Liam Slabbert, six, a visitor from Quesnel, works on his dribbling skills at the Vancouver Whitecaps Youth Skills Soccer Camp at Marshall Field. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Liam Slabbert, six, a visitor from Quesnel, works on his dribbling skills at the Vancouver Whitecaps Youth Skills Soccer Camp at Marshall Field. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Vernon Soccer balks at dogs off-leash at Marshall Field

Group presents 500-signature counter-petition; agrees fence in one area of Vernon park would help

Fence it off, solve a problem.

Vernon Soccer Association presented a 500-signature petition to Vernon council Monday calling for the city to not allow Marshall Field in Okanagan Landing to become an off-leash park for dog owners.

“The dogs are rarely on-leash anyway,” said Darrel Buckham, director of fields for Vernon Soccer Association, and also a dog owner. “Since the indoor centre was built 13 years ago, we’re out there all the time. We’ve watched, and we’ve seen and we’ve been told, and I don’t have the numbers to back this, but one out of 25 people have their dogs on a leash.

“Most owners are good. It only takes one or two bad dogs to give all of us dog owners a bad name, especially if their dogs are capable of nipping, biting or intimidating the younger players on the field, walking by or near the fields.”

Two petitions have been presented to council calling for the city to consider an off-leash area at Marshall Field.

RELATED: Dog owners call for off-leash area at popular Vernon sports facility

Council voted 4-3 earlier in February to temporarily suspend enforcement of dogs off-leash at Marshall Field in an area between the playing fields and Vernon Creek until an environmental assessment of the area is done. That area is currently on-leash only.

Buckham called the decision to suspend enforcement “asinine.”

RELATED: City temporarily suspends off-leash enforcement at Vernon park

One of the petition presenters calling for the off-leash area agreed with a council suggestion of fencing the proposed portion, and when asked by Coun. Scott Anderson Monday if a fence there would fix the problem, Buckham wholeheartedly agreed.

“It would answer 95 per cent of the problem,” said Buckham. “There will be one or two per cent that will not abide by it. I think a more permanent structure would be better. The cost of the fence will dwarf in comparison to some kid getting bit.”

“So we have two groups looking for the same thing,” said Anderson.

Buckham told council there are more than 3,000 people involved with soccer in Vernon, including about 500 kids in the association’s U3 and U6 programs which play every Saturday and, said Buckham, draws about 100 kids on the fields for their time slot.

Buckham said association staff, based at the indoor centre, have stopped talking to dog owners breaking the on-leash rule on the playing fields.

“The hostile response to our staff monitoring the situation borders on…I don’t want to say assault but my God, if there hadn’t been two or three men behind the women, the situation could have been worse,” said Buckham.

“We’ve all been flipped the bird many times, myself included. I’ve been told to go you-know-where on many occasions. As a referee, I have the authority to not allow games to be played if there’s too much dog feces on the field.”

Council will deliberate the field again at its next meeting March 11.

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Vernon Morning Star