Fernie resident looking for an off-leash compromise

The debate over off-leash dogs in Fernie is not a new problem for City Council.

The debate over off-leash dogs in Fernie is not a new problem for Council. However, one man is looking to come to a compromise that people on either end of the argument can agree to.

Fernie resident, Rob Klein, made a presentation to City Council at the Mar. 14 Committee of the Whole meeting regarding leash-optional trails within city limits, which would allow people looking to exercise their dogs off-leash the ability to do so.

Klein believes this will be a healthier and more cost-effective solution than increasing enforcement, which is the current path Council is taking.

“I think there has got to be a better way to find a balance to allow these responsible owners to pursue this activity while also allowing everyone else to enjoy the activities they do, without dogs if they choose,” he told The Free Press.

Klein’s interest in the issue grew after hearing Mayor Mary Giuliano on CBC radio back in January.

“I was listening to what she was saying and essentially the direction it sounded like the City was going was to just increase enforcement,” he said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and just thought there has got to be a better way than spending more money on this. From what I see, there are other priorities for spending more money in Fernie instead of enforcement of pet related bylaws.”

Klein began talking to people on both sides of the debate, hoping to present a viable compromise to Council. His suggestion hinged on leash-optional trails.

“I’m not a member of a society or a group of any kind and I just really value being able to walk my dog off-leash and I know there are a lot of other people like me and we haven’t been particularly vocal about that we are responsible owners and we do respect other people, but we still want to be able to do this activity that we really enjoy,” he said.

Klein appreciates the nuances of the issue and the position City Council is in while trying to find a solution to the problem.

“I think that the issue with compromise is that no one gets exactly what they want. The City is absolutely in a difficult position, that’s important to highlight. This is not easy,” he said. “They have a really, really difficult decision, but I think that is the job of the City – to make difficult decisions. That’s the job of local government. It doesn’t matter what they do, there are going to be some people who are unhappy, same as they are now.”

Klein believes finding a compromise and designating some trails within the city limits as leash-optional will ease the amount of bylaw infringement, as it will provide a space for people to legally walk their dogs off-leash. Bylaw enforcement alone, in his opinion, has the potential to compress the problem and cost the City a lot of money to maintain. The City has allocated $22,000 to hire two summer students to help with bylaw enforcement for the summer months. Klein says although this might help for the time they are active, it should not be a permanent solution.

“One thing is that enforcing pet-related bylaws is really challenging. As an enforcement officer, you’re not a police officer, you can’t compel people to show their ID, you can’t detain people, you can’t take their pets,” he said, adding voluntary compliance and a self-policing system are methods that could potentially work as well.

“There doesn’t seem to be, from what I have heard, an appetite to increase taxes or decrease services to increase the amount of enforcement. If that is the direction the city wants to go, we are going to keep things the same but increase enforcement – that is going to cost. We are talking about a part time or full time employee of the City, we are talking about tens of thousands of dollars a year.”

Ideally, Klein hopes there is a non-confrontational way to find a compromise that will work for the majority of the population.

At this point, Council has asked staff to research possible alternatives but no further bylaw amendments or solutions have been tabled.