While the Town of Sylvan Lake welcomes suntanners, picnickers, and young families to the grassy Lakeshore area, town bylaws passed in 2009 prohibit dogs from joining them.
According to town communications officer Joanne Gaudet, dogs are allowed to accompany their owners in the Centennial Park area if they stay on the concrete path and keep off the grass. They also have to be on a leash at all times, in the park and throughout the town. In addition, they are not allowed to be near playground equipment, or a rubber or sand play area.
The bylaw is a response to health and safety concerns of both people and animals.
“The priority here is the safety and wellness of people,” said Gaudet. She added that the town spoke with a veterinarian at Pathways Animal Clinic. For some dogs, heat, nearby food and children can create anxiety. Gaudet said that because it’s not possible to be sure how certain dogs will react if anxious, the bylaw prohibits all dogs from grassy areas, which are more crowded with people.
“It’s just not a space for dogs,” said Gaudet. “It’s not that type of environment with as many people as we have.” She added that many different variables contribute to the character of an animal. “When kids are on the beach and playing around, the last thing they’re thinking about is how to be responsible around an animal.”
Gaudet said dog waste was another consideration, especially because many people prepare and consume food while picnicking on the grass. She added that the town is looking into installing dog bag dispensers along the concrete path, but responsible pet owners should be leaving their home with bags already in-hand.
Animal control officer Jim de Boon said people not picking up after their dogs is one of the biggest issues he deals with, along with barking, biting, and dogs at large.
Further creating confusion is the blurred line between municipal and provincial park boundaries, said de Boon. Dogs are not permitted anywhere in the provincial park, but de Boon has no authority to enforce laws there.
“There’s a jurisdictional conundrum,” he said. “Whatever I saw there didn’t matter, because as soon as I leave town limits I’m done.”
de Boon said another problem is that because the boundary is not marked, many people can go from an area where dogs are permitted to the provincial park without realizing. He said some people take advantage of the different jurisdictions by purposely walking their dogs in the provincial park, knowing municipal animal control services have no power over them.
“It’s a source of frustration for me,” said de Boon.
Provincial park laws are enforced by RCMP members, and by park conservation officers.
Gaudet said she hasn’t heard of people having any issues with the bylaw, but there might not be enough awareness about it.
Every community has animal control bylaws, said Gaudet, adding that she hopes Sylvan Lake’s bylaws create a clean and enjoyable space for everyone at the beach.
“Our animal control is more about being responsible and enforcing that.”