We want more freedom for our dogs
I cannot agree more with the idea that the degree of evolution of a society can be measured by the way we treat children, elderly and the animals.
For more than 20 years, I have been a proud Vancouverite who loves the outdoors, healthy lifestyle and my daily dog walks. As a veterinarian who works with dogs and their people on a daily basis, I can see the undeniable positive contribution of dogs to our health, well-being, our society, and our economy.
- Dogs get us out for walks and help us to be active.
- They help us connect with people on walks and prevent isolation.
- They help us to be healthy and reduce our health care costs.
- They allow us to experience unconditional love.
- They keep us company and cheer us up when needed.
- They remind us to be playful and enjoy life to its fullest.
- They teach us to live in the present.
I could go on and on and create a list that would definitely not fit on one page. There have been numerous studies written about the health and emotional benefits of living with dogs. The question I want to explore here is, why dogs, dog bylaws and animal control have become such a huge issue in recent years?
Some people say that this is a response to a few incidences where dogs of careless or irresponsible dog owners injure people. However, punishing all dogs and dog owners for the issues of a few would not be any different than treating all people like criminals when one person causes a crime. This attitude has generated a fiery public debate that polarizes communities and creates a lot of media attention.
Changing the topic for a moment.
One of my favorite songs is Sarah McLaughlan’s “Ordinary Miracle” and the lyrics say:
“The sky knows when its time to snow
Don’t need to teach a seed to grow
It’s just another ordinary miracle today…”
I love the lyrics because they are a reminder that there is no need to over-regulate the natural balance and harmony of nature or of a healthy society. The Earth will continue spinning and the seasons will change without our control and generally the unspoken rules and general courtesy in our society are much more powerful than excessive control and policing. In fact such excessive attempt to control others naturally creates rebellion, distrust and disillusion of the general public.
For example, I witnessed an alcohol raid on the beach of English Bay in Downtown Vancouver where the police squads virtually raided the bags of unsuspecting people enjoying a beautiful summer day. While I am not a drinker, the arrogant and rude behavior of some of these officers was a frightening reminder of my past years of living behind the Iron Curtain. It was a reminder that even in democratic society, some people apply for a job with police or in bylaw enforcement because they love the taste of power.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not support heavy drinking or anarchy, I just suggest that our lawmakers and enforcement could learn a lesson or two from the European countries where drinking in parks is not a big deal and dogs are allowed in parks, restaurants and on transit without disturbing anyone. In my opinion, extreme over-policing generates oppression and anger and makes “drinking in public” more prevalent and serious. The forbidden fruit always tastes the best. But getting back to dogs…
Just the other day, I found a new sign at the Capilano Dam in North Vancouver that said: “No dogs allowed on the lawn.” First I was angry. I have been dog walking in the park and Skai loves to play here! When my anger fizzled out, I realized that this situation could be used us a springboard to an open discussion.
Based on the news in the media, the battle over the freedom of our canine friends has been increasing in intensity. From what I know, the people who demand more animal control and ban of our dogs from parks and beaches are doing so because they are afraid of dogs or do not like dog poop stuck to their shoes. These people have a tendency to make a blanket statement against all dogs as a result of a few incidents where aggressive dogs injured people.
As a veterinarian, I know that most dogs are loving and not aggressive. To me, restricting all dogs from parks is unreasonable and could be compared to us being treated like criminals when one person causes a crime.
In my opinion, the solution is not in “bylaw” officers sneaking up from the bushes and ticketing people for having fun and enjoying a good life with their dogs. It reminds me of the fairytale of my childhood about a kingdom where people were punished for singing.
I understand that not everyone has a good connection with dogs and some people are afraid of them. However, because of the undeniable benefit of dogs on our health and in our society, we, dog lovers can’t tolerate the current situation where dogs owners are discriminated and treated as a second-class citizens and the anti-dog bylaws are getting out of control.
Here are a few ideas to open a discussion about how to solve the current situation:
- Every dog owner in Vancouver should register their dog without exception which will be helpful to establish the most accurate dog count.
- This ratio of families with and without dogs should reflect the ratio of beaches and parks where dogs are allowed.
- Ideally, each large beach or park should have a dog and no dog section to reduce the need to travel to distant locations.
- Led by the example of other developed nations, dogs should be allowed on public transit with a comfortable muzzle with the exception of service dogs who would not need to be muzzled.
- To reduce the risk of accidents and dog bites, it may be viable to create a system of dog registration where off leash privileges would be granted to dogs who graduted from already existing “canine good citizen” certification programs. The registration tag for certified dogs could be 'green color' to recognize safe dogs easily.
- I believe that most people would agree with fining people who mistreat dogs, train them for aggression, act irresponsibly or do not pick up their dog's poop.
- Install poop bag vending machines or stands where part of the proceeds from the sales would go towards animal welfare and dog training. There are great corn-based compostable bags on the market that are environmentally safe. As an alternative, poop bags posts could be serving sponsored by a local advertising business.
The point I want to make here is that while I respect a difference in opinions and do not expect everyone to like dogs, I strongly believe that dogs and their people do not deserve to be treated like second-class citizens. No one likes to be spied on, raided upon in parks or forced out in the ghettos of small and second-class public parks and places.
Based on the statistics, 36 percent of Vancouver families live with dogs and this number should be equally represented in the number of beaches and parks that dogs are allowed in. We pay taxes, we love our dogs, most of us are responsible citizens and yes, Mr. or Ms. Politician, we have the power to vote out those, who do not respect our equality.
Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM
A Vancouver veterinarian, dog lover and advocate.