17 June 2014

An Interview with Cheryl Herperger, City of Calgary's Off-Leash Ambassador Program

Terri Perrin
InfoStream Staff Writer

Infostream staff writer Terri Perrin speaks with Innovation showcase presenter Cheryl Herperger, Business Strategist on the Community and Strategic Service Team at The City of Calgary Animal & Bylaw Services. Cheryl is also the lead for The City’s innovative new Off-Leash Ambassadors volunteer program.

INFOSTREAM (IS): Before we get start talking about your Urban Animal Conference experience, please tell us about your past and present Pet Experiences and how it relates to your current position with the City of Calgary Animal & Bylaw Services.

Cheryl Herperger (CH): I have lived with dogs since I was three years old and I currently share my home with two Golden Retrievers and two Labrador crosses. They are the loves of my life! When I was six years old I wanted to be a vet, but I had an issue with blood. Still do! So that was a bit of a problem. [Laughs.] Instead, in order to still ‘work’ with animals, over the years I have been on the boards of directors of several humane societies and now work for Animal & Bylaw Services.

I love watching my four dogs and they give me pure joy. I believe that walking your dog is the foundation of the relationship with your pet; so working on the Off-Leash Ambassadors project is perfect for me. I have worked with The City for over five years, as a community recreation coordinator, and had often worked in collaboration with Animal & Bylaw. When the job came up at Animal Services in the fall of 2013, I though “This is perfect! Furry friends and men in uniform. Works for me!”

IS: Tell us why the Off-Leash Ambassador program was created.

CH: We were getting feedback from both dog owners and non-dog owners alike on issues in most of our parks, but especially from two particular parks in the NW. Our investigation clearly indicated that there was a lot of confusion and concerns relating to off-leash etiquette. Some people we completely out of control. We knew that an education and public awareness piece would benefit all citizens. We have 24 dedicated Animal & Bylaw officers and, with a population of 1.4 million people, 122,000 licensed dogs and 151 dedicated off-leash areas, that’s a lot of ground to cover! The Off-Leash Ambassador program was developed to provide role models in the parks who could help people to voluntarily comply with bylaws and provide an avenue for citizens to express concerns and pass along comments to City staff. This is a volunteer-based, citizen-led ambassador program designed to assist bylaw officers. The bottom line is that the program is about education, not enforcement.

IS: What is the main focus of the program?

CH: One of the most important issues that the Off-Leash Ambassador program addresses is that even in an off-leash area it is imperative that dogs be under control at all times. It is not about showing up and just letting them run. We require people to have audible or visual command or control of their dogs. Dog recall is really important. Many people come to the park and they are busy talking or texting on cell phones or visiting with friends, rather than watching their dogs. You really must be aware of where your dog is and what he or she is doing.

IS: Tell us about the program launch.

CH: We had intended to start Off-Leash Ambassadors on July 1, 2013, but the city was under siege by flooding, so we did an official re-launch on September 5. The pilot program was introduced in Egerts and Bowmont Parks; the two parks where we had a high number of concerns and issues. We started with four volunteers. We provided them with logo-wear, so they could be easily identified, and a backpack filled with supplies including printed materials and ‘Bags on Board’ poop bag canisters to hand out to people for free. We have given out about 5,000 canisters to date.

IS: What kind of training and support do volunteers receive?

CH: Volunteers complete a comprehensive training and orientation program that includes a thorough review of our bylaws. Our Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaws that are 33 pages long are now summarized in a pamphlet. They are also instructed on basic animal behaviour – calming signals, posturing and more. They are trained to approach people positively, with a ‘did you know?’ attitude. We now have 35 volunteers for the two parks and it is interesting to note that not all of them are dog owners. The program has gone citywide and we hope to have ambassadors at all 151 of our off-leash areas by 2015.

IS: How do you recruit volunteers and what is their time commitment?

CH: Calgary is a dog city and a volunteer city so it hasn’t been difficult to get people to signup for the program. We have recruited using The City’s website, blog and social media, as well as emails to community associations, 122 dog walking groups, vets, groomers, retail, and the dog organizations. Quite a wide range of people have signed up, including several veterinarians and dog trainers. It is quite the diverse group. I am positively overwhelmed with their passion and commitment.

IS: How is the program funded? Are there any corporate sponsors?

CH: The City Council's Innovation Fund supports the program. Animal and Bylaw Service’s submitted an application and two councilors sponsored it. This funding pays for volunteer training and support, as well as supplies, such as jackets, leashes, backpacks, pet first aid kits, notebooks, etc.

IS: What is the general feedback about the program from your community?

CH: People notice a difference already and are asking how they can help. It has all been very encouraging. The program has created a social network of volunteers connecting with dog owners. It is an ‘in’ for positive communication and education.

IS: This was your first Urban Animal Conference experience. What did you think about it?

CH: It definitely added to my passion about community development. There is so much we can do. I was so impressed with the wide range of keynotes and presentations. I took tons of notes and am busy following up to create potential partnerships. I can’t wait until the International Summit for Urban Animal Strategies in October.

IS: Speaking of the Summit, what do you hope to take away from – or contribute to – the event?

CH: By October we will have had a full spring and summer of the program and am pleased to have extra time for my presentation to talk about what we learned. I’ll be able to share what changes and enhancements we have made. I look forward to hearing from other presenters. In my experience, conferences promote creative conversations and ideas. How wonderful to be able to be there, with like-minded, passionate and dedicated people. I can’t wait.

For more information on off-leash etiquette and dog recall training, check out Barbara Walmer's Guest Author post

The 2014 Urban Animal Regional Conferences presented the second annual Innovation Showcases. Across the continent, 20 local Innovators were given the opportunity to share their stories and successes with Urban Animal subscribers. From those, eight were selected to present at the 2014 Summit for Urban Animal Strategies, October 22–25 in beautiful Lake Louise, Alberta.


  1. Amazing material you have been published so far. i am very much interested if you will write some thing about Training dog for a leash

  2. Training dog for a leash is one of the most important factor which we should never be forget..

  3. Yea Cheryl! Great work!