It’s a bone of contention. A dog bone of contention.

People have strong opinions about off-leash dogs. The basis issue is the conflict between a dog’s essential nature and the right of people to not be interfered with by dogs – well-meaning dogs, or otherwise.

Dogs, by definition, are cursive.

And that means they like to run. Like us, most of them don’t get enough exercise and too many of them never get the chance to run off leash. Suppressing all that natural instinct is a hardship.

Billie Holiday said it best when she sang, “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly”.  If you give a dog the chance, his ancient genetics will kick in and he’ll unspool his bred-in-the-bone love of speed.

We’ve had some glorious weather of late, glorious weather combined with exceedingly low tides.  This presents a rare and marvelous opportunity for a dog. 

Tidal flats!

A limitless expanse of sand stretching out in all directions. A tide so far out that you’d think you could walk all the way to Russia. At the furthest reaches of the tidal flats you’ll often see rapturously happy dogs, barking deliriously and running pell-mell through shallow pools. This is the very definition of joy unbridled, but it’s not without its issues.

The great motivator other than the invitation implicit in tidal flats are the sea birds. A dog sees it as his inherent duty to announce his supremacy to these birds. His elated barking translates to: “That’s right, gulls, ducks, terns and plovers – King Max is here!”  The winged explosion of feathers as they lift for the sky must be immensely satisfying, especially for someone who spends most of his time sleeping on the sofa in the family room.

It seems harmless enough. Though they bound over the hard-pack sand with great enthusiasm, I don’t know of a story where a dog has actually caught a duck or gull. No harm, no fowl, right?  This is how it appears to King Max and his court of humans. The water fowl, however, are of an entirely different opinion. It turns out the greater harm isn’t in the off chance of Max actually catching a bird, but in the general disturbance that Max brings to the beach. The business of being a modern bird is exhausting. Mad Max makes it tougher still. 

Photo by Steve Adams

According to the SPCA, letting Max chase after the birds isn’t just a bit of harmless fun.  The disturbance Max introduces can actually cause seabirds to die, and to die in flight, even. 

BC’s West Coast is part of the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds. These birds are always working with critical math problems. They need a specific number of calories and a certain amount of rest in order to do what they have to do. A tidal flat represents critical replenishing for them as well as an opportunity to rest and recover. There aren’t a lot of options for migrating shorebirds on the West Coast and off-leash dogs shrink those options even further. 

The harm a dog does to seabirds is indirect, but it’s real. A dog bounding through marshes and grasslands during peak bird-nesting season of March to right about now – early July – can disrupt nesting grounds. So many things conspire against birds of every description. The SPCA would have you know that, “since 1970, shorebirds and grassland bird species have declined by 40 and 57 per cent, respectively”. 

Photo by Chewy

So, what to do about Max and his instinctual need to run deliriously in all directions, barking his mock-fearsome message of beach domination?  I suppose there are months where we’ll have to make different arrangements for Max. It’s also worth noting that it’s against the law to injure or disturb migratory birds.

This is all something to think about when we let Max off the leash.

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When there was a severe drought in Britain in the 1970s, there was a proliferation of t-shirts that read “Save water: bathe with a friend.”

Madeleine Lefebvre 

I’m surprised to read that cooks are boiling potatoes or other vegetables ‘in salted water to cover’.  Here’s a water-saving idea: use a steamer rack, needing only an inch of water. Sprinkle a bit of salt on veggies, cover, turning down the heat once the water boils. The bit of water left in the pot can be saved or used in gravy.  And eggs – they steam too!  Can be nestled on top of diced potatoes. They will ‘hard boil’ about the same time it takes for the potatoes to be fork-ready and the shells peel off much easier, once they’ve cooled. No need for another boiling pot.

Joyce Low

I stopped running the tap while brushing my teeth late in the fall of 1971.  That’s when we moved to Bermuda, where rain, our only water source, was funneled off the roof into a tank under the porch.  We also had a plaque, “In this land of sun and fun, we don’t flush for number one.”  Even now here in Vancouver, I live by this adage which often causes me embarrassment when someone drops by unexpectedly.

M. Brown

I cut a larger hole in the top of a four litre milk jug, saving the handle, and keep it in the sink. When I run the water to get it hotter or colder, it is run into the jug, saved and used on the garden. We elected to have a water meter installed making us much more aware of how much we used and saving us $500 per year!

Lorna Wilson.

Back in the day we had no running water and hauled our water from the well. To say we were “water conscious”  in the middle of a Prairie winter was an understatement. Our Mother, who often worked outside doing “farm chores”,  washed the dishes in one small dishpan, rinsed in another small dishpan and put the dishes to drain in another small dishpan. For my Sister and I, this hand toweling act of drying dishes, the three of us together,  was “quality time” spent  with our Mother.  We “bonded” and learned about the birds and the bees. The wash water went into the kitchen bucket of peelings for the pigs,  the rinse water went into plants inside the house or vegetables and flowers outside the house.  The water from the steamed potatoes was used for making the daily bread. (Our current built-in dishwasher fills in kitchen space).

Today the water/juice from our steamed supper veggies is saved for a nutritional breakfast of kale from the garden, steel cut oats, almond milk, hemp seed, blueberries and bananas.

Water Conservation can be therapeutic on so many levels.

Vivian Jervis

I grew up on a small farm in Alberta during the 1950’s & ‘60s. We always had a “slop pail” at the end of the counter into which went water from washing and rinsing dishes, the teakettle and hand basin. The water was poured over the flowers along the south side of the house.

In the summer I have a five gallon pail in the second sink into which goes water from the tap while I’m waiting for hot water, water from rinsing vegetables, steaming potatoes, water left in the kettle, left-over tea etc. leading to 2-4 pails per day that is poured on small shrubs and summer flowers. I’m amazed at how much water we use (waste) in a day!

Donna Humphries

In many homes the ensuite shower is upstairs, far away from the hot water tank. Every morning everyone wastes about 7-10 liters of city water while they wait for the hot water to reach the shower. When we were having our house built, I bought inexpensive adhesive insulation to insulate our hot water lines but with the flex piping being run through studs and joists; it meant cutting short sections of insulation to wrap the pipes. It got tedious and I foolishly gave up. I wish I hadn’t. Every day we and thousands of households in our city waste untold amounts of water in this manner. 

I wrote the City of Vancouver several years ago and recommended they incorporate a requirement for insulation of domestic hot (and, why not cold?) water lines in residential installations into the building code. It adds a (really) tiny cost to the overall project but will save millions of liters of water being needlessly run to waste. I got a (silly) response from an individual in the building department that suggested they did not have a clue as to what I was recommending. I challenged the response but never did hear back.

Jim Fryeskul

Here are a couple of conservation ideas that most people don’t think about.  I installed a very small hot water tank under my kitchen sink.  This gives me instant hot water, and there is just enough to give hot water before the main hot water arrives.  These little tanks can be purchased from Home Depot.  They plug into a standard outlet but need to be plumbed into the hot water pipe under the sink.  I have had mine in place for many years and wouldn’t be without it.  The same could be done in a distant bathroom.  

Another idea for a large house is a circulating hot water system.  That’s how everyone gets instant hot water throughout a large building.  It is not an easy retrofit, but it may be worth it to consult a plumber.

These two ideas can save huge amounts of hot water if properly implemented.

 Mark White 

We’ve re-landscaped our boulevard and our garden to be naturescapes.  We let the garden die down in the winter so that the birds have something to eat.  Judging by the bees and birds, it’s been beneficial to the environment.  Our neighbours, however,  aren’t happy with our garden.  They have immaculate green grass and the odd shrub – an environmental wasteland and quite a selfish thing, in our opinion.  

Name withheld by request

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