City council dogged by animal groups

The city's decision to ban animals from all city-run buildings has raised the hackles of Whitehorse dog trainers. It was standing room only at Monday night's council meeting, with more than 60 people packed into the gallery.

The city’s decision to ban animals from all city-run buildings has raised the hackles of Whitehorse dog trainers.

It was standing room only at Monday night’s council meeting, with more than 60 people packed into the gallery.

Most of the crowd were there to voice their opposition to the city’s ban on animals.

Several more supporters – along with their dogs – lined the street outside city hall.

For more than two decades, the Yukon Kennel Club, the Whitehorse Woofers Dog Club and others have used the Takhini Arena mezzanine as a place to train dogs over the winter months.

But the decision by the city to ban animals from its buildings put an end to that in April.

“We’re looking at it as a health and safety issue for the public,” said Art Manhire, the city’s indoor facilities manager, at a press conference held earlier that day.

Allergies are the big issue.

The city is following the lead of the Yukon government, which banned dogs from schools in 2007.

But that explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense to Laura Priestly, director of Trainers@large Inc.

“What if people come to you with allergies to grass or flowers, would you remove them?” she asked council.

Because the ban excludes Seeing Eye dogs and other service animals, it’s not going to do much for people with allergies, said Priestly.

“Since all the same services are offered at the Canada Games Centre, can’t we have one building for animals?” she asked.

But the decision by the city wasn’t prompted by complaints, said Manhire.

In fact, there have never been issues with allergies or incidents with unruly dogs reported at Takhini Arena.

Without the use of the mezzanine it will be difficult to offer obedience training during the winter months, and that will lead to problems, said Andrew Richardson of the Woofers dog club.

If dogs can’t be properly socialized or trained, it might end up putting more pressure on the city’s animal shelter as frustrated owners give up their pets, he added.

It’s also not in the interest of public safety to put up barriers to dog training, said Wendy Arcand, president of the Whitehorse Canine Performance Group.

“Dog handling is a sport that should be supported by the city,” she said.

The city wanted to enact the ban on animals in January but granted an extension to the groups.

For the past year, the city has been working with them to find an alternative location to the mezzanine, but so far those efforts have fallen short.

“We’re looking for a building that doesn’t exist,” said Erika Rozsa-Atkinson of Canines and Company.

An industrial space next to Glacier Waters is a promising location, she said. However, getting through all the health and safety requirements has taken longer than expected.

“We’re just asking for a little patience and grace,” said Rozsa-Atkinson.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com