Whitehorse is a dog town, and that’s never gonna change

I was amused to read the CBC North story, “Whitehorse dog owners, ATV drivers face fines on trail“, the other day.

The story opens:

“Whitehorse city officials are promising to crack down on … dogs running loose on the Millennium Trail along the city’s waterfront.”

My first thought: I’ll believe it when I see it.

My second thought: it’s too little, too late.

Promising to crack down on off-leash dogs in Whitehorse is like promising to prevent Vancouverites from drinking coffee, or like telling an American he can never watch another baseball game.

Whitehorse is a dog town, plain and simple. No amount of enforcement will get dog owners to respect the law. From their view, they now exist above the law.

The reason that vast amounts of dog shit blanket every corner of the city and you can barely walk more than a block without getting accosted by a K-9 has nothing to do with enforcement; it has to do with culture.

To Whitehorse dog owners, leaving your dog off-leash is a fundamental right. Leashes are for wusses or, worse, city folk.

And clean up its excrement? Whatever. This is the Yukon for God’s sake. We don’t have to clean up shit in this bountiful wilderness paradise. Heck, I don’t see anybody cleaning up moose droppings.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s very nearly impossible to go for a walk in Whitehorse and not be bothered by some slobbering, filthy mutt that’s just sort of wandering on its own.

Of course, if the owner happens to be nearby and she happens to notice the fact you don’t appreciate her dog sticking its nose up your butt, she’ll just sort of coo and laugh and say, “Oh, don’t worry. He’s harmless.”

Every dog owner in Whitehorse seems to truly believe that their dog is harmless.

Even the one that nipped my ankle when I was out running a few years back, sending me sprawling.

The owner, several dozen metres down the trail, just waved his arm at me and yelled, “Sorry!” Then he called his dog to follow him.

Yeah, a bleeding, twisted ankle and a bloodied knee, that’s harmless.

Even the dog that ran up to my friend’s on-leash rottweiler and mauled it a few years back. As my friend fought to keep her leashed dog under control, the owner of the off-leash animal stood back and had a laugh at her expense.

That’s harmless.

Even the dog that nipped my son’s hand when he was just 2, down at Rotary Peace Park, that dog was harmless, too.

“I don’t know why he did that,” the owner said. “He never bites anyone!”

We didn’t hang around to test the truth of her claim, since even then she left it off-leash.

And just last year there’s the dog that chased my son around Rotary Peace Park as he screamed in terror.

The owner was nowhere in sight so I beaned the animal with a soccer ball to make it stop. When the owner finally arrived, she had the nerve to accost me for throwing a ball at her dog.

Because, couldn’t I tell, “He only wanted to play!” Yeah, tell that to my son as he lays in my arms sobbing.

It’s gotten that way in Whitehorse. You simply can’t go to a public space anymore without encountering dogs that are wandering free, off-leash.

As if that’s not bad enough, the owners expect you to indulge their animals.

And heaven forbid if you should remind them about the bylaws. When we arrive at playgrounds and there’s a dog off-leash running around, I used to spend some time identifying the owner and then politely ask them to leash their dogs.

Half the time the owner refused with a snarky retort. The other half of the time they just cast me a dirty look and left.

So my son and I don’t even visit parks much anymore. Dealing with the dog people is just too stressful.

Instead, we have taken to hanging out and playing at home.

But as the Whitehorse dog culture grows stronger, even that’s not safe anymore.

I live in Takhini North and the dogs roam free here. There are a very few local owners who leash their dogs when they go for walks, but not many.

In general they absent-mindedly stroll down the street as their animal roams the yards of neighbours, pissing and shitting at will.

I don’t own a dog (obviously) but every week I’m cleaning 5 or 6 mounts of shit from my front yard.

Three neighbours I’ve observed don’t even bother to walk their dogs. When they get home from work they just open their doors and let the animals roam free.

These animals seem to have a regular shitting patterns on various neighbours’ yards. Mine is one of those yards on their regular route.

And so it’s to the point I don’t even let my son and his friends out to play in our own yard. I’m sick of cleaning dog shit off his boots when he happens to step in it or off of his coat when he falls in it.

Sure, I could talk to those neighbours. But my experience with such dialogues has not been successful in the past.

For the most part, when you talk to dog owners who let their animals run free, reminding them of bylaws and common courtesy, they are offended. In some cases, they are aggressive.

It’s been my experience that dog owners who let their animals roam free play by an entirely different set of rules. Like I said before, they view it as a right to let their dogs roam free. The bylaws and common respect for neighbourliness, these things don’t apply to them.

Even if you do manage to get through to a dog owner who lets their animal roam free, it never lasts longer than a week or so. Then they’re back to their old form and there’s dog shit in your yard again.

To be honest, I don’t talk to those neighbours about the issue because I can no longer expect myself to be civil in the discourse. Over a decade dealing with this matter has left me somewhat angry about it.

I’ve just sort of resolved to the fact that I’m a non-dog person living in a dog town. The predominant local culture has elevated the value of dogs to a level greater, I would say, than even children.

I have changed my lifestyle to focus on avoiding dogs owners and their leashless kin. I don’t walk or run the trails anymore. I don’t walk on suburban streets. I rarely take my son to outdoor playgrounds anymore and if we see a dog off a leash when we arrive at one (and we almost always do), we leave.

It’s getting sort of ridiculous, though. There are fewer and fewer places you can go to enjoy Whitehorse’s outdoor recreational areas without stepping in poo or having a strange mutt hump your leg.

Unless you’re a hardcore dog person, Whitehorse is an ever more unpleasant place to live.

And, like I said, enforcement is very unlikely to change that. The dog situation has been left unchecked for far too long in this town, to the point that it’s now an integrated aspect of the local culture.

Yes, Whitehorse is a dog town. And there’s no changing that now.

5 thoughts on “Whitehorse is a dog town, and that’s never gonna change

  1. I agree! And I’m one of those “hard core dog people” – but I don’t want to deal with loose dogs and crap everywhere while in town or walking trails in town. I deal with enough crap at my place, thanks!

    And at my place of work, people frequent the area on cold days over the winter and it is the worst place for free-running dogs – close to the hwy, lots of traffic going by, etc. I’ve almost run over the same dog about 8x, the dog which then CHASES my car and do you think the owner has the common sense to leash her uncontrollable dog? Nope. EVERY spring we have to do a “crap cleanup” since we use the area for kids camps and activities. We even put up dog bags and signs this winter to encourage people to PICK UP THEIR DOG CRAP and do you think it helped?? NOOOOO!!!! It’s worse than ever this year. It’s absolutely disgusting right now. Where do the crap goes?!?

    I think bylaw should start taking this seriously.

  2. Andrew – like Stacie, my wife and I are hard core dog people, but we agree with you 100%. There are an incredibly large number of totally irresponsible dog owners in this town. We were bothered by them when we lived in Granger and are bothered at least as much out here in Mary Lake. Mayor Buckway no doubt pissed off many of those irresponsible dog owners on the radio a couple of days ago, but it really is time that this mess was cleaned up. Irresponsible cat people are even worse, but coyotes are effective at policing that situation – more so than Bylaw ever could be 😦

  3. As a dog owner, I’ll just say this: like driving, owning a dog is a privilege and not a right. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to train, corral, and keep the dog on lead when the law or situation demands.

    Unfortunately, there are inconsiderate idiots among us. Both on the roads, and equipped with untrained animals.

    So, we all learn to drive defensively, and we should also learn how to avoid dangerous situations with loose dogs. We shouldn’t have to, but you’ve pointed out all of the reasons that we do regardless.

    I’d suggest taking your son to see one of the town’s many excellent dog trainers, to learn how to interact with dogs in a safe environment. There are certain principles of dog psychology that can be applied to lessen or avoid a dangerous confrontation. These techniques are not unlike the ones we teach ourselves about bear encounters in the bush.

    I think the other responsible dog owners and trainers in this town will agree with your assessment. It would behoove this group to assist with regulation and education for all animal owners.

  4. One thing I never understood is that in Whitehorse, it seems to be okay to bring your big unleashed dog into most businesses.

    My new job recently adopted a ‘no pets policy’. Staff used to bring unleashed dogs to sit at their desks all day. The girl working next to this staff member was bitten 12 times before the policy was adopted.

    Each time she was bitten, the owner said,

    “ya she does that sometimes, you should give her a treat and she’ll like you more.”

    It’s a lot of responsability to have a dog that not everyone is willing to accept.

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