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Are dog-friendly spaces keeping up with the valley’s growing pooch population?

A lack of dog parks is creating problems—and not just for dog owners.

Green space was once a sure thing when purchasing a home. But as more apartments and townhouses are built, it’s no longer guaranteed. More people (and their pets) are frequenting their community parks—people like dad and Abbotsford Kevin Bredeman.

But Bredeman’s experience has been plagued with rule-breaking dog owners who allow their pet to run off-leash in undesignated areas.

“The typical response from a dog owner is ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, he’s friendly,’ but it rains a lot here and a muddy dog running up to me is not my cup of tea,” Bredeman said. “I’ve got a 25-pound child [and] even a seven-pound dog running around and dragging a leash through his legs is a problem.”

An analysis by The Current shows that some municipalities have been far better than others at providing places for dogs to roam freely—and legally.

Nowadays homebuyers are considered lucky if they find a townhouse with a garage, let alone a yard or a balcony.

“That’s where the lucky people live,” Bredeman said. He isn’t in that group, which is why he and his son visit their community parks. He attributes the friction at the parks to a lack of enforcement, but also to poor city planning.

Cities have encouraged higher density developments, but Bredeman said not enough attention is being given to green space.

“It’s not acceptable to expect families to live in that and have nothing for children or dogs, like literally pavements,” he said. “I don’t think things like that should get approved without some consideration to green space on site.”

The valley’s cities are growing by people and pets, and community resources aren’t keeping up, Bredeman said. Data collected by The Current supports that claim.

In 2021, the City of Abbotsford, which has four designated off-leash dog parks, issued more than 6,600 dog licences. That amounts to roughly 1,650 dogs per off-leash park.

The number of licences in the city has doubled in five years. The number of parks has not. Abbotsford has roughly 60 parks located in its urban core but only the four designated off-leash dog parks. (New dog parks have been proposed for the former site of Kathy Cooper’s farm, in the eastern part of the city, though it’s not known when construction will start.)

The City of Langley is only 10 square kilometers and has the same number of off-leash dog parks as Abbotsford. This year, Langley City issued 1,700 dog licences. (Langley Township has six dog parks and issued 11,000 dog licences this year.)

In Chilliwack, there were 6,500 licences issued in 2021. The number of dog licences issued each year by the city has more than doubled in the last five years. But the number of off-leash dog parks have not increased. The City of Chilliwack lists five off-leash dog areas, one of which is the Vedder North Dyck Trail. Two others, Island 22 and Cultus Lake Park, are not city-run parks. There is no dog park within walking distance of the city’s densifying downtown core, which is also home to many seniors without vehicles.

Mission has the worst dog-to-off-leash-park ratio. The city has only one designated off-leash dog park in its core. Last year, there were 4,100 dog licenses issued—nearly double the number issued five years before.

Mission Coun. Mark Davies acknowledged the city was lacking in addressing the needs of the community. During an April council meeting he introduced a motion for Mission to create a dog park strategy. Davies later amended that motion to have dog owners’ needs included in Mission’s park strategy.

He told the Current there are many people in Mission who walk their dogs in areas where it’s not permitted for off-leash use and that needed to be addressed.

“It creates conflict between people who don’t expect to see dogs in these locations,” he said.

Part of addressing those needs could be adjusting the times the parks are policed by bylaw officers, Davies said.

That was something Bredeman took issue with in Abbotsford. He gave up running after being chased by dogs in Albert Dyck Park, Mill Lake Park, and Delair Park. He has been in contact with the Fraser Valley Regional District animal control department, which is responsible for animal control in Abbotsford, Mission, and most of the rest of the region. But there was little animal control could do outside of their contracted hours.

“They let me know that they were sympathetic to this issue too but they’re only contracted to work till five o’clock, and only on weekdays,” Bredeman said. “I’m at work until four and then I eat dinner then maybe I take my son to the park at seven or something, and [bylaw officers are] long gone by now.”

Davies agrees that enforcement isn’t keeping up with park use, and maybe that’s something Mission’s new park strategy can address.

“The municipality needs to adjust and we recognize that people’s hours aren’t what they traditionally were back in the 1980s and that we now need to operate in a model that really meets the community needs regardless of the hours.”

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