Residents urge city to call off dogs

Shari and Terry Akesson live near an area of South Arm Community Park slated for a 1,400-square-metre off-leash area, which they say will ruin the peaceful nature of the park.  - Matthew Hoekstra
Shari and Terry Akesson live near an area of South Arm Community Park slated for a 1,400-square-metre off-leash area, which they say will ruin the peaceful nature of the park.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra

A promised off-leash area at South Arm Community Park has some neighbourhood residents barking mad.

Giving new meaning to the dog days of summer, city officials are creating four new fenced fields for fidos, including a 1,400-square-metre site behind the tennis courts at the Broadmoor-area park. But neighbours—feeling cheated they weren’t consulted first—are signing a petition against it.

“The designated area is absolutely nonsense. It is the only open field that we have in South Arm Park,” said Eve Rollet de Darantes, an area resident since 1971. “I’m going to look down on this fenced-in park, having barking dogs.”

The longtime resident, who also fought against artificial turf at South Arm, is proposing alternate sites away from homes. She vows to step up protests if the city doesn’t back down.

Neighbour Shari Akesson called the lack of consultation “frustrating.”

“We just don’t think this is the right location,” she said. “This is one of the last quiet parks.”

Husband Terry Akesson said what is now a grassy area is used by many for passive recreation will soon become an “unsightly mess” and force residents to fight for limited street parking with dog owners.

“I agree it’s equal rights for everybody, I just wonder why we have to put a big off-leash park in the middle of a long-established quiet and peaceful park.”

Council approved the off-leash area June 9, along with others at Garden City Community Park, McCallan Neighbourhood Park (along the Railway corridor) and an empty lot at 7300 Elmbridge Way. All four are pilot projects, subject to review after a year.

Fences are scheduled to go up in the next couple of weeks, according to the city.

Another fenced off-leash area, at Dover Park, is being removed after feedback from area residents suggested it had limited popularity.

Bob Lauriente, a South Arm area resident for 35 years, said the location is “crazy,” and will disrupt one of the few passive areas of the park. He suggested a location near Williams Road would be better.

“A lot of us have lived here for a long time, and used that park for a long time, and we were allowed no input at all.”

City spokesperson Ted Townsend said there’s demand from dog owners for more spaces to let their pets off-leash. Dog parks are also aimed at managing the problem of off-leash dogs elsewhere.

“South Arm is one area where we did have issues with dogs running off leash. This will hopefully help to mitigate that issue in a way that is best for all,” he said.

Townsend also said the city consulted with the community association on the appropriate site, adding staff will be closely monitoring the pilot program and listening to the community.

At last month’s meeting, city councillors spoke in favour of the new areas.

Coun. Ken Johnston said pets have a positive effect on human health, and off-leash areas are important for dogs. He cited a study from Australia, where an estimated $1 billion is saved annually in health care costs due to pet ownership.

“I’m really happy that Richmond’s taking this approach,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in the Steveston (off-leash park), and it’s a great social interaction, on top of everything else.”

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt also spoke about the health benefits pets can provide their owners.

“I think it’s really important that we recognize that people who live in these very dense areas own dogs. They need to bring those dogs out to be able to socialize and have an area where they can take them off leash. That’s really healthy for the animals, and I think it’s healthy for the owners too.”

Richmond has approximately 5,200 licensed dogs, according to the city.

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