It's a tragic fact that many adults in the community can't read or understand simple informative graphics. Take dog owners, for example. A stunning proportion seem utterly incapable of reading simple signs for comprehension: signs like, "pick up after your dog," "dogs must be on a leash" and (my personal favourite sign of non-compliance these days) "no dogs allowed." The latter seems often to be interpreted as "I'm going to let you off your leash now, Rover, go chase some two-year-olds if they're out there."
Almost any time on a Saturday or a Sunday, off-leash dogs roam freely on the eastern side of Saxe Point Park: the owners of said dogs apparently too ill-educated to comprehend the myriad signs completely banning dogs from that area of the park. On rare occasions, when dogs aren't obviously and immediately present in the "no dog" zone, junior detectives might need a little more sleuthing time to prove the presence of dogs - about as long as it takes to find little scatological bundles testifying to Fido's recent passing. For the most part, far too many dog owners treat their precious pooch's posterior product the same way their dogs do: once done, it's forgotten.
Now, before too many loyal Esquimaltonians blow a gasket, I should point out that compared to other areas of the Capital Region, Esquimalt has very progressive dog-control laws, and most people seem well aware of not only the laws but the boundaries of common decency. In Saanich, off-leash and uncontrolled dogs present a very real danger, a danger not yet grasped by either police or politicians. A dog bit a woman in Saanich last week - not the first, nor the last time. Despite repeated pleas for action, police and politicians still do nothing to protect public safety. Four times in the past four years, dogs chased or attacked my eight-year-old daughter while she played in Saanich playgrounds. Surprisingly, one police dispatch operator refused to send officers to deal with an off-leash dog running through a playground until there was an actual injury: kind of like having a man-with-gun call ignored until someone lay dead of bullet wounds.
For that reason alone, I heartily recommend parents in Saanich bring their children to Esquimalt playgrounds, which are much safer by far. As proof, no off-leash dogs ever chase my child in Esquimalt. In fact, apart from isolated incidents, most dogs seem well under control. That's likely because a large number of dog owners in the community know the regulations mandating leashes for dogs in public areas. It's not like Esquimalt is anti-dog, either. The community reserves specific places such as the west side of Saxe Point Park, where off-leash dogs can romp freely around the forest. Even if somebody ventures into a no-dog area with Fluffy, like the aforementioned part of Saxe Point or Kinsmen-Gorge Park (where dogs are also not allowed) there's not much of a problem if Fluffy is on a leash. Sure, taking a leashed dog into a no-dog zone doesn't meet the letter of the law perhaps, but a leashed Fluffy presents minimal harm to the rest of the community. As opposed, for example, to a large mutt set free last week within yards of a toddler in diapers testing a playground, or the two dog owners that let their respective off-leash animals have a running fight through a family picnic in the no-dog area of Saxe Point Park earlier this year. Then I ponder the charming couple that brought their unleashed dog into the no-dog area of Memorial Park last month and showed no small reluctance in retrieving their animal from the midst of a family party complete with children. They were most impolite, indeed suggesting that the complainants perform what can best be described as an act of a physically impossible and morally questionable nature.
Then again, that sort of inability to deal with others shouldn't come as a shock from people with no qualms over the potential for their uncontrolled 60-pound dog chasing a 30-pound child in a public park. While rare, such instances do illustrate that some - but not all - dog owners express no concern for public safety. Signs and graphics aren't enough. Generally speaking, regulations governing dogs in the Capital Region are lax and ill enforced. As proof, patrolling Victoria police officers frequently ignore the usual complement of canines in the no-dog zones of Saxe Point Park. Forging strong laws is a challenge, since every time the Capital Regional District or some other right-minded council tries to establish reasonable regulations, a gathering of frothing dog lobbyists cry oppression. Even recently, a gathering of pooch owners protested CRD regulations mandating dogs be on-leash in Thetis Park, bleating about the affront to their dignity and the impositions on their poor, misunderstood dogs. Yet, if a black bear chased those same lobbyists, they would flood the region with cries for more animal control regulations. Ponder, for a moment, the size, weight and speed of a black bear: about twice the size of an average adult. Compare that to the size, weight and speed of a black lab: about twice the size of the average preschooler. Or, in other terms, think of unleashing a black bear in the local coffee shop as reasonable comparison to a black lab running amok through a playground of preschoolers.
The former is shocking to conceive, the latter all-too-frequent. Until parents can let their children play in no-dog parks and playgrounds without fear of dogs chasing them, politicians must press for stronger laws and stiffer penalties. Then again, if more dog owners learned how to read simple signs, there wouldn't be a problem in the first place.
Vern Faulkner is the editor of the Esquimalt News