get resolved by next weekend.”