Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where is Halifax, Nova Scotia going?

The article at the left here was the impetus for me finally writing this post here today. Can you imagine a shopping mall here in the Halifax Regional Municipality that had a 10,000 square foot dog park attached to it, with specially designated shops and dog comfort stations that cater to canines. A place where dogs are welcome at their food court and outdoor patio areas and all of it's “many trendy restuarents.”

There is a mall like that in Chula Vista California - and in tons of other places across the United States – and its because, as this article states - "as an increasing number of restaurants and hotels strive to be more pet friendly".

I was reading this article today in the latest issue of the magazine "Doggie Afficianado" and it hit me like a ton of bricks, because I've been ruminating for the last week - since last Wednesday's meeting between "residents, ball team officials and off leash proponents to meet and discuss off leash issues at the Robert Drive Ball Diamond" over in Dartmouth.

After the meeting I was just so disheartened by what the city officials - namely John Charles - Planner with Real Property Planning, Infrastructure and Asset Management – and by the way, I am SO glad I audio taped the meeting so that I can quote him directly with some of the gold nuggets when he said things like – “parks are for people, we’re not in the business of building dog parks” – to a room full of dog owners there for nothing more than having a park re-opened so that they could run their dogs off leash in a space they considered safe.

That meeting got me to thinking about Halifax in general – where the city is going – what is the municipal government doing to make our city better – how is it treating its tax payers, how does it communicate with them – what does it THINK about the people who live here – what information does it think the people who live in this city need to know.

The word “transparency” has come up a lot in the dog community a lot in the last couple of years – and I’ve been thinking about it in relation to the HRM Municipal government in the last week – and not just in relation to dog issues – I did some googling in other areas of HRM politics – and it seems like the Municipal government is as closed, cold, and unthinking with the rest of the HRM public as it is with tax paying dog owners.

Stephen Kimber wrote a blog post about how secretive Halifax City Council is back in early September – about why Council feels it necessary to have so many Committee of the Whole Meetings instead of Open Council Meetings – and he’s got an excellent point.

The Coast did an article as well about this month – called “Secrecy, detailed - Halifax council uses secret meetings for public business” – the last sentence of the article says everything –

“In a democracy, the presumption should be that information should be public unless there's good reason for it not to be, but in Halifax the presumption is the opposite.Halifax council demonstrates its contempt for the public 63 percent of the time it meets in secret.“

There seems to be a general business philosophy at the HRM that the public are a bunch of no-gooders who don’t deserve any kind of information or authority – from the top to the bottom – and that is SO wrong. They treat the public unbelieveably horribly for no good reason – they give out no information about anything. Do the people in the “media” office actually work?

Me personally – from now on – whenever I have a question about the HRM or a story relating to the City – I am going to email Deborah Story – her title given on the HRM’s website is “HRM Acting Corporate Communications Officer” and her contact info as (902) 490-6531 and storyd@halifax.ca - because you can’t even believe people involved in the specific incidents anymore.

A couple months ago there was the “pit bull incident” on the Prospect Road – everybody remember that? When the “pit bull” bit the couple of cyclists trying to go down the road? One of the cyclists bit said that HRM had already put the dog down – only a couple days after the incident – and I was questioning that, because Andrea MacDonald, head of Animal Control had said that only a judge could order a dog euthanized.

Well here we are last week with a newspaper story saying that this dog is still over at the HRM’s Animal Control Pound facility. It’s still alive. Why wouldn’t Andrea MacDonald have said that the dog was still alive a couple months ago? Why wouldn’t SOMEONE have said the dog was still alive? I sent emails trying to find out why the dog was killed – but no one answered me back.

The people at HRM for some reason think it’s okay to just not answer questions – and I have no idea why they think that. How is that good public relations? I have no idea. Can someone please tell me how that is good public relations? Maybe HRM doesn’t care about public relations. Maybe that’s what it is.

And in my googling – it’s not just about dog issues that this is happening.

I deeply love this place that we are living in, and I am really worried that the people we’re paying to take care of the bureaucratic functions at the municipal level don’t have the best interests – or don’t have the same philosophies – as the majority of the people who are living here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Maybe they don't even care.

Yes, we are all dog owners, but we are also people who spend time with our families, and our friends – we are part of neighbourhoods, we own property, we live in apartments – there’s a whole section on the HRM’s website that’s called “Good Neighbours, Great Neighbourhoods” at http://myhrm.ca/ - and it’s got a Facebook component with only 95 members the last time I checked – we volunteer with organizations that are important to whatever our life calls us to – and there’s 1,000’s of things in this world that are important and life changing. We all aren't just involved with dog stuff - we're also involved with every other kind of community group that can be imagined within our municipality - and we have to let the people at City Hall know that.

I’ve always said that Halifax is dog friendly DESPITE of the HRM’s government – but for how much longer – I don’t know.

Last Wednesday night we went in to that meeting about the Robert Drive Park with the knowledge that the park was going to be opening up on Friday.

The President of Dartmouth District Minor Baseball Association - Mike Curry, came to the meeting to say that his Association would NOT be renting any ballfield that was also used as a field for use by dogs because it was too much of a liability issue, and the stink made by dog piss was overwhelming - so it was a non-issue for his organization - it was not going to be happening anymore.

There were about 25 dog owners who came to the meeting who pretty much came to the meeting simply because they had no other place to take their dogs because they only wanted to take their dogs off leash in a spot that was completely enclosed - meaning fenced in - and what they considered a safe area. For whatever reason, whether it was because they were runners, or they just were newbie dog owners - they didn't want to have their dogs off leash in open, park like spaces. And that was that. And the Robert Park Drive ball field is the only space - that we know of - that up until now - we could LEGALLY - do that.

When the park was previously open - children were allowed to play in the park - and could do so at any time - every park in the HRM is a multi-use park - open to everyone. The goal on page 1 of the off leash strategy has always said - "HRM will employ universal design principles to ensure that off leash areas are accessible to all park users." Lump it or leave it.

So we went into the meeting with those facts know - and we left the meeting with "compromises" - worked out by John Charles - because that was what HE wanted - so this is what they are -

Dogs are allowed off leash between 5am and 12pm and 5pm and 10pm - so that children can play in the park between 12pm and 5pm unobstructed by those nasty off leash dogs.

He said that "kids need to play on the field", and "ball parks need special consideration" - except for the fact that Mike Curry and his organization will not be renting any fields that have any dog use whatsoever.

At the meeting there were two (2) Municipal Councillors - newly elected Darren Fisher from riding #6 - his email is - and Bill Karsten, the Councillor for

For some reason - neither of the Councillors knew about the fact that there was supposed to be a report released in June 2009 to Regional Council during "Phase 2" of the implementation of the Off Leash Strategy - after having opened more than 20 permanenet off leash parks - and when I said that at the meeting to Bill Karsten and he looked at John Charles all he said was "yup". It's on page 21 of the original "Off Leash Parks Strategy Report" that was released in 2007 - but funnily enough - the report that's currently on the HRM's website - is only 10 pages long. I wonder why? And I wonder if there was any report in June that was released to Council? Maybe it was released to Council of the Whole? I should email Deborah Story about that...

Note - it's beautiful, I just found the email John Charles sent out in 2007 when the off leash strategy was first finalized - here it is:


Please accept my apologies for any cross posting.

The proposed HRM Off Leash Parks Strategy will be presented to Regional Council, Committee of the Whole (COW) on Tuesday, June 26th. Here is the URL for the agenda and report


Official copies of the proposed Strategy will be available soon. In the meantime, here are some of the key issue raised by HRM citizens that lead to the development of the revised Strategy. Over 250 citizens attended our off leash workshops to review the draft Strategy released in January 2007. While most people supported the Guiding Principles of the Strategy, the majority of participants didn't support the Draft's volunteer-based approach to developing and operating off leash areas. We also heard that more than one pilot off leash area was necessary and that extended hours for sportsfields should be considered. Participants wanted convenient, clean, cost efficient, safe, and simple off leash areas. They also suggested that HRM should provide off leash areas in existing parks, trails, and sportsfields and not burden dog owners with additional fees for costly infrastructure (fencing, fountains, etc.) The most frequent recomendations were to provide adequate parking, waste receptacle, regular maintenance, and enforcement. Many also mentioned the City of Calgary's approach to Responsible Pet Ownership as a model program that HRM should consider adopting.

I hope you will be pleased with the revised Strategy. Here are a few highlites.

5 new off leash park areas in 2007 13 additional off leash park areas in 2008
Extended sportsfield hours during the off season Pilot program for all year use of 10 sportsfields in 2008 HRM-operated with no volunteer committments or additional fees
Responsible Pet Ownership public education and communication plan

It's important to understand that at this point, the proposed Strategy has not been discussed, or endorsed by Regional Council. On June 26, the Strategy could be accepted by Council, or it could be sent back to staff for further amendments. When adopted, the Strategy won't be an inflexible document that will prevent any necessary policy changes that may become apparent. Annual reviews, ongoing public consultation, and reports to Council will ensure opportunities for the Strategy to evolve during its implementation.

John Charles
Planner Real Property Planning
Community Development

John Charles email address is parkdog@halifax.ca

One has to ask themself - was anything in the off leash strategy implementation really fulfilled? And if not, why not? If you click on the link I gave at the beginning of this post on John Charles' name - it's a link to an article about John Charles where he talks about how Halifax's off leash parks are going to be different because “These parks are going to be under a microscope.” Meaning more patrols by park officials and bylaw officers. More fines for unregistered dogs and untethered ones outside of the off-leash areas."

I would say any dog owner who's been to a park in the last 2 years would agree that none of that has happened. And that is a HUGE problem. Enforcement - the city has totally let dog owners - and non dog owners down. And who is to blame for that? You decide - and do something about it. Let the city know. Because if Mr. Charles wants us to "compromise" - I think the City has to do at least a modicum of work - at least empty a couple of garbage containers would be nice.

If you're interested - this is what John Charles said about 1 hour into the 2 hour meeting about the Robert Park Dog Park meeting:
"How can we work this out, are there places we can compromise. We’ve heard that the kids need to be able to play on the field, uh and we’ve heard that ball teams have special considerations and we’ve heard that dog owners have special considerations, so we’ve got a place where we can’t all share it at once. So are there compromises we can make right now at once, right now that would allow us to move forward and improve the situation for all of us. So that’s my challenge to you…

Does everyone realize that when the ball teams rent those fields they pay for them? We could go into this, and I understand that ball teams do rent facilities, likewise – agility trainers and associations and trainers rent ball fields as well – so and in summer, 30 of our sports fields across HRM open every November to May 1st all day for off leash use, and that’s on our website – that list of 30 sports fields – so think of that opportunity that has been presented.

Someone asks “how many of them are fenced?” And John replies – “um – and I think that what you have to do is again, when we first came out with the strategy was in 2006 it called for fenced areas built, and we had close to 400 people out to our community consultation – a vast majority said that what they wanted were open trail walking experiences for their dogs, uh, and, they didn’t want enclosures – and that’s, that’s what we heard. All of the reports from the public meetings are on our website. I encourage you to go read them and see what the public said and what we heard is that parks are for people and park use of people with dogs is a privilege because there has to be equal responsibility to have a well trained dog and that “if” we’re going to provide areas of enclosure, um, then there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.

We approached this by saying what we need is something economically sustainable. We have many different demands on our resources, and what can we do to convert some areas of our parks to offleash use while maintaining the balance of the approach in maintaining the areas of where you can know that you’re not going to see a dog off leash and know whereas you’re welcome to have your dog off leash, but in any of those areas, people are welcome – anyone can come into an area, it’s not an exclusive off leash area – parks are for people, we’re not in the business of building dog parks, we’re building parks for dogs and people – so we don’t build those exclusive use facilities for dogs, that’s not part of our role – and that’s what we heard from the public – that’s what we heard back from the public during those meetings – so I’m not going to go any further, because what we need to do is focus on Robert Drive"

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