Dog owners who keep their pets on leash and under control while exploring Jasper could find themselves with free passes to the Miette Hot Springs, courtesy of local park wardens.
“One of my guys came up with this idea a while ago,” park warden supervisor Jim Mamalis said of the new initiative, aimed at rewarding responsible dog owners who follow park rules.
In addition to carrying tickets to hand out to people who break the rules, wardens will now be carrying hot springs passes to hand out to more responsible dog owners they come across while out on patrol.
Mamalis said the warden service wanted to focus on the issue this summer due to recent incidents in which free-roaming dogs created problems within the park.
“It hasn’t been a huge thing for us over the years but, more recently, with a few issues cropping up, it’s something we’re wanting to pay a bit more attention to,” he said.
One of those incidents happened last month, Mamalis said, when an off-leash dog allegedly chased a deer down from the Pyramid Bench area, across Bonhomme Street and toward the activity centre. The terrified wild animal ended up trying to run straight through one of the building’s windows in its effort to flee, he said.
That matter is currently before the courts.
In general, Mamalis said wardens aren’t looking to prosecute every single person they come across with an unleashed animal, but if a dog does end up getting into trouble, the owner can certainly expect a hefty fine.
The rewards for owners who obey the rules, meanwhile, is aimed at both encouraging compliance and educating the public about the reasons behind the leash rules, which are designed to protect people, wildlife and dogs, themselves.
Especially as more and more people get out on Jasper’s trails, Mamalis said it’s just a matter of respect to keep dogs under control, as you never know who’s coming around the next bend.
“Some people just don’t like dogs or are naturally afraid of dogs,” he said.
And, in addition to animals like the aforementioned deer, dogs can also create havoc for other species, particularly ground-nesting birds, who will abandon their nests if they are disturbed by nosy canines. That’s particularly problematic at this time of year when eggs are just hatching.
“Some of those birds are relatively rare in the national park,” Mamalis said.
But dogs often end up putting themselves in the most danger. Mamalis pointed to numerous incidents in the past several years where free-roaming dogs encountered bears, cougars or wolves and ended up being killed by the wild predators.
In one incident, he said “a black bear ran out of the bush, chasing a dog, and chased it – of course – right back to the owners.”
“The bear ended up biting up one of the people, and then ran off.”
But it’s not just carnivores that can end up causing a lot of harm to a pet and its owner. Mamalis recalled at least one incident in which an elk stomped a dog to death.
There are also certain parts of the park, such as Cavell Meadows or particular areas near Maligne Lake, where dogs are not allowed at all. This is to protect sensitive caribou populations from the stressful presence of the canines, which resemble natural predators such as wolves.
“You shouldn’t be having your dog in there at all, on leash or off,” Mamalis said.