Neither UVic nor Saanich have plans to instate one
As of June 11, 2023, the third round of the public engagement initiative from the district-wide Saanich “People, Pets and Parks” strategy came to a close.
The strategy is an extensive consideration of parks and pet needs in Saanich, which has been a contentious long-time issue with residents of the community.
There is an especially significant amount of pressure for an off-leash dog park coming from members of the Cadboro Bay neighbourhood. Saanich currently has no plans to instate an off-leash dog park in or near the area, but public interest for one remains.
In an interview with the Martlet, UVic environmental studies student Lucy Chase explained that off-leash dog parks encourage socialization in dogs, which is important to regulate their moods. Additionally, dogs often need more exercise than their owners can give them on leash, which is where a fenced, off-leash area comes into play.
Adrean Meuser of UVic’s Society for Students with a Disability raises the concern of accessibility in an emailed statement.
“In many cases where there is a physical disability, it can be challenging to walk a dog on leash for any duration of time,” said Meuser. “Reducing barriers to exercising dogs via fully fenced off-leash dog areas is one key way the CRD (Capital Regional District) can support disabled dog owners.”
The Martlet also spoke with Barry Andruschak, co-chair of the Cadboro Bay Residents Association (CBRA). He is a community advocate and dog owner, passionate about the implementation of an off-leash park in the area.
For years, Cedar Hill Corner was used by members of the community, and was effectively the ;UVic dog park,’ Andruschak explained.
“It was a really loved place,” said Chase.
She and classmate Eugene Pan conducted research for a project on the necessity of off-leash dog areas. They spoke to numerous students who visited the park to play with the dogs and unwind after a stressful day at university.
At the beginning of the pandemic, however, access to Cedar Hill Corner was closed to the public because of social distancing and other concerns, according to Andruschak.
To this, a UVic spokesperson corroborated that the park closed because “the property was not meeting [property users’] expectations in terms of maintenance and amenities.”
According to the same spokesperson, UVic never sanctioned the property as an off-leash dog park — it was simply an area for public use. Under the University of Victoria’s Building and Grounds Usage Policy, all pets on campus are required to be on leash.
Sanctioned or not, according to Andruschak, the deficit left by the closure of Cedar Hill corner to the public put pressure on Gyro Beach, one of the only other suitable places to have a dog off leash in the area. As a result, the number of off-leash dogs on the beach led to a negative reaction from the public.
“They protect migratory birds [along] all of Victoria’s coastline,” Chase explained. For this reason, beaches are not appropriate places for off-leash dogs.
Chase also outlined that, as long as there are designated, fenced-in, off-leash areas, plants that are unaffected by dog excrement can be planted, and the area can be maintained and kept clean.
If a designated off-leash area like this doesn’t exist, the biodiversity of local parks is threatened by excrement left by dogs whose owners treat those parks as off-leash areas.
Because Saanich has no plans to instate an off-leash dog park in the Cadboro Bay area, members of the community continue to push for the university to reopen Cedar Hill Corner as a fenced-in, off-leash dog park.
According to the university, implementing off-leash dog parks should be the responsibility of Saanich, but community members have begun to lose hope for that.
“[Cedar Hill Corner] has not been fully utilized for the UVic community since the pandemic has ended,” said Pan in an email. “Most of [the] time it is not being used at all.”
He suggests partial hours of operation as a compromise between the university and the community. However, any plea for the area to function as an off-leash dog area is met with resistance from the university for reasons that have to do with the permittance of off-leash animals on their property as well as their expansion plan.
“The 2016 Campus Plan identifies Cedar Hill Corner as vital to the future physical expansion of the university campus,” said the UVic spokesperson. In the meantime, the area is “being used by the Centre for Forest Biology and Environment Canada, as well as for Vikes cross-country and racing, and field labs for electromagnetic surveys.”
As it stands, neither Saanich’s “People, Pets and Parks” strategy nor the University of Victoria have plans to facilitate an off-leash dog park in the Cadboro Bay area any time soon, despite ongoing pleas from the community.
However, pressure from dog owners in the area remains. A keen eye should be kept on this conflict, as only time will tell how the issue will be resolved.
As Chase and Pan wrote in the strategy document for their project, dog parks “are key in the maintenance of the health and happiness of our canine companions. Of course, their happiness is our happiness!”