It’s Thursday, March 21 and I’m looking out my window at the latest snowfall, of course immediately occurring just after the street sweeper has cleaned up the sand.
March is a tricky month, the month trying to be spring and not quite making it. It reminds me of a toddler taking her first steps. It is also the month of dog poop season — you know, the time of year when the snow melts and dog owners who don’t pick up are outed.
I’m preparing for a community meeting this evening with the province on the Columbia River Treaty, so I’ve set my PVR to record the documentary Dog Dazed on CBC. I’ve been anticipating this show because I think it may lend some further insights to the community conversation about urban dogs and perhaps speak to how, by becoming better pet owners, people also become better neighbours. I also think this show will add yet another spark to this community conversation.
Initially, I hadn’t intended to write about dogs because the proposition about whether or not we allow “trained and restrained” dogs in the few blocks of the downtown core seemed to be over. That hasn’t been the case.
I’ve read letters and emails pro and con and had many conversations with people about what would seem to be a small issue but really isn’t.
What we think are minor problems are often lightning rods that take us into underlying issues needing to be aired. And a good example is the dog bylaw.
As liaison to the business community, I regularly meet with owners to hear about their concerns and successes. It’s been a tough couple of years for our business community with the economic downturn and the rapidly shifting shopping habits of customers. Internet shopping, a decline in visitors and empty downtown spaces are some of the challenges facing our small community and it’s only recently that it’s turning around.
Discussions about how to make our downtown welcoming, inviting and friendly are also happening with the Downtown Waterfront Committee. We talk about the next transformation coming to Nelson, about how we continue to respect and preserve our heritage, but also boldly revitalize it and keep the downtown the busy, bustling hub of activity, counterculture and conservatism that everyone loves and wants to be a part of.
What makes the downtown work so well is the mix of community and business pulling together to make it all happen. That’s part of why the discussion to revisit an old bylaw that doesn’t work all that well came about. And when I spoke to bylaw officers, business owners and community members, there seemed to be enough support to give it a try.
The whole issue of dogs is about training owners and about us supporting each other to be good neighbours. That means talking to each other and working things out. The business community is ready to have some fun experimenting with change and bylaw officers are ready too, because it just doesn’t make sense to put more money into hiring more people to enforce a bylaw that is largely unenforceable.
I have faith in the people who live here because I’ve seen and heard stories of people doing the right thing. For every piece of evidence you see of people not picking up, there are those who do and they make the extra effort to do more. In my neighbourhood, I’ve seen people in Lions Park cleaning up after their own dog and picking up after others. It’s all part of spring cleaning. I just heard about a couple doing the same duty on the dog walk because as they said, “I want to be part of the solution.”
So you ask, what about those that aren’t responsible? Greg Stacey stopped me the other day. He and (former city councillor) Marg just returned from Venice. He said dogs are in evidence everywhere, even in world heritage sites. The spaces are very clean and for those that don’t clean up there are penalties in the hundreds of euros. It all seems to work for them because they talk to each other and enforce when necessary.
I’m thinking, if Rossland is ready to give it a try, why not us? Let’s keep an eye on them over the next few months to see how it goes and learn from their experience.
This summer is fast approaching — although it doesn’t seem evident today — and the business community is going to be putting its best foot forward despite the bylaw.
This conversation will continue and I think we will come to a solution because in the big scheme of things, this is a very small problem to solve and come on, you have to be able to see the humour in it!
Deb Kozak is a Nelson city councillor who shares this Wednesday space with her colleagues around the table.