'Cougar snack' campaign featuring wiener dog in hotdog bun prompts criticism

A new campaign that aims to keep dogs from disturbing the wildlife in Banff and Canmore has garnered attention for its bold design, but it's drawing criticism from some dog walkers and trainers.

Posters intended to remind Bow Valley pet owners to keep dogs on a leash

The Leashes Save Lives campaign was launched to convince everyone to keep dogs on a leash at all times, except when in a dog park, to prevent wildlife from being disturbed in Banff and Canmore. (Submitted by the Town of Banff)

A new campaign that aims to keep dogs from disturbing the wildlife in Alberta's Bow Valley has garnered attention for its bold design, but it's drawing criticism from some dog walkers and trainers.

Featuring a wiener dog in a hotdog bun drizzled with mustard and emblazoned with the words "cougar snack," the posters around Canmore and Banff are intended to remind locals and visitors to keep pets on a leash — and away from animals in the scenic valley.

"Our education campaign is designed to shock and grab attention, because there are still long-time residents who are complacent about protecting wildlife," Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said when the campaign launched in June.

"There are still people who let their dogs roam off leash."

However, some doubt the signage will be effective in deterring locals and tourists from allowing their pets to run wild — while others found it insensitive.

"The image immediately offended me … and I know that I'm not the only one that feels that way," said Jewels Porter, owner of the Banff pet-care business, Crazy Dog Lady.

"Sadly, though, it gave me a feeling, and I was upset about it — but I'm sure that that's what they were going for, the shock value."

Campaign will be ineffective, pet care owners say

Pet owners in Banff and Canmore are required to keep their dogs on leash at all times unless they are in a fenced private property, are visiting off-leash parks, or signs suggest otherwise.

The Town of Banff says off-leash dogs can cause stress for wildlife and prompt aggression in bears, coyotes, cougars and elk. This puts people, and especially children, at risk of injury or death.

It also puts wildlife at risk: a bear, cougar or coyote made aggressive by an off-leash dog may have to be relocated or euthanized.

The maximum fine for disturbing the wildlife in Banff National Park is $25,000, and $100 in the Banff townsite. But as part of the campaign that started last month, enforcement staff have been sometimes handing out leashes instead.

A cougar is pictured in a file photo. In January, one of the big cats approached a dog walker in the Banff area, prompting a community warning. (CBC)

But Rick McGaw, the owner of the Canmore-based pet care business At Your Bark and Call, said the campaign will likely not be enough to dissuade locals and tourists from venturing out of the dog park.

Though he sticks solely to designated areas, McGaw said many people want to take their dogs off-leash on trails and enjoy scenery on their walks — and are going to do what they want.

Both Porter and McGaw said that when people are corrected or gently reminded to leash their dog, it often goes poorly.

"People just tell you 'mind your own business.' They might even say something derogatory toward you," McGaw said.

"So I [just] do my part."

'Make examples of people'

When asked what would make a difference, Porter said she would like to see tasteful signs displayed more prominently Banff and Canmore because visitors are not always aware.

It would also make it more difficult for locals to claim they didn't know the rules.

"Maybe bylaw would have an easier time enforcing the fines because people blatantly walked by those signs," Porter said.

"They can't say, 'Oh, I had no idea,' which I hear all the time."

As for McGaw, he would like to see more education about the effect that pets can have on wildlife and stricter enforcement of the rules.

"The only real way to make something like this work is to make examples of people," McGaw said. 

"Increase those fines, and just show that it's not acceptable."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.