Downtown Businesses Want City to Scrap Dog By-Law

Downtown Businesses Want City to Scrap Dog By-Law
Downtown businesses say times have changed, and they are asking for a trial period of on-leash pet-friendliness on downtown sidewalks (Photo by One From RM, Creative Commons--Flickr)

The Nelson Business Association (NBA) says a majority of its members want to rescind Nelson’s dog by-law and allow leashed dogs on a trial basis.  Margaret Stacy represented the group in its presentation to City Council on March 19.

The by-law prohibiting dogs on Baker Street was enacted in the 1990s, but Stacy told Council that “the community has changed since then in many ways.” 

109 yes, 12 no

Stacey  presented the results of a recent NBA recent survey of 124 merchants (99 on Baker, 25 off Baker). The survey asked if leashed dogs on Baker should be permitted. The result: 109 yes votes, 12 no votes, and three undecided.

The bylaw prohibits dogs in the 200-600 blocks of Baker Street as well as on the north side of Victoria and the south side of Vernon in the 300-600 blocks. The ban also includes the north side of Vernon in the 400 block. 

Pets are “tourist accessories”

Stacy said dog-friendly rooms in a local hotel are always full, indicating a tourist preference for dog-friendly streets. “The fastest growing tourist accessory is arguably a pet, and Nelson is now on the top of the ‘don’t visit if you have a dog’ list. Google searches of the dog by-law in Nelson is high, and we can turn those searches into a marketing opportunity.

“There is an opportunity to give away special Nelson leashes, and provide such dog-friendly services as pet treats and water bowls at businesses, and perhaps a dog-friendly business list.”

Stacy also said the Canadian Kennel Association provides a program called K9 Good Neighbour, in which dogs receive a tag that says, “I’m a good dog."

"We are one of the rare communities on this continent that has this by-law," said Stacey. "Why? How do other towns do it?” 

NBA members would educate dog owners…

The NBA proposal says businesses could post signs that they are dog-friendly. The NBA would find sponsors for Nelson-brand leashes for by-law officers and businesses to give to owners of unleashed dogs. Owners would clean up in front of their stores as needed and informally educate dog-owners. The city would purchase and install bag dispensers and bags at an estimated cost of $1560 per year. The NBA would conduct a survey after one year.

…but would not monitor dogs

Councillor Donna Macdonald asked if the business owners are committing themselves to monitoring dogs.

“We don’t actually say ‘We will monitor the dogs,’ said Stacy.  “But there are business owners who said, ‘I’d be out there saying, here’s a leash, would you like this?’” 

Councillor Robin Cherbo said, “There used to be a doggy daycare in the downtown core, and maybe there are some businesses that are vacant, maybe that would be better than having them on leashes.”

Stacey explained that dogs would only enter stores that wanted them, and that otherwise they would have to tied to parking meters or trees while their owners shop.

How it started: drums, hackysack, dogs

The dog by-law originated in the 1990s with confrontations over a mix of dogs, drums, hackysack and itinerant youth on Baker. As Donna Macdonald has said elsewhere, "I often felt the dog by-law was aimed more at the people on the end of the leash, than at the dogs themselves. If we banned dogs, presto, the problem of 'those people' was solved."

“The original intent of keeping dogs off Baker was driven, actually, by the business community,” said Mayor John Dooley. “In fact it expanded up onto Victoria with letters from Oso Negro and Whitewater and Cowans. They were having similar challenges."

The Mayor is not convinced

“So it is not as simple as it sounds, and there is very little information (in the NBA presentation) about the tourists who would rather not have dogs on Baker Street. But there are some good suggestions in your package but I have to say when it comes to the dog issue I need some convincing. Let me give you an example. We had a large parade on Baker Street to get a dog walk on the waterfront. At that time that group promised they would maintain and look after that dog walk and that lasted about 6 months and now, to be truthful with you, it is disgraceful." 

“Maybe we can get together over the next month or two,” Dooley told Stacy, “and see if there are any solutions, but it is not an easy fix.”

A trial period

“The recommendation is for a trial period,” Stacy responded, “to see how it would fly."

The NBA presentation was informational and no decision was made. City Council and staff will decide whether, and how, to pursue the issue further.