2015’s top stories No. 6: Dogs back on Baker

Nelson city council rescinded a 20-year-old ban on downtown pooches.

Pet owners held a rally on Baker St. in March to celebrate the end of the downtown dog ban.

For nearly 20 years, Nelson refused to allow dogs on Baker St., a move both applauded and condemned but mostly the latter. Visitors were astounded to discover they couldn’t bring their pets downtown without risking a fine.

Although the previous city council refused to reconsider the matter, a change of heart was telegraphed during last year’s all-candidates forum when virtually every council candidate suggested they favoured relaxing the bylaw.

And if they wouldn’t force the issue, a local lawyer would: David Aaron threatened to sue the city over three tickets he received. But within two months of being sworn in, the new council voted to overturn the ban, albeit with a number of stipulations attached.

“It felt important to me that we plan this for success as much as possible,” councillor Anna Purcell said, “and I feel like this proposed change takes care of a lot of my concerns like having a six-foot maximum leash, you can’t tie them up, you have to clean up after your pets these are provisions I feel confident are a good direction to go in to remind ourselves the streets of Nelson are for everybody.”

Though much of council agreed, councillor Robin Cherbo spoke out strongly against the change.

“I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone [that] I would like to see it stay how it is. I think it’s a concern for seniors, having dogs on Baker St., with tripping over leashes. We have very narrow sidewalks.”

But his was the only vote against. To celebrate, a downtown dog parade was held in March. Matheson Kincaid and his poodle Bugsy were among the participants.

“I thought the bylaw was dumb,” Kincaid said. “Every other town can live with dogs on their main street, why can’t we? I don’t know what it was like in the past, but this bylaw was past its best before date.”

After a summer’s trial, bylaw officer Fred Thomson gave council the verdict: the change was a resounding success.

“We have enjoyed it,” he said. “Tourists and locals say they like it. We felt it was a success and we would like to see it continue. We did not have to take the grief we have taken in past years.”

Between May and October, bylaw officers had 428 dog-related interactions with people compared with 546 during the same period the previous year. They issued five tickets for dogs off leash or being tied up, but “there are no bags or feces on the street.”

Yet while it repealed one controversial bylaw, city council is now looking at adopting another to regulate aggressive panhandling, at the request of police and bylaw officers who feel it would help them.

The notion has been widely criticized, however, and councillors seemed skittish about rushing into anything. They first sought a number of changes to the wording and then delayed any action until next April.