New Westminster considering whether off-leash areas can be reopened

Pet owners urged to keep their dogs on leashes

New Westminster Animal Services is urging dog owners to keep their pets on a leash – for a couple of reasons.

In an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the City of New Westminster has closed many facilities and amenities, including local dog parks.

“Due to limited staffing at this time, we are currently responding to urgent animal welfare matters and public safety concerns such as aggressive dogs, failing to provide care/shelter to pets, dogs at large, and dog bites,” said Aaron Hilgerdenaar, superintendent of street use enforcement, parking and animal services. “We would like to encourage the public to make sure that their dogs are leashed at all times while in public; not only is it the law, it shows respect to other people who may not want to be approached at this time.”

Local off-leash areas have been closed to the public since mid-March, along with many other public spaces where people gather.

“Although we understand that some people are having challenges exercising their dogs with off-leash park closures; allowing dogs to be off leash creates safety issues and is not courteous of other users of public spaces,” Hilgerdenaar said in an email to the Record. “We are currently working with parks on an education and signage campaign, specifically about off-leash dogs in light of COVID-19 with dog park closures.”

Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said the city closed the off-leash areas because of challenges ensuring dog owners were following social distancing recommendations.

Coun. Mary Trentadue said more enforcement of off-leash dogs may be needed in the city’s parks.

“Unfortunately, some dog owners are using the grassy fields, specifically near Moody Park, as an off-leash. Not only that, but they are grouping together and chatting, which is really frustrating to see. I do think enforcement is the way around that,” she said. “People can walk their dogs. They don’t have to be off-leash.”

Some council members, however, have indicated they would like the city to find a way to reopen off-leash areas.

“Dogs have to get out,” Coun. Patrick Johnstone said at the April 6 council meeting. “They have to get exercise.”

As the “human companion” to a big dog, Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she favours “a more compassionate approach” as it’s good for people’s mental health to get outside with their dogs, and dogs also need exercise.

“In my experience, people tend to stand fairly apart from each other. If people are standing together and talking, that conversation might occur on the sidewalks as well,” she noted. “I guess I would be in favour of trying to find a solution that works for people and their pets.”

Gibson said the city’s education and enforcement working group is discussing the issue of dog parks to see if there are ways to improve the current situation and still maintain the physical distancing and address safety issues.

“The animal control officers are dealing with these enforcement and compliance issues,” he told council. “We are looking to see where that happy medium might exist.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he’s like the city to show a bit of leniency for people who let their pets run off-leash in city parks, as they’re not allowed to be in off-leash areas.

“We have no baseball, we have no soccer. The fields aren’t being used for any sporting activities. I don’t have a problem turning a blind eye, to allow people to run their dog a little bit, especially in the uptown area. Many seniors live in those highrise apartments. A dog is their best friend. They are very lonely. Their dogs need to be happy and their dogs need to maintain a sense of wellbeing and mental health as well,” he said. “I wouldn’t have a problem with people running their dog a little bit off-leash in one of our major parks. I wouldn’t want us to be enforcing it at this time. Those parks are free right now. The whole idea of closing the dog parks is spacing. Our other parks are large.”

In other animal news, the city is preparing for the possibility of multiple pets being cared for in the New Westminster Animal Shelter in Queensborough, Hilgerdenaar said.

“One thing that we definitely have on our side now is the space and flexibility of rooms in the new facility. We have infection control protocols in place for staff and appropriate personal protective equipment on site for our Animal Services team,” he said of the shelter that opened in November 2019. “It should be noted that we have not seen any increase in the amount of abandoned animals or requests to surrender animals in New Westminster.”

More information about the New Westminster Animal Shelter and animals that may be available for adoption, go to the Services section on the city’s website, www.newwestcity.ca.

 

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