In 14 months on the job, Pamela Guille has responded to nearly 500 dog-related calls in the rural areas around Nelson. And with a few exceptions, she’s resolved them without issuing tickets or going to court.
“It’s been busier than expected, but really great,” says Guille, the former SPCA branch manager hired in May 2010 as animal control officer for regional district areas E and F.
“Yes, I’m enforcing the bylaw, but in a very respectful, educational way that’s been really well received. Usually I find people are willing [to cooperate]. Although if I have to step up enforcement, I will.”
For the first six months, she spent much of her time reuniting stray animals with their owners, often without the help of ID. But she has also responded to a variety of complaints, including people being bitten, dogs attacking other dogs, dogs on public property intimidating people, and persistent barking.
“Noise complaints consume a little more of my time because to prove the case definitely takes ongoing monitoring,” she says.
Barking, in fact, led to the one dispute that ended up in court, after an owner fought a ticket she wrote. However, Guille successfully prosecuted the case.
“That was the first time the bylaw was presented in court and thank goodness it stood up,” she says. “That was quite an exhausting compiling of information and investigation. That’s not my first line of defense, but I had to [use it].”
She has not seen much of a pattern in her workload. What she expected to be a slow winter was actually busy. And while a given day might not produce any calls, the next could result in several. In all, she has received about 490 to date.
Her contract also requires her to perform regular patrols of problem areas like Taghum beach, where she diplomatically provides leashes. On her first visit this year, she discovered 15 dogs off-leash, “so I said this is first and last warning. And I went back the few other sunny days and dogs were on-leash. Quite a few families, particularly with smaller kids, really appreciate the difference.”
Area E regional director Ramona Faust agrees the service has been “working pretty well.”
Her area and neighbouring Area F are paying $20,000 each per year. Between them, the dog bylaw is enforced from Bonnington to Coffee Creek.
“There’s a lot of work done on a broad number of files and intense work on a specific few that are the most problematic,” Faust says.
“Some dog owners are easier to get along with than others. Some are very persistent in feeling their dogs have the right to be loose or bark.”
Faust says having a dedicated animal control officer also takes pressure off the regional district’s other bylaw enforcement officer.
“The workload could have been taken up with dog calls from our two areas [alone],” she says. “That wasn’t acceptable. She does building bylaws and everything else for the whole region.”
Now Slocan Valley director Walter Popoff is mulling creating a similar service for his area and taking the issue to referendum this fall.
Faust says there was no vote in her area — it’s up to the director — but she felt she had to act following some “extreme cases.”
“The idea was just to stop it because people had been severely hurt and kept from working,” she says. “We had a lot of stuff, including very heated situations between neighbours. I felt it was incumbent on me to take a leadership role.”
Guille, who has a three-year contract, says she has fielded calls from the Slocan, but refers them to elected officials.