Nelson city council voted to overturn the contentious downtown dog ban at Monday night’s meeting, simultaneously voting in favour of legislation that will levy fines on pet owners who fail to properly clean up after their pet, leave their pets unattended or walk them downtown off-leash.
The bylaw amendment passed the first three readings and is planned to be adopted at the next council meeting in March.
“Usually if it passes the first three readings that’s the green light. I’m not anticipating a bump in the road or any major opposition, but one never knows,” said Mayor Deb Kozak, who was thrilled with the outcome.
Kozak reminded council during the debate that she was the one who initially introduced the idea of overturning the dog bylaw. The issue received opposition on the previous council, but many of those elected in November election campaigned on promises to bring it to an end.
“This is clearly a polarizing issue,” said councillor Anna Purcell, who referred to a recent Star poll that found residents are almost evenly split on the issue. Having heard plentiful feedback on the issue while campaigning, she felt compelled to address the issue head-on.
“It felt important to me that we plan this for success as much as possible, 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.”
And though much of council was supportive of Purcell’s comments, councillor Robin Cherbo spoke out strongly against overturning the ban.
“I don’t think it will be a suprise to anyone to find out I’m speaking out against changing the dog ban. I would like to see it stay how it is. I think it’s a concern for seniors, having dogs on Baker Street, with tripping over leashes. We have very narrow sidewalks.”
Cherbo said he’s observed problematic canine presences in Vancouver as well.
“I’ve seen problems on Granville Street in Vancouver where you have lots of dogs in one spot. And the other concern is one of the reasons this was brought forward was a young child was bitten, a paramedic’s child,” he said.
Beyond potential maiming incidents, Cherbo expressed concern that dog excrement is often not properly cleaned up.
“If the dog defecates in the street and the owner picks it up, there’s still traces. And dogs pee everywhere, which first of all is acidic so it will not do our lampposts or electrical fittings any good. Plus it’s unsanitary for young children who end up down on the sidewalk all the time.”
Cherbo said proposed dog dispenser bags will be expensive, and he thinks owners will tie dogs up outside stores despite the penalties. He would like to see colour-coded leashes handed out that show which dogs have licenses, and which don’t.
Purcell ridiculed the idea that Nelson overturning the dog bylaw would cause issues.
“Right now dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere else in Nelson and it doesn’t seem to be this dog-ridden Hell with people tripping on leashes and sliding on huge dog turds,” she said.
“Nowhere else in Canada has this rule and it’s hard for me to believe we’re that much dumber.”
Councillor Janice Morrison said she initially supported the dog ban, but now feels differently.
“What this was about was economic development and tourism,” she said, noting that she’d repeatedly heard during her campaign about business owners concerned about the ban’s effect on the city’s tourism reputation. However, they were equally concerned that Nelson would need a bylaw “with teeth” to address problematic pet owner behaviour.
Everyone present other than Cherbo voted in support of overturning the bylaw, while councillor Bob Adams was absent.
Kozak said she’s pleased her council has tackled such a divisive issue early on, and said the achievement signals their strength as a team.
“I’m really confident the community is so ready for this,” she said.