Pilot program proposed for off-leash dogs in Port Moody’s Bert Flinn Park

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Officially allowing unleashed dogs to roam free in Port Moody’s Bert Flinn Park is a controversial subject.

Eight residents provided input to council May 9 after Coun. Samantha Agtarap proposed a new pilot program.

“From personal experience and hearing from others, this park is already being used as an off-leash park by some dog owners at all times of the day, and this seems to be causing some of the negative interactions,” Agtarap said. “There’s challenges and issues, but I hope through this pilot program, we can find creative solutions.”

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The motion states there are currently only four off-leash areas in the city and dog owners have been requesting more space.

The motion also suggested Port Moody can follow the example set by Coquitlam with Mundy Park, which has been designated an off-leash park from dusk until 10 a.m. every day.

Some restrictions would apply, such as certain trails being designated as on-leash areas. The rules also require dogs to stay on trails and not disturb wildlife.

Council unanimously voted for staff to return with a report on a potential program.

Some councillors, however, said they shared concerns brought forward by the public, and indicated they were cautious about supporting the program until they heard more input.

Concerns from residents included damage to sensitive habitats, conflicts with children walking to school, irresponsible dog owners and a lack of enforcement.

One resident said her son has autism and is terrified of dogs, adding she’s been able to teach them only dogs off leashes are unsafe.

“I’m very, very concerned that my son will not be able to use the park,” they said.

Port Moody resident Wilhelmina Martin said Bert Flinn Park has already lost a species of plant due to off-leash dogs, and areas of Nunes Creek have experienced habitat loss as well.

“I foresee that people will be coming with dog walkers with groups of packs of dogs, and they will be allowed to run free in the areas that are sensitive habitats,” Martin said.

Jeff McLellan said he’s witnessed numerous dog owners improperly dispose of waste bags in the forest, and hoped there would be increased bylaw patrols of the area and steeper fines.

Other residents countered with the limited amount of off-leash space in Port Moody, the successful transformation of Mundy Park, and the positive effects on mental and physical health of dogs and owners.

Jim Atkinson said that Coquitlam currently has 15.5 kilometres of off-leash trails, compared to just one kilometre in Port Moody.

“Even if the city agreed to add the full loop trail, you’ll only be offering 2.6 kilometeres in total,” Atkinson said, adding Burnaby, Vancouver and the North Shore all offer off-leash trails.

Judy Taylor Atkinson is a founding member of the Mundy Park Responsible Dog Owners group, which was created when Coquitlam kicked off its own pilot program

She said the group watched a growing sense of responsibility among dog owners during the program, noting the positive effects of peer pressure.

Atkinson said by the six-month trial period, a city report found that most regular park users were respecting the rules and controlling their dogs.

“When you’re granted a privilege, it goes without saying the subtext is that which is granted can be taken away,” Atkinson said.

Coun. Kyla Knowles said that while she sympathizes with both sides and the need for more off-leash spaces, they need to find a balance without compromising other park users.

She said she would prefer the city create purpose-built trails, and she had little confidence restricting off-leash dogs to certain trails would be effective.

“Off leash dogs run where they want to run,” Knowles said.

Knowles said any proposal would need to have clear signage, and the trial should be limited to six months with additional bylaw enforcement budgeted for next year.

Coun. Callan Morrison suggested the city might start with a smaller trial area to avoid more sensitive ecological areas.

He noted the city recently advocated for more pet-friendly housing with the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and said they should be supporting more pet-friendly recreation as well.

“The anxiety that some dogs experience in those high commotion fenced-off areas, versus being free out in nature with its family, owner or pack is different,” Morrison said.

As a former member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Coun. Haven Lurbiecki agreed that Bert Flinn Park is already the de facto off leash park in Port Moody, which is contributing to issues.

She said while the city has plans to develop a broader dog strategy, she supports moving forward with the proposed pilot program.

“The good thing about pilot programs is they can help bridge that gap and hopefully inform our broader approaches,” Lurbiecki said.

She agreed that stepping up enforcement would be a key to gauging the success of the program.

Over the last three years, there have been between seven and 14 complaints of off-leash dogs in Bert Flinn Park annually, according to Kate Zanon, general manager of community development, adding there have been six complaints so far in 2023.

Only between two and six tickets were issued between 2020 and 2022, and staff are only able to conduct a full patrol one to three times a week, Zanon said.

“It’s not a high volume of patrols with our current staffing complement,” Zanon said.

Mayor Meghan Lahti said in her experience, most people have their dogs off leash in Bert Flinn Park.

She said she suspects once rules are put in place, people will start to follow them.

Lahti brought forth a similar motion on May 9, which would allow for an off-leash area behind city hall, which staff will also be reporting back on.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch

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