By contributor Kelly Whiteside

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had customers from my workplace get legitimately upset with me when I inform them our store is not pet friendly, and that any non-service animals must be left outside. I don’t understand it. I love my animals as much as the next person, but the thought of bringing them shopping with me seems absurd. Even with the warmer weather coming, just leave your dog at home when shopping—not outside a store and not in your hot car.

“What if I keep her in my cart?”

“But he’s so friendly and well-behaved!”

No. I don’t care. I don’t get paid enough to clean up someone else’s dog’s shit, nor do I want to waste my sick pay going to the doctor’s for a bite. Even if your dog is friendly and well-behaved, it’s the ones that aren’t that ruin it for the rest, and unfortunately there’s really no way for me to tell yours is until it’s too late.

Before moving to Nanaimo, I had never witnessed someone bring a non-service animal shopping with them. When researching this phenomenon, I discovered that Nanaimo is widely known as one of Canada’s dog capitals. The Harbour City placed third on Canadian Dogs’ list of Canada’s Pet-Friendliest Cities. Nanaimo’s place on the list was earned mostly by our natural beauty, high number of dog parks, and pet-friendly lodging and stores.

Pet populations across Canada have increased significantly over the last two years according to the Canadian Animal Health Institute. The estimated number of household cats rose from seven million to 8.8 million, with the approximate number of household dogs growing from 6.4 million to 7.6 million. The same survey reported that, overall, approximately 41 percent of households have at least one dog and 37 percent have at least one cat.

Converting Nanaimo’s population of 90,504 to fit that statistic, it’s a safe guess that there are 37,106 dogs here. With that many dogs, there’s bound to be some conflict. Of course, there are many different types of dogs with a variety of personalities at various stages of training, so it’s important to be respectful of every dog owner and their pet(s) while out in public.

As praised in the list of pet friendly cities, Nanaimo boasts plenty of nature, so dogs are not always confined to their leashes like they are in urban areas. As nicer weather arrives, though, remember that Piper’s Lagoon is a no-dog area from April 1 to October 31, and Departure Bay Beach doesn’t allow dogs from May 1 to September 30. And, as always, Buttertubs Marsh is a dog-free zone year-round, along with all playgrounds, sports fields, and cemeteries. Beban Park, Cable Bay Trail, Westwood Lake, Colliery Dam Park, and Diver Lake Park all feature off-leash areas for your dog. However, there are still general rules of respect to follow when in an off-leash area.

Know your animals. Everyone is at a different level of training with their pets. It’s okay if your dog isn’t trained to come to your side when you call every single time. It’s okay if your dog must be on a leash at all times. It’s okay if your dog can run freely and come immediately when called, even in the middle of chasing a squirrel. It’s okay if your dog isn’t friendly with other dogs or people. It’s important to know your dog’s personality and level of obedience to help you determine when it needs to be leashed or not.

Have control over your animals. Keep your dog in sight at all times. Be ready to put a leash on if necessary. Don’t let your dog run up to other dogs or jump on people without their consent. The safety of you, your dog, and other people and their dogs should be of the highest concern.

Be mindful of others. If you are in an on-leash area, do not walk your dog off leash. The other people and animals using that park are likely using it for the reason that it is a specified on-leash zone. If you are coming to pass with another person, by themselves or with their dog, call your dog to your side and leash it if necessary. If the dog passing is leashed, then leash yours as well to make the other feel more comfortable. Not everyone’s dog is okay with your dog approaching it. Not every person likes dogs and wants your dog jumping on them, licking them, or being anywhere near them. Many people are allergic to dogs. (Pet peeve: When a dog with no owner in sight comes rushing towards me and jumps on me, and then the owner comes around the corner and yells “It’s okay, he’s friendly!”). Also, remember to clean up after your dog. Even though it’s nature, it’s still unpleasant to step on dog poop at a park.

As Nanaimo begins to grow, and along with it the dog community, we must learn to be respectful of every human and animal so we can all make the best of this beautiful city.