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Pooches pepper sprayed on North Vancouver trail

Conflicts like the one on Hyannis are becoming everyday occurrence, says the owner of one commercial dog walking business.
Kaarina Astels, a dog walker with DogZen with some of her regulars. A trail runner pepper sprayed three dogs after a confrontation on a North Vancouver trail, March 24. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

The North Shore’s dog walkers are speaking out after a pack of pooches was pepper sprayed on a North Vancouver trail.

The incident happened on Friday on the Hyannis Trail above Blueridge, when a professional dog walker from DogZen and her pack of six crossed paths with a trail runner.

Evidently, the runner and the dogs spooked one another as they met at a corner, and one of the dogs began barking. The conflict quickly escalated, said Marg Lesage, owner of DogZen.

“She started screaming at the top of her lungs like she was being attacked, which the dog didn’t even come close to her,” she said. “Any dog is going to react. Small, medium or large, dogs are going to bark.”

The hiker started yelling at Lesage’s staffer, demanding that she get the dogs under control, but her screaming only made matters worse, Lesage said.

“She just whipped out her bear spray and start spraying and she nailed (three) of our dogs right in the face,” she said.

After, that the runner continued to follow the dog walker down the trail, threatening to spray her and assault her.

There was no cell service at that point of the trail, so it wasn’t until the walker made it back to Blueridge that she was able to call the RCMP’s non-emergency number and report what happened. By then, the runner had disappeared.

After getting their eyes washed out, the dogs were mostly OK. One of them got it worse than the others, Lesage said.

“He’s not injured severely but it definitely hurt. He was rubbing his eyes for a good day or two even after all the washing that we did. It was on his fur too, so it burns and stings,” she said.

North Vancouver RCMP spokesperson Const. Mansoor Sahak said police did respond to the trail but there was no sign of the runner. He said they don’t have any images of her so they are hoping she or someone who knows more about what happened will come forward.

“Our goal is obviously to speak with her and find out what happened and try to get her side of the story and then, hopefully, we can determine from there on what the next course of action is,” he said.

The runner is described as a white woman between 30 and 40 years old, with a pale complexion. She was wearing a black running suit and black toque at the time, Sahak said.

Trail conflicts becoming more common

Regardless of whether the runner comes forward, Lesage said conflicts like the one on Hyannis are becoming far too common. In February, a dog walker was assaulted by a man while in an off-leash area near McCartney Creek Park. That incident was captured on video and the man was arrested.

Dog walkers are routinely confronted, told they’re not allowed to be on the trails, threatened and sometimes worse, Lesage said.

“People need be aware that this goes on every day,” she said. “This is our job, like, why can’t we be safe going to work every day?… There’s got to be something that can be done.” she said.

The irony is that commercial dog walkers must be licensed by the District of North Vancouver and they are required keep their walks to specified trails. At the very least, the district should be posting signs on those trails reminding users of all types that it is designated for dogs, said Lesage.

“Everybody needs to treat everybody with respect. Everybody needs to just chill out. We're all out there enjoying the trails,” she said. “If you don’t like dogs, don’t go on those trails. You have thousands of other trails that you can go on."

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