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What do Nelson councillors think about the dog debate?
In anticipation of the debate at council regarding the downtown dog bylaw, the Nelson Star sent out an email to the seven members of city council to see what they’re thinking. We asked three questions:
1) Do you think the dog bylaw should be lifted for a trial basis this spring and summer?
2) Why do you feel this way?
3) What, if anything, would sway you to a different position?
All but Councillor Bob Adams responded. Here is what they had to say...
2) I support the idea of a trial because then we will know if dog owners can actually be responsible and if it can work to have dogs downtown again. If it doesn’t work out, then we know we tried.
3) I will be curious about staff assessments of time and resources necessary to do the policy work to put the trial in place, enforce it, monitor effectiveness, report out, and update policies again the fall (not to mention the cost of doggy bag dispensers and bags which I’m not at all keen on installing downtown from an aesthetic point of view). It’s not a small thing to pull off.
2) This issue has triggered passionate debate off and on over the past few years and it eats up a lot of time. Members of the business community and citizens have stepped forward with some workable solutions and dog doo shovels in hand to ask for a change. I think it’s worth a try.
3) If there was no support from the business community and dog owners to make this a success, this change would not work.
I am looking forward to the motion, the suggestions and debate, and a full staff report. Too early to take a position.
2) Baker Street is the heart of our community, so there’s a lot to consider — the interests of the business community and of the broader community. For example, we hear from dog owners who want to be downtown; we hear less often from seniors, children and others who are intimidated by dogs and like Baker Street the way it is. So if we’re going to make a change, we have to be very thoughtful about what and how we change.
3) More information. We need everyone at the table when we next discuss this, which is why I suggested to council that we have the police and business reps at the next discussion. We need to talk about enforcement — I’m not willing to commit taxpayers to additional bylaw enforcement costs (or to other significant staff costs), so I need to hear from the police about their capacity and from the businesses about how they will assist with education, enforcement, clean-up, etc. We need to explore what regulations need to be put in place (on-leash only; no dogs tied to trees and parking meters; etc.). We need to identify real costs to the city (i.e., bag dispensers and bags; educational material; advertising). And we need to develop an assessment process so that at the end of the trial, we can evaluate how it worked, not only for businesses but also for our own community members.
2) I have been approached by many people who think dogs should be allowed (particularly for visitors), but by even more people who prefer the bylaw left as is.
3) Only two things would sway me to support increasing the range of dogs.
First, if I saw more responsible behaviour from local dog owners. That means — no more dogs loose in town, with no collars, no licenses or no owners in sight (which I see at least twice a week, currently). Responsible also means cleaning up after your dog, no matter where it takes a crap. Nelson is the most feces littered place I have ever been in my life, worse than Brussels (which I swore never to visit again because I was so disgusted with the quantity of feces there). Here in Nelson, visitors and locals all witness the thousands of piles of poo that are left behind on the BNR, our off leash dog park, sidewalks, boulevards and alleyways. Until I see an improvement on both these fronts, I think opening Baker Street will only result in more stray dogs and a troublesome expansion of toilet territory.
Second, I would also like someone to explain to me, convincingly, how dogs downtown will be a benefit and not a burden for business or tourism. Sure, travellers with little ones that can be tucked under an arm or have excellent behaviour will be no problem. But what about a big, wet, poorly trained dog in a clothing store? Or a tightly packed gift shop with lots of valuable merchandise? Or dogs that are left to wander the store on their own? It’s a real concern, especially when a young one chooses to mark its territory on the merchandise. Also, could I enter a restaurant and sit down for a meal or a drink with my dog in tow? What about if someone ties their dog to a parking meter and leaves it there to bark or entangle passersby? Who cleans up the crap... because trust me, it will be there. And who keeps it from getting tracked into stores? There is a pleasant prospect.
Businesses advocating for this change will need to address all these issues and Nelson taxpayers (dog owners and non-dog owners alike) will be covering the costs of installing bag dispensers keeping them stocked, disposing of litter, and the increased bylaw costs for resolving conflicts as a result of introducing a whole new species on our already crowded streets.
But, on the upside, this may decrease the quantity of “land mines” left on our other streets, sidewalks and trails, which is something I would love to see. Nelson, it’s up to you, I am your humble representative.
I do not at this time feel I am ready to give a final yay or nay to any of these questions.
I have concerns and misgivings about allowing dogs back in the downtown core and as well as legal questions about liability for the City if this goes through and something unfortunate happens; i.e. a dog causing an injury to someone from the public?
When this comes before council again, I look forward to the debate and I will make my vote known at that time.