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The Globe and Mail

Vancouver councillor picks a ruff battle: leash laws

Newly elected Vancouver city councillor Adriane Carr helped to found and lead the Green Party of Canada, helped end the war in the woods in Clayoquot Sound, and even talked her way into two televised provincial election leaders' debates. But she is about to enter a world of pain that none of her previous experience could have prepared her for.

Ms. Carr is wading into the dog debate in Vancouver.

Ms. Carr squeaked onto Vancouver council last November as a Green Party member, defeating incumbent Ellen Woodsworth by 90 votes. Her election followed four unsuccessful runs for provincial office, two unsuccessful runs for a federal seat, and one unsuccessful run for the school board.

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So one might wonder, given her "eighth-time lucky" status, why Ms. Carr would, in her first motion as an elected politician, wade into an issue as volatile as Vancouver's animal control bylaw.

Vancouver is divided roughly equally into two camps: dog lovers, and everyone else.

At the heart of the tension is the animal control bylaw; specifically, the provisions requiring dog owners to leash their animals.

Five years ago, the Vancouver Park Board struck a task force to look at the question of peaceful co-existence between dog owners who were demanding more off-leash areas, and non-dog-owning citizens who preferred the status quo.

The task force imploded – or, officially, "disbanded" – with members not able to agree on a direction or plan of action.

The park board revived the effort last July and is promising specific measures some time this year.

One need not travel very far nor look very hard to find a violation of the animal control act. Off-leash dogs roam the city at will, their owners often trailing far behind them. They frolic happily off-leash in parks not designated as such.

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It's not those dogs that concern Ms. Carr.

What caught Ms. Carr's attention is the story of Kitsilano resident Jacqui Brown. A couple of weeks ago, Ms. Brown tied her dog to a bike rack on West Broadway while she ducked into a drug store to grab something. She says she stepped outside to find an animal control officer hustling the dog into a van.

Ms. Brown was fined $250 (the fine could have been higher, as her dog was unlicensed).

It turns out tying your dog to a post, bike rack, parking meter or anything else is illegal in the city of Vancouver.

This is the section of the bylaw Ms. Carr wants to change. "I think it's unfair to responsible dog owners and their dogs," she told me in an interview this week.

Ms. Carr lives in the West End, where there are plenty of dogs. She doesn't see a problem with someone who is walking their dog tying it up for a couple of minutes while they grab a newspaper or coffee. "I think most of those people don't even know that the bylaw exists that makes it illegal for them to do that."

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Since my conversation with Ms. Carr, I've heard many arguments for and against her motion.

Many people combine walking the dog with running an errand, and say that not being able to accomplish both at the same time would have a serious impact on their lives.

Others oppose the motion because they love dogs and think it cruel or inhumane to leave an animal tied up for any length of time. They also worry about unattended dogs being injured or even stolen.

And there are those who worry that even the best-behaved dogs may occasionally act unpredictably, especially if approached by children. I heard from one man who describes his dog as well-behaved and well-socialized, but once, tied up outside a store, got scared and bit a child.

Ms. Carr dismisses these concerns, saying other provisions of the animal control bylaw already cover vicious or aggressive dogs, dogs that are treated poorly, and dogs that bark or whine excessively. She says children could be taught to avoid dogs.

Besides, she says, these dogs will be on leash, even if the leash happens to be wrapped around a parking meter.

I'm never one to make predictions, but I have it on good authority that some time ago, when the Vancouver Park Board wanted to pack the room on, say, budget night, they would put a dog-related item on the agenda. Nothing drew a crowd quite like dogs.

Ms. Carr's motion is scheduled to go to council on Tuesday.

I wish her well.

If history holds true, the motion will be moved to committee to accommodate the scores of people who demand to speak, the overflow seating will be hauled out of storage, and someone will end up picking up poop – metaphorically, of course.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

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