A tourist has vowed never to return to Tofino because he believes off-leash dogs have robbed the town’s beaches of the serenity he travels for.
“It is sadly, a free for all when it comes to dogs running free, their dog feces dropped openly, and a general arrogance and entitlement when it comes to dog owners. I’ve experienced this more and more each year I visit the region,” Jim Karman wrote in a letter that was reviewed by Tofino’s municipal council on Dec. 11.
“Tofino has long lost its charm and beauty, to the people that abuse social consciousness, in part due to the lack of rules and enforcement. Quite frankly, it has gone to the dogs, and that’s a huge mistake.”
Under Tofino’s Animal Control Bylaw, all dogs must be leashed in public places, but Karman suggested the district has “dropped the ball” on enforcing its leash laws, which has led to a prevalence of off-leash dogs that, he feels, has become unmanageable.
“I’m saddened by the state of the beaches and the amount of dog feces, but more importantly the liability that the district has placed itself in by not enforcing dog activity. By leaving it up to dog owners, they have opened themselves up to serious liability issues, and may not have felt the legal implications of a child being bitten or injured by an aggressive K9. It will happen. It’s only a matter of time,” he wrote. “As a former dog owner, I am appalled by the behaviour here. It’s the Wild West!”
Coun. Al Anderson was the first to speak to the letter during the meeting, quipping, “The war of the dogs is always ongoing.”
Anderson acknowledged there is a “strong desire” among dog owners to let their pets run off-leash on beaches and said council had previously considered picking one beach to let dogs run free on, but couldn’t agree on which beach to sacrifice.
Coun. Duncan McMaster asked if Karman’s assertion that the district could be held liable if a dog-related incident occurred, but district CAO Bob McPherson doubted Karman’s caution held merit.
“The suggestion that we need to be everywhere enforcing every bylaw, every minute of the day, I can’t agree with that,” McPherson said. “When we do get a complaint, we follow up. We do enforce our bylaws. We’re just not on the beaches 24 hours a day enforcing the beach bylaws.”
McMaster suggested that “whatever we’re doing isn’t working,” and added that the steps Tofino has taken to educate locals and visitors on leash laws are being drowned out by websites and social media posts showing dogs on beaches.
“There’s one called, ‘Storm watching in Tofino with your dog’ and it says, ‘Dogs are supposed to be leashed in Tofino, but that was one rule nobody paid attention to,” he said. “We’re competing against social media and I don’t think our education is working against all these blogs and websites…We have to try and do something. I don’t have a solution, but I don’t think we can just say we should educate people more because we’ve been doing that for seven years and it’s not working.”
Mayor Josie Osborne likened the dog situation to Tofino’s formerly lax enforcement on illegal vacation rentals.
“We had some bylaws that we didn’t enforce for a long time and then we decided to and we had to put resources to it,” she said adding council would need to commit more of its budget to bylaw enforcement if it wanted to crack down on off-leash dogs.
Coun. Baert suggested launching a neighbourhood watch type of program or a group that could bring “creative solutions” to council.
“It’s not necessarily that this table, or staff, need to be the ones addressing this problem,” she said.
Osborne said that regardless of community input, the district would need to commit resources to the issue.
“Yes, residents need to be a part of a solution, but just like with vacation rentals, if this council thinks this is an important issue and wants to show some leadership and inspire conversation out there, it’s going to have to decide to enforce it’s own bylaws,” she said. “Even with other help and with creative solutions—I’m sure there are many out there—we still will need some staff resources…We can’t do it alone, but we can send a signal by making this a priority.”
Council agreed to have staff present a report to council in the spring that includes options for more proactively enforcing Tofino’s leash laws.
Osborne said council could reach out to relevant local organizations for feedback in the meantime.
“If there’s one thing we know, it’s that talking about changing dog-leash bylaws or enforcing dog-leash bylaws is going to incite a lot of reaction,” she said.