The courts have handed out a hefty $1,000 fine to a woman who has been caught repeatedly with her dog off-leash in Kananaskis Country.
On April 28, Canmore provincial court imposed the steep fine on the woman, who lives near Kananaskis Village, after she was caught with her dog off-leash in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on Aug. 8 last year.
A judicial order also banned her dog from all provincial parks and recreation areas until Nov. 1.
Provincial conservation officers say they can’t recall a court fine this high for an off-leash dog charge in K-Country.
“Ultimately, we’d rather not issue fines and charges and would prefer to have compliance on this issue,” said Arian Spiteri, conservation officer with Kananaskis Country.
“I do hope the fine acts as a deterrent in this specific case and I also hope it acts as a deterrent for other people who see the fines for having a dog off-leash.”
Spiteri said there are good reasons the law requires dogs to be on-leash in parks at all times, noting dogs allowed to run freely put wildlife in danger and also put the pet’s life, and potentially the owner’s, at risk.
She said encounters with off-leash dogs can lead to the eventual destruction of a wild animal if that animal is deemed a public safety threat.
“The issue of dogs off-leash endangers wildlife and affects the public’s use and enjoyment of our parks,” Spiteri said, noting it also ties up time for busy conservation officers.
“There doesn’t seem to be a recognition of the connection in how we use the landscape and the ultimate consequences for wildlife,” she added.
“If people could understand what it’s like to have to destroy an animal because of encounters with dogs, then I think they would change their behaviour.”
Conservation officers handed out 122 fines last year to people caught with dogs off-leash in Spray Lakes Provincial Park and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, which accounts for about 20 per cent of all tickets written.
This was not the first time the Kananaskis Village-area resident has been fined for letting her dog roam free.
She was given the specific penalty of $115 in May 2012 for having her dog off-leash in the Evan Thomas provincial recreation area. At that time, the woman and her dog were within 200 metres of a grizzly bear kill site in the area.
In May 2015, she was again caught with two dogs off-leash in the Evan Thomas. That led to a $650 court fine last July.
The latest charge involving her dog off-leash, which resulted in last week’s $1,000 court fine, came just one month after she was given the $650 fine.
Spiteri said she is unsure why the message isn’t sinking in for many dog owners, even though there’s lots of information, including signage, about the importance of not letting dogs run free.
“It’s upsetting to me that we’re dealing with something that is so simple to solve,” she said.
A study published earlier this year in the online journal Nature.com showed the causes of about half of the 700 carnivore encounters documented in North America and Europe were a result of inappropriate human behaviour, including dogs off-leash.
Another study published in International Bear News in 2014 suggest dogs may actually trigger bear attacks. The study revealed 49 of 92 reported black bear attacks in Canada and the United States from 2010-2015 involved dogs, many of which were off-leash.
Of those 49 incidents, dogs were injured half the time and in seven instances the bear killed the dog.
Canmore’s Kim Titchener, president of Bear Safety and More, said last week’s $1,000 court fine will hopefully send a strong message to other dog owners to think twice before letting their dogs run unrestrained.
She said research indicates off-leash dogs increase the likelihood of a wildlife attack, noting a dog can draw a large carnivore like a bear back to the owner. It could also lead to the eventual destruction of the wild animal if they are then deemed a public safety threat.
“If your dog’s not on a leash, you increase your likelihood of a bear attack, a cougar attack, a coyote attack,” she said.
“You may think ‘my dog is so well behaved and he stands by me and he’s not going to engage with that animal,’ but you have no control over how a wolf, a cougar, a bear is going to react to seeing that dog.”
Spiteri said Alberta Parks is ultimately trying to manage parks in Kananaskis to allow for public recreation and enjoyment as well as protection of wildlife – and doing that among high levels of visitation.
“If people want to help conserve our parks, dog owners, in particular, can do one simple thing: keep your dog on a leash,” she said.
“If you’re doing an activity where having a dog off-leash isn’t practical, then leave your dog at home.”