Both discussion and disobedience have been promised related to use of Brothers Park as an exercise area for off-leash dogs.
Spokesperson for the 3 o’clock small dog group, Patricia Gray, indicated while they don’t want a “dog fight” with the town, they plan to continue that illegal activity, are ready to be ticketed and are exploring how to legally challenge any fines issued by the town. The group has used the park for off-leash exercise of their canine companions over the past three years despite knowing it was against the town’s bylaw, said Gray.
“We were advised last week by very expensive signs all over the park that no dogs were allowed,” Gray told Coast Reporter. She said a bylaw enforcement officer met the group at the park on May 12. In what she described as a “civil conversation,” Gray said they were advised each could be fined $200: $100 for having a dog within that park and $100 for having a dog off-leash in a public area.
Gray said the group has put off its next gathering, at which they anticipate tickets will be issued, until the week of May 20. That is due to the warmer-than-normal mid-day temperatures.
“This is a very law-abiding group, but we’ve made a decision, a bit like when a union goes on strike, that we have reached a crescendo. We want something done.” In her view, the simplest alternative is to negotiate a way that the group can “co-exist” with other users at that location. “We’re not going anywhere until we have something resolved…this is a real issue that has to be dealt with”.
Town committee discussions
On May 16, at a committee of the whole meeting, Gibsons Mayor Silas White said that the group had been in contact with him, requesting discussion of its concerns and proposals. He explained that he planned to discuss options with town staff and to bring the perspectives of council, the group, and the wider community to those talks.
The town does not have a designated off-leash dog use area. Funds to plan for one had been included in its five-year capital plan in 2021 and 2022. No funding for that project was included in the 2023 budget, with council indicating they wanted further discussions with the community on the needs and expectations around such a project.
Reflecting on community engagements the town carried out earlier in 2023, White noted the need for an off-leash dog park was raised at one meeting. He also stated there was little mention of that issue in a subsequent public survey on council’s strategic plan.
White also said he visited the regional district’s Shirley Macey Park, a nearby area designated for off-leash dogs earlier in the day and found no one using it for that purpose. Coun. David Croal commented that area was “beautiful but not a secure dog park by any imagination," as it lacks fencing to keep dogs, especially smaller ones, safe.
Town staff confirmed that the group was contacted in January with reminders that Gibsons’ dog licensing bylaw prohibits those animals from municipal parks and playgrounds.
“These fields are intended for sports, and it is an unfortunate but common occurrence that games are disrupted due to encounters with dog waste or holes that our furry friends have dug up”, communications coordinator Bronwyn Kent wrote in a May 15 email.
A report delivered at the committee meeting indicated an increase in dog-related bylaw enforcement calls in 2023’s first quarter over last year's levels.
About the 3 o’clock small dog group
“We are a very responsible group who use the park for one hour a day. We do not allow our dogs to dig holes and are hyper-vigilant about cleaning up any dog poop,” Gray said. She also noted that members are aware of the problems pet waste on playing areas can create and often clean up waste at the park that has been left there by others.
Alternative sites, such as Shirley Macey Park or the development of an off-leash area at Aurora Park are not suitable alternatives for their gatherings, in her opinion. The group favours options like having specific times when their activity was allowed at Brothers or the designation of a small fenced area for dogs at that site.
Gray explained that the group, made up of people of a variety of ages, meets weekdays at 3 p.m. at the park for a 45-minute outing for their pets. The majority of the dogs are under 35 pounds in size. That timing was selected, she noted, as it did not conflict with most organized sports activities at the park. Those typically happen later in the day or on the weekends.
As of May 14, the group had 61 members in its Facebook group. Gray said between 10 and 25 canines with their human companions typically attend each session.