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New plan aims to make North Van a more dog-friendly city

A Phase 1 report identified Lower Lonsdale as an area in acute need of canine-dedicated spaces and suggested more amenities in urban areas 🐕

It’s looking like local government is about to throw a bone to North Van dog owners and their precious pups.

At a council meeting Monday (June 20), City of North Vancouver council heard an initial staff report on making the area more dog friendly.

After initial consultation and research, the Phase 1 report identified problem areas like the number of unlicensed dogs and a lack of dog-friendly spaces in areas with high pooch populations.

The report also laid out a number of action items including adding more dog-dedicated areas, implementing new infrastructures that cater to canines in urban areas and bylaws to encourage more responsible ownership.

Last year, as part of the city’s COVID safe restart grants, council approved a $50,000 budget to start work on a plan for dogs.

Whether due to the “pandemic puppy” trend or otherwise, ownership in North Van is up. According to staff, the number of licensed dogs in the city reached over 2,100 in 2021, up 9.3 per cent from 2019. And that number could represent just a fraction of the actual total, which could be as high as 10,000 by some rough estimates.

During Phase 1 of the plan, the purpose was mainly to gather information and find out what can be improved. The city’s park planning division worked with consultants, including animal behaviour and welfare expert Rebecca Ledger, who reviewed sanctioned and other known dog areas in the city.

Information gathering also included a well-engaged survey with over 1,300 responses – 72 per cent identified as dog owners and 28 per cent as non-owners. The consensus was that most people support canines, and generally feel safe around them.

Top concerns revolved around dog waste, challenges with shared space, having more responsible dog owners and issues with dogs being on leash.

Creating a heat map, staff identified Lower Lonsdale as a problem area, in need of more space relative to the high number of pooches living in the area.

Less carrot, more stick for irresponsible dog owners

Presenting the report, North Van city park planner Margaret Shipley noted that most buildings don’t have relief areas, so most doggies do their business on boulevards. A design-focused part of the plan involves improving shared use of the public realm.

“For example, by developing a new set of boulevard typologies to develop more dog-friendly and maintenance-efficient boulevards, and potentially providing equitable access to those who cannot travel as far,” Shipley said.

Phase 1 also looked at management, by identifying opportunities to increase licensing and compliance while minimizing impacts on wildlife and environment. There was a planning component as well, to see how the city can make wise investments, and increase access for on-leash dogs in public spaces.

In Phase 2, which council voted unanimously to proceed to, staff will identify an action framework that identifies quick wins, a regional approach with the adjoining North Van district, and compiles a final document.

Discussing the plan, Coun. Holly Back said she doesn’t take her dog to the park because of other owners who bring their “vicious” dogs.

Canine expert Ledger referenced a PhD thesis that looked at what contributes to responsible pet ownership and compliance in cities and towns.

“They found that it's a balance. Education, of course, is important, but so is enforcement,” she said. “In fact, the cities that they reviewed across Canada, the ones where there was the most enforcement and the biggest fines is where you got the best compliance.”