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Celena Benndorf says the parks board is ignoring a $20,000 survey it commissioned to look at the city's off-leash dog problem. Photo-Dan Toulgoet

Citizens' group wants action on dog survey

By Sandra Thomas-Staff writer

A West Side woman who helped organize a citizens' group to tackle the off-leash dog issue says the parks board is ignoring a $20,000 survey commissioned in 2003 to look at the city's off-leash dog program.

Celena Benndorf said the survey shows 60 per cent of respondents want increased enforcement of bylaws concerning dogs.

"The report was completed by a very reputable firm," said Benndorf, who recently saw a copy of the survey. "But the park board chose to bury it and misrepresented the results."

The survey, compiled by market research firm Synovate, says six out of 10 residents have seen or experienced problems with off-leash dogs. "When it comes to future enforcement in Vancouver City, when asked, residents want current efforts, at a minimum, to be maintained and a significant number want increased enforcement," the report states. The results show residents want more signs explaining off-leash rules and designated areas. It also suggests residents who have been bothered by off-leash dogs are convinced greater enforcement is required.

"If the survey found 60 per cent of residents have had a problem or have seen problems caused by off-leash dogs, that means 60 per cent want to see increased enforcement," said Benndorf. "According to the report only 15 per cent of the residents of Vancouver own a dog, but they seem to be the only ones the park board will listen to. What about the other 85 per cent of us?"

Benndorf has worked at Kraft Foods, Proctor & Gamble and Telus and commissioned many market research surveys for them. She said spending $20,000 on a survey and ignoring the results was never an option for her.

Benndorf first contacted the parks board and animal shelter about off-leash problems almost 10 years ago after moving to Vancouver from Toronto. She purchased a home near Kits Beach, but increasingly found she could not enjoy her new neighbourhood because she is allergic to dogs.

"Every time I go to the beach someone's dog is running up to me," she said. "We all chose to live in the city and with that comes some responsibility, especially if you own a dog."

Inspired by Mayor Sam Sullivan's campaign to reduce public disorder, Benndorf and other residents recently formed I-CARE, or Informed Citizens Advocating for Responsibility and Enforcement. The group's mandate is to press for bylaw enforcement and to encourage citizens to take personal responsibility for their community. Off-leash dogs are its first issue. Benndorf said the founders of the group met after watching each other at parks board meetings in recent years address the board about off-leash dogs.

"We could see that the dog people were very organized and vocal, so we decided it was time for the silent majority to speak up," she said.

Bill Manning, Queen Elizabeth District parks manager of operations who launched the city's off-leash program in 1998, denies the survey was ignored.

"I guess the short answer is the park board and city council are working together very closely on this," said Manning. "These things take time and maybe it's not moving ahead as quickly as some members of the public and even some employees might like to see it, but we are working on it. This month we launched an increased enforcement and awareness campaign."

Bob Cristofoli, supervisor of field operations with the Vancouver Animal Control Shelter, is familiar with the survey. He said shelter management has always supported extra enforcement.

"The more officers we have out there, the more compliance we'll get," he said.

This month city bylaw enforcement officers stepped up enforcement, targeting irresponsible dog owners in public places like parks. The increased enforcement marks the one-year anniversary of changes to the city's animal control bylaw. The changes were introduced to promote humane living conditions for dogs, to encourage dog owners to make sure their pets are in control in public, and to protect people and pets from aggressive or unsafe dogs. Fines for infractions, such as dogs running off leash, increased from $25 to $250.

Cristofoli said so far this month bylaw officers have written 15 tickets to owners for infractions such as not licensing their dog or for allowing it to run off-leash in non-designated areas.

"If an owner has two dogs they've only been ticketing them for one," said Cristofoli. "Two hundred and fifty bucks can hurt the pocketbook."

published on 11/22/2006

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