Vancouver's animal-control officers will be stepping up efforts to enforce the rules for the conduct of dogs in city parks, giving those complaints priority over other bylaw infractions.
They're not going to reject some calls, but say that people may simply have to wait.
Sarah Hicks, manager of Vancouver Animal Control, said her staff of 12 officers – seven on duty at any given time – are facing an onslaught of valid, but occasionally distracting, responsibilities that include dealing with strays, dead animals and waste issues.
"We will be rationalizing all calls to see where we can best focus our time," she said in an interview on Thursday, looking ahead to the rest of 2012. "It's not a concrete plan at this point in time, but there's opportunities available to look at different ways of prioritizing the officers' time in terms of calls responded to and time spent patrolling areas."
She said she would like her officers to spend more time in the city's 200 parks, which have 35 off-leash areas. The parks are a key setting for enhanced enforcement measures over the past two years, including zero tolerance for non-licensed dogs. Vancouver has an estimated 100,000 to 145,000 dogs.
At this point, however, the confounding factor is the 4,600 calls a year summoning staff to deal with everything from strays to deceased pets to waste issues to chicken complaints.
Every call is important, but some may have to wait.
"Do they all need to be responded to right now?" she said. "Does that [call]need to be responded to now or can that wait for a couple hours or a day depending on what that call is?
"We will have to look at reprioritizing some of our officers time so they spend more time in those parks where we have a lot of complaints, where we're getting off leash calls, off-leash aggression, dog bites, those type of things happening," she said.
Despite the stepped-up enforcement, there are no new penalties or fines, no sweeping changes to bylaws or extra staff.
"It really is just that the message is this is a requirement of the dog owner [for the pets]to be licensed, to be leashed, and [to]clean up after your dog."
Animal control has refocused some attention on problem parks so officers spend time in "hot areas" of the parks, she said.
Aaron Jasper, vice-chair of the parks board, has said the system of animal control is broken and needs to be fixed.
One key priority, he said, is getting rid of the system of defining leash access to most parks by allotted hours instead of separating leash areas and off-leash areas with fences, which could be an expensive proposition.
Mr. Jasper said the board has conducted widespread consultation on the matter and hopes to come up with some decisions on fences this year. Their first meeting of 2012 is in mid-January but the issue is not on the agenda.
He said Ms. Hicks has a point about assigning priority to calls.
"Off the cuff, my gut tells me, yeah, with any department if you have limited resources, you have to rationalize them, you have to prioritize, and so, off the top, I think that sounds like a very rational exercise to go through," he said.
"On top of that, I would like to see city hall dedicate more resources to animal control."