Strathcona Park’s off-leash problems highlight inequities

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      Strathcona Park is one of the few off-leash dog parks on the Downtown Eastside, and one of the friendliest and most relaxed ones. Or, it was until recently. 

      Directly across the street from the off-leash dog park is Vancouver’s Animal Control Services. From time to time, the City’s volunteers will take impounded dogs for walks in Strathcona Park. The dogs are often deemed to be “reactive,” which makes sense, as they may have just been taken from their owner and, at the very least, they have been put in a cage surrounded by other impounded dogs. It’s sort of like prison, and we know how well that system works for individual mental health.

      The City’s volunteers do not wear any indication that they are reactive dog walkers, nor do the dogs, although vests for humans and dogs warning of reactivity are easily purchased. Nor, does it seem, that the dog walkers are trained in how to walk reactive dogs. 

      As a dog owner and former volunteer dog walker for the BC SPCA, I have been trained in walking reactive dogs. One of the key things to know is do not walk reactive dogs where they may be surprised by an encounter with another dog, such as near an off-leash dog park. 

      Strathcona Park is probably the worst place for the City’s volunteers to take impounded dogs, who would be better suited on walks through the neighbourhood. (This, of course, is not the fault of the volunteers, who are just following instructions.)

      However, rather than take this obvious approach—buy vests, train dog walkers, and have the dogs walked anywhere but near the off-leash area—the City has chosen to create a hostile environment in what used to be a really welcoming park. In February, the City spent $1,500 to create signs warning dog owners that there may be reactive dogs from the pound at the park. The signs have been placed throughout Strathcona Park and now, almost every day, an animal control officer is at the park waiting to fine owners who let their dogs stray outside of the off-leash area. 

      There are no basic amenities in the off-leash area, so the aforementioned straying is sometimes necessary. Despite numerous requests to the City, no garbage cans have been placed within the off-leash area, nor does it seem that any are forthcoming.

      Instead, the City spends an average of $100 per day in staff wages to fine residents who live in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Of course, the great irony is that the City has created the situation and could easily fix it. Rather, it has chosen a punitive approach.