False Creek off-leash dog fight goes online
Facebook attack leaves dog owner in tears
Sandra Thomas
Vancouver Courier

False Creek resident Kelly Kovach, pictured with her duck toller named Marty, wants dog owners to obey on-leash regulations.
CREDIT: Photo-Dan Toulgoet
False Creek resident Kelly Kovach, pictured with her duck toller named Marty, wants dog owners to obey on-leash regulations.

An ongoing conflict over off-leash dogs at Charleson Park in South False Creek has gone public on the online site Facebook.

False Creek resident Kelly Kovach was initially dismayed last week when she discovered she'd become the target of some unflattering comments on the popular social networking site. Kovach believes the comments are in response to a petition she started in March, asking the parks board to enforce the on-leash regulations already in place at the waterfall section of the park.

"I don't know how many tears I cried over it," said Kovach of the Facebook posting. "But then I pulled up my boot straps and out I went. I decided this is my park, so I took my kids and my dog and we spent the day there."

Kovach wants dog owners who frequent the park to obey the regulations regarding dogs near the waterfall area, so that everyone can share the space. Dogs must be on a leash at the waterfall pond between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., June through September, and are allowed off leash at all other times.

On the Facebook site called "Charleson Park Off Leash Regs," False Creek resident Catherine Ann Simpson writes, in part, "The dog park, that was for so many a sanctuary, is now full of bitterness, some in tears and many very, very angry that one person, in her incredible selfishness in wanting it all, has managed to talk the parks board into re-erecting this eyesore... Many of the regular users are threatening to 'get back' at the gal who started all this... by ensuring she and her family does not feel welcome..."

Kovach said she doesn't mind dogs in the waterfall area, as long as they're on leash. She adds off-leash dogs make it impossible for children to play. "The families feel like they've been chased away," she said.

Kovach is not the only False Creek resident who wants dog owners to keep their pets on leash at the waterfall. Chloe Sample stopped using the park three years ago because off-leash dogs constantly approached her children, who were toddlers at the time.

"When I asked people to leash their dogs I'd get sworn and cussed at," said Sample. "It was so unpleasant. The kids would get knocked over, our blanket was peed on, their hats were stolen and their sandwiches were grabbed."

Sample, Kovach and several other False Creek residents recently formed a sub-committee, under the umbrella of the South False Creek Neighbourhood Association, to deal with off-leash dogs at the waterfall.

In response to complaints from residents, the parks board erected a snow fence in June to divide the off-leash area from the on-leash waterfall pond. Kovach said the temporary fence was torn down three times. A chain-link fence is now under construction, and will remain in place until October.

Kovach said that, since the first fence went up, tension in the park has escalated. "Now they're really mad," she said. "And that's when the hate mail went up."

In an email to the Courier, Simpson made reference to recent cases in which dogs in parks were poisoned. She said she takes great offence to the inference the vandalism to the fences was caused by dog owners.

"As you may have noticed from the cases in Ontario and Calgary, where dogs are being harmed, even killed, that these parks are, to dog owners, sanctuaries and cohesive environments with which to meet and socialize with ALL users of the park," she wrote, "and to dog haters, a mentality that is, at best, exclusive. Because of this, what was a really pretty park now has an absolute eyesore of a metal fence that has trapped, panicked and injured dogs caught in its enclosure."

Bill Manning, manager of Stanley District for the parks board, said he met on June 24 with a number of residents who want the waterfall area open to off-leash dogs at all times. "It was an opportunity for them to freely and openly discuss the current situation and how we can move forward," he said.

Manning, who developed the city's off-leash program, said he explained to the group the regulations will not change. Manning said he reminded dog owners the regulations were developed in 2001 following public consultation, at which point a consensus was reached with residents.

"But over the last few years there has been some concern that people aren't following the rules," he said.

As for the fence, Manning said it was erected for two reasons.

"The first is to draw attention and raise awareness about the regulations," said Manning. "And the second is to stop the spill over from the off-leash dog area, which is right across the path."

Simpson wrote that local dog owners will continue to respect the on-leash hours around the waterfall, "as they have always done."

She added, "And we assume that the weekend users will be monitored by bylaw enforcement officers to keep them in compliance."

© Vancouver Courier 2008


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