Residents bark at Council over off-leash dogs

Fernie City Council held its first meeting of the New Year on Jan. 11, and off-leash dogs were a heated topic of debate.

Fernie City Council held its first meeting of the New Year on Jan. 11, where the most prominent concern raised by members of the public was the excess of off-leash dogs in the city. A group of citizens attended the meeting, asking for stricter bylaw enforcement when it comes to off-leash and unattended dogs.

The issue came into the spotlight after a local citizen shared her story on Facebook of being charged at by a pit bull while walking her dog on Jan. 1. The story garnered much local attention, with numerous people commenting, saying they have noticed the same problem as well.

Chris Inglis addressed council on the matter, and said he felt it was Council’s responsibility to uphold the bylaws.

“This opened up a whole discussion on the Facebook page that I run. The bylaws are in place but the bylaws aren’t being enforced. The rules are in place, but the rules aren’t being enforced, and I believe it is up to the City and staff and council and mayor to get this right,” said Inglis.

To illustrate his point, Inglis brought a plastic replica of dog excrement to show Council.

“As of Friday, there is 197 registered dogs in Fernie,” said Inglis, citing his source as the Fernie Pets Society. “Their estimate was between 800 to 1000 dogs when they requested an off-leash dog area.

“We are talking about 600 to 800 dogs that aren’t registered,” Inglis continued. “And here lies the problem between those two numbers of irresponsible pet owners that don’t clean up after their pets and do not put their pets on a leash.”

Another resident, Mary Ellen Kendall, asked council directly how many bylaw tickets have been issued in relation to off-leash dogs. Mayor Mary Giuliano stated that while the exact numbers weren’t in front of her, she was aware of roughly 70 issued tickets.

“I have never experienced this in any other cities I’ve lived in. I don’t feel safe walking my dog,” said Kendall. “I’d like to know why though – why they are not being enforced, and why this is being allowed?”

The City does have a pound located at the public works yards, although Council wasn’t sure if any dogs were impounded recently.

Inglis addressed Council at the end of the petition period, asking why they weren’t more prepared with exact numbers and details to provide.

“You think city staff, mayor and council would be more prepared and we could be asking these questions to the bylaw officer who would be here tonight to answer some of these questions and defend his job title or situation,” he said.

In rebuttal, Mayor Giuliano said that wasn’t the democratic process at Council.

“That’s not the way it works. We do not have staff that has to sit here and defend themselves,” she said. “Questions are asked only to Council and we are the ones that deal with it.”

Speaking on the issue of off-leash and unregistered dogs, Mayor Giuliano said Council hopes to potentially recruit help for bylaw enforcement in coming months.

“We are certainly going to see what we can do about this. We have plans for the summer to perhaps get two students who come from law enforcement background to come and help with bylaw enforcement for dogs and parks. With one bylaw officer, they just can’t be everywhere 24/7,” she said. “I can’t promise immediate results, but we are going to be working on this.”