I used to be a city councillor who didn’t want to let the dogs out downtown — for all the reasons some people have talked about recently. I remember years of stepping carefully in the city’s core.
However I have changed my mind in the last couple of years. I listened to the businesses on Baker Street, dog owners, the West Kootenay Kennel Club and the tourists. I listened to them long before the National Post splashed a story on its front page.
Just for the record, the Nelson Business Association did not demand the dogs be returned to downtown, but rather, city staff asked us to have a local meeting and survey the people who rent and own and work on Baker Street to see what they felt about dogs and other issues. We presented those findings to council nearly a year ago and recommended a trial for the tourist season of 2012, based on a survey of 124 businesses, most of whom were okay with leashed dogs. The police chief figured he could easily manage a bylaw that required trained and restrained animals — and trained owners!
Then… nothing. Until now, as Councillor Deb Kozak has picked up the ball. However, you will probably hear the same old stories from some councillors and some citizens about unleashed, scrapping, barking dogs and careless owners of yesteryear, about seizure and disposal of abandoned animals, about transients returning to Baker Street in greater numbers with large furry friends.
I think the climate has changed, with more awareness regarding the place of dogs in the community. That being said, some of our city’s canine owners could use a good template all the same. I was impressed with the comments of the West Kootenay Kennel Club at our NBA focus meeting; they said there is an accreditation program that the Canadian Kennel Association can provide for local dogs: “The K9 Good Neighbour.” Pets receive a tag that says “I’m a good dog” after a training session. Encouraging all owners to take pride in their animals would be a good exercise to enhance the whole community, rather than badly enforcing a restriction on seven blocks of the city.
I think the problem is that we never managed our dog population very well, never laid out good standards, never enforced licensing, and it’s time to start doing that right, not just by focusing on Baker Street, but by a positive community strategy that addresses careless behaviour on the unsightly waterfront dog walk, the upper city trails, and the rest of the city where dogs roam quite freely.
You can call me an optimist, but everyone can change their outlook, right?
Even city councillors.
Margaret Stacey is a former city councillor and now a member of the Nelson Business Association