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Experts and business group think Council got it wrong on dogs

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
March 1st, 2013

A Nelson business group and a number of local and out-of-town experts think Nelson City Council made a mistake in dismissing the possibility of temporarily lifting the downtown dog ban.

At its February 18 meeting, Councillor Deb Kozak’s motion to lift the ban for a trial period failed because it did not get a seconder, following more than an hour of presentations from a variety of groups and agencies most of which were supportive of Kozak’s motion. Read the details in The Nelson Daily here.

The Nelson Daily asked the following people for their comments. Those who do not live in Nelson were given the above link as background.

Jocelyn Carver—Nelson Business Association

Jocelyn Carver, who presented on behalf of the Nelson Business Association (NBA) at the February 18 meeting, says council missed an opportunity to participate in a “culture shift” that would change people’s behaviour with their pets.

“The downtown area is the most concentrated area with the most opportunities for teachable moments,” Carver told The Nelson Daily today. “By that I mean opportunities for citizens, bylaw officers, and business people to help dog owners be responsible with their pets.

“The message Council is sending is that we are unwilling to engage in a culture shift around our animals. It doesn’t happen on the dog walk, it doesn’t happen on the tracks, but it could happen in the downtown core.”

Carver thinks the dog mess in other areas like the dog walk might be a result of the dog ban downtown. “When we ban dog owners with dogs from the downtown core, we are inviting some rebellious behaviour. We are saying, ‘we know you are not going to behave well with your dog so we are not going to let you into the downtown core.’

“That might be what we are seeing playing out on the waterfront area and other parts of town. If we were to have a cultural shift that started in the downtown area, there would be a ripple effect to other parts of town.”

Roger Brooks—Destination Development International

“I think your city council is making a huge mistake,” wrote tourism consultant Roger Brooks in an email to The Nelson Daily.  “Every successful downtown is a “community” just like a neighborhood and banning dogs from ANY neighborhood is simply not a good thing. We actually encourage downtown merchants to put out watering bowls for dogs along with tie-up posts.”

Brooks’ Seattle-based company was hired by the City of Nelson in 2006 to assess the city’s tourism potential. His tourism recommendations for Nelson can be read here.

“For nearly every dog owner out there,” he told The Nelson Daily, “their pet is a member of the family (really) and they see this as an insult along the lines of saying ‘no kids allowed in our downtown.’ It simply doesn’t make sense.”

Mike Stolte—CIEL

Mike Stolte is a Nelson-based consultant whose Centre for Innovative and Entrepreneurial Leadership (CIEL) has worked across Canada and internationally, helping rural communities with economic development, community vitality, and tourism issues.

“In terms of tourism I think it is clear that communities that are not dog friendly miss out on a lot of opportunities,” he says. “Given that three-quarters of new residents in Nelson first came here as tourists, that’s  pretty significant. It’s a black mark against Nelson, from a tourism perspective. I think a lot of people are startled that a city seen to be as progressive as Nelson has a law like this.”

Stolte says it also brings up issues that are beyond dogs as such. “We need to be able to have forums where we can have a conversation on divisive issues, a safe forum, and I don’t think we have got that right now. This is one of the hallmarks of community vitality, that community leaders are able find ways to reach out, engage, listen, do research, and have an informed conversation about any issues that are divisive. There is a fairly significant groundswell here, from my reading of it, that does warrant attention.”

Stolte said he is neutral on the dog issue and is not a dog owner.

“It may lead people to wonder how welcoming and diverse Nelson actually is.” He said one of the components of a sense of community is trust, between groups and between individuals. “You have to ask yourself, are we fundamentally trusting other citizens?”

Dawne Deeley—The Dog Legislation Council of Canada

Dawne Deeley, a board member and co-founder of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada, told The Nelson Daily by phone from Sidney, B.C.,  that she has never heard of a municipality that has banned dogs from a downtown core, although she said her organization is concerned mostly with legislation and advocacy regarding specific breeds of dogs.

“I read your article,” she said, “and I thought people made some very good suggestions in that meeting.”

Deeley said Calgary is setting the standards for animal bylaws across North America. “They work closely with dog owners, they have high licencing fees, they have strict but very fair policies, and they have a high degree of compliance.”

Mark Kingwell—University of Toronto

The author and philosopher Mark Kingwell of the University of Toronto, who has recently been speaking and writing about public spaces, also responded to an email from The Nelson Daily.

“My own view is that banning dogs from downtown is somewhere between silly and wrong when (if?) all you are looking for is effective curbing/cleanup.  If the real agenda is about homeless people, that should be acknowledged and defended — if it can be defended (I don’t think banning them is an acceptable option).”

Jocelyn Carver—NBA

“I was disappointed that only one councillor was willing to engage in a conversation about what we should do,” says Carver. “So whether in the end they decided not to change the dog bylaw to me is secondary to the fact that there was an opportunity there, with the city police, the NBA, Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism, and a number of important stakeholders all present, all saying, ‘let’s have the conversation’—the conversation that Deb Kozak could not even get a seconder for.”

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