Hidden gems in Downtown New West

I like to support businesses in my neighbourhood of Downtown New Westminster. Many places make this easy for me to do: River Market, Zoom Hair Salon and Columbia Integrated Health Centre, for example, are active on social media and in the community and have curb appeal to spare. They are all fabulous and I can’t recommend any of them enough.

But then there are businesses that I walk past every day and never enter. They aren’t out there promoting themselves and they just don’t look like they have a lot to offer. But then, one day, I go in and realize how badly I’ve misjudged them.

These hidden gems that have been quietly providing a high standard of service to the community, at reasonable prices, without a lot of fanfare, and it’s about time they get some love. Here are three of my favorites:

Agnes Barber & Stylist is the best place to bring a squirmy toddler for a haircut!
Agnes Barber & Stylist is the best place to bring a squirmy toddler for a haircut! Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Agnes Barber & Stylist
607 Agnes Street 778.397.0460

Agnes Barber might look like any other barbershop in the neighbourhood (which rival wedding boutiques in number) but it’s hands-down the best place to bring your squirmy toddler boy for a haircut.

I used to take my kids to a fancy-pants kids’ hair salon at the mall. They would get a 10-minute haircut and a balloon, and I’d pay $60 for the two of them, after taxes and tip. Ouch! So when I spotted the motorcycle chair through the window at Agnes Barber, I took a chance.

Our barber, Kal, was one of the most patient and pleasant people I’ve ever met. Despite having people waiting, he took his time introducing my four-year-old to the “scary” electric shaver and stayed upbeat and cheerful while my little guy squirmed and fidgeted. My two-year-old, meanwhile, HATES getting his haircut and was in full meltdown mode. Kal dismissed my apologies and wasn’t fazed at all. His skilled hands worked very quickly to get the job done while he remained calm and soothing.

Both kids got great haircuts! Despite their best efforts to walk out with bald patches, their hair looked flawless. They got to sit on a motorcycle, wore a Disney cape and each walked out with a lollypop. They also enjoyed counting the birds the huge birdcage by the window. And to top it off, kids’ cuts cost only $10! You won’t be seeing me at the mall salon again.

Agnes Barber & Stylist is open Mon-Sat 9am-7pm; Sun 10am-5pm


Columbia Square Law Office has very reasonable Notary rates, and great customer service. Photo: Linda M. Tobias
Columbia Square Law Office has very reasonable Notary rates, and great customer service. Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Columbia Square Law Office

833 Carnarvon Street

I needed some notary services recently. My husband called around for rates and, to our surprise, discovered that the most reasonable rates (for a variety of legal services, not just notary) were right in our own neighbourhood at Columbia Square Law Office.

I went down to the office with trepidation. The exterior really does leave something to be desired. The bars on the windows, the drawn shades… it was all kind of off-putting. My opinion quickly changed when I walked through the door. The receptionist, Barbara, was instantly welcoming and made me feel like my time was valuable and that I was respected.

My personal experience with lawyers has shown me that being listened to and treated with respect is the best indication of how happy I’m going to be with the outcome of my legal representation. In this case, my interaction with Mike Jukic, one of the firm’s two lawyers was brief, but my gut told me that if I were in need of legal representation again, I could count on him to come through for me.

For any future legal services, I’m heading straight to Columbia Square Law Office.

Columbia Law Office is open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm, and Sat 10am-4pm

Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Unit 109-1015 Columbia Street (Columbia Square Plaza)

Dr Brar. Photo: Columbia Square Animal Hospital
Dr Brar. Photo: Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Columbia Square Animal Hospital is tucked away in the northeast corner of Columbia Square Plaza, by the Rona. Open the door and you’ll see a desk covered in brochures and samples, there are hard-backed chairs and stacks of pet food for sale. Nothing about the place seems particularly warm or inviting.

And then you meet Dr. Brar.

Dr. Brar is an amazing vet. He handles my kitty with gentle, but expert hands. He asks lots of questions and takes the time to address any concerns. And, unlike, other vets I’ve encountered in the past, I never get the feeling that he’s trying to upsell me on products or services. In fact, Columbia Square Animal Hospital’s prices are very fair (about half of what my last vet charged!) When I’m there, I feel like the focus is on providing the best possible care for my kitty and not on making a profit.

Columbia Square Animal Hospital is open daily, 8am-10pm

What New West businesses do you feel are overlooked? Sound off in the comments!

13th Annual Doggy Fun Days Coming Up!

The 13th annual DOGGY FUN DAY is coming up on Sunday, August 26 in Queens Park from noon to 3 pm in the south field above the off-leash dog park—fun and games for dogs and their people. The event goes on rain or shine. Who doesn’t just love a wet dog! (Fortunately there has been only one rainy day in the history of the event.)

A howling good time at Doggy Fun Days

Doggy Fun Day features doggy–human interactive games, such as a 7-legged race (or however many legs are involved with two people and their dog) and the egg and spoon race (which features one person, one spoon, an egg, and as many dogs as you can handle dragging you across the field). And of course what event would be complete without a doggy look-alike contest—dress up yourself and your dog and see if you win a prize.

Of course, the ever-popular (four paws up) “Bobbing for Wieners” contest is a perennial favourite. Come and see if your dog can unseat the current champ. (And yes, there is both a large dog and a small dog contest, so the Beverly Hills Chihuahua doesn’t have to compete against a Hooch-like mastiff.)

It's my turn! No, it's my turn!

Or just come and hang out and visit the vendor displays to see what is new and happening in all things dog, while the dogs do their own version of “meet and greet” (and we all know how that goes).

Teaching Your Person to Give You A Treat

Contact doggyfunday.nw@gmail.com for more information on the event.

Doggy Fun Day is a fundraiser for VEATA, the Volunteer Education and Assistance Team for Animals, a New Westminster-based registered charity dedicated to bettering the lives of animals through educating people on proper pet care, providing financial and fostering assistance, and raising awareness on animal-related issues. Email: veatasociety@gmail.com

Dog Licensing

Mooki takes City Hall

While my list of pie-in-the-sky wishes for our city includes a complete overhaul of our city’s animal services*, the reality is any city’s animal services department is going to be low on the priority list if the powers that be don’t get told it should be a priority.

Do you know how municipalities determine how important animal services are? In part, they use the data collected by the number of licenses purchased to tell them what kinds of dogs are living in the city and where those dogs are. (I’m saying dogs because in New Westminster, cats do not really factor into the bylaws other than a brief mention of maximum allowable numbers – my opinion is that all pets should be accounted for in the bylaws). This helps City decision makers allocate where to build services like dog parks, water fountains that are dog accessible, cycling or jogging routes that consider users may bring their pets by placing waste receptacles along the way, etc. The data collected from licensing also helps municipalities determine staffing and resources such as shelters and fleet vehicles. I have had direct experience with the animal control officers in our city, and for the most part, they are caring, sensible people, who are working as best they can within the parameters of what they are allocated.

New Westminster has a high number of dog parks relative to the size and population of our city. Some of them come with a bit of controversy. The one downtown, for example, is on the Chinese Benevolent Society’s former land, and was built primarily to reduce the visibility of an empty crime-inviting lot right beside the Skytrain station long before the Plaza 88 development was underway, and there is a chance that dog park will be removed when the Reconciliation Process currently underway is complete. As well, when the province rebuilt the portion of road that connects the Queensborough Bridge to the mainland, and allowed for the through road to Marine Way in Burnaby, the once magnificent dog park on the hill below 22nd Street Skytrain Station was removed and the replacement is, to put it mildly, disappointing – I have yet to see anyone actually using it.  But have you been to Hume Park dog park? Or Queens Park? They are well maintained, large, and have developed a strong sense of community with the dog owners who frequent them.

License renewal forms are rolling out today and tomorrow from the City.  New licenses are available at the City or by mail – a form is online. It is critical that if you have a dog you purchase one. They are inexpensive – a first time license for a spayed or neutered dog is $20 if its purchased before March 1st. An extremely discounted rate is also available if you move into the community and want to transfer your license from another municipality. Back when I lived in Vancouver for a year, the cost to transfer Mooki’s license back to New Westminster was a measly $1.

Many people don’t see the value in a dog license. Here’s what you get: a small tag (that you can get engraved with your pet’s name on the reverse – how convenient!) and the ability to get your lost dog back should animal control pick it up. Doesn’t seem like much right? But what you also get by choosing to buy a license is to be included in the data the city uses to make choices that will have a direct impact on you as a resident. The more dogs a city’s decision makers are aware of, the more importance they can place on offering services for our beloved pets. This is not about “the man” knowing too much about you, this is about you being able to offer your beloved pet a chance to count in the city, too. And you want your pet to count, right?


* The short(er) version of my overhaul pie in the sky wish list: Animal Services needs to be made its own department, not fall under Engineering Operations and share resources with the people who tow vehicles and issue parking tickets. The animal control officers need to be empowered and encouraged to be proactive instead of responding to complaints only and need to increase their visibility to deal with nuisance pet owners. I think New Westminster needs to get rid of BSL, adopt a licensing system for cats (as in Calgary’s much lauded animal welfare system that pays for itself), revamp their chicken bylaws (which currently falls under health bylaws, and not animal control), to make it simpler to keep chickens on city lots for those who wish to do so, reevaluate their bylaws that deal with exotic pets and the sales of pets, plan for a new shelter in the near future, and implement bite education in our local schools. Phew. Not much, eh? 


The Hungry Hound appeals to Sapperton pet lovers

Inside the Hungry Hound
Inside the Hungry Hound

Everyone has their shopping weakness, and mine is a well stocked pet boutique. Not the kind selling doggie strollers and puppy sweaters – although my pit bull does look cute in pink – but a place with knowledgeable staff, natural foods, and well-made equipment and toys.

I meant to pop into Sapperton’s The Hungry Hound and simply take a look around, but I walked out with armfuls of stuff, a three-figure receipt, and absolutely no buyer’s remorse.

The Hungry Hound is a small store, managed by knowledgeable staff who have backgrounds in grooming, training and handling. They clearly love animals and are invested in their products. Every customer gets personalized attention and service, along with cookies and cuddles for any furry counterparts.

The store stocks only high-quality items for dogs, cats, birds and bunnies. The store is limited by its size so selection is not overwhelming but everything in stock is clearly chosen with care. The toys are reputable, durable brands like Tuffy’s, Chuckit!, West Paw and Kong. Food and treats include corn-free, wheat-free, whole food and single-protein options – just the thing for scrupulous pet owners or dogs with special dietary needs.

I spotted several local companies and specialty items, including supplements, training gear and medical equipment. Again, it’s a small store so it can’t be everything for everyone, but the selection covers the basics and the staff will work with you to find the right product, whether that means bringing your dog into the store for a fitting, returning a used item, or placing a special order.

Chica enjoys her new dinosaur toy from The Hungry Hound
Chica enjoys her new dinosaur toy from The Hungry Hound

When I learned about the buy-one-get-one and other sales for the holiday season, I abandoned my chitchat and started scooping up ChuckIts, bully sticks, and dehydrated sweet potatoes. At 50% off I even succumbed to a massive Tuffy dinosaur as an early Christmas present for my resident four-legger (you’re welcome, Chica).

Sapperton residents are faithful to The Hungry Hound, and it’s easy to see the appeal. It’s great for the pet guardian, especially one looking for good deals this time of year. It would also be an excellent resource if you’re shopping for a pet fanatic but not sure where to start. Either way, the folks at The Hungry Hound will hook you up.

The Hungry Hound
102 – 455 East Columbia
New Westminster, BC

Dogs deserve better than breed-specific bans

April Fahr with her dog Chica
April Fahr with her dog Chica

With its fenced dog parks, beautiful green spaces, and riverside trails, New Westminster is a pretty good place to be a dog. That is, unless you have the misfortunate to be born with a big head, stocky body and short coat. If you resemble one of the “pit bull” or mastiff breeds targeted under the city’s animal control bylaw, you face a very different kind of lifestyle.

New Westminster is one of a handful of Lower Mainland municipalities that enforces breed-specific legislation (BSL). The bylaw lists three “pit bull” and five mastiff breeds that are considered “vicious dogs” and must be muzzled outside of their homes. Owners are required to take extra containment precautions on their property, and face increased fines if their dogs are impounded.

If you go by newspaper headlines, this might not seem outrageous – aren’t pit bulls inherently more dangerous? In a word, no. Despite the sensationalism, statistics simply don’t support the notion that any one breed is more aggressive, and BSL has never been shown to be successful.

99% of pit bulls are family pets
While dog fighting gets a lot of the press, pit bulls were family pets, farm dogs, and companions for the vast majority of their history. Their breed standards note their affectionate nature towards humans, and in the American Temperament Test, pit bull breeds have a pass rate higher than many common breeds like border collies, retrievers and boxers.

There are many poor owners out there, and some of them are drawn to “tough looking” dogs and a bad reputation. But they do not represent the majority of us. For the most part, we are normal people drawn to the breed for other reasons – their inquisitive and intelligent nature, their wash-and-wear coat, their cuddliness, and the fact that they are the most abused and surrendered breed in the shelter system, yet remain the most likely to rub up against the kennel bars, wildly licking your face.

Spotting a “pit bull”
“Pit bull” is not a breed, but a loose description of three breeds: the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the American Staffordshire Terrier. And breed identifications are notoriously subjective – studies show that even trained shelter workers are wrong up to 87% of the time when they guess at a dog’s breed. Try for yourself at http://www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html.

Even DNA tests are still in their infancy – there simply isn’t that much genetic variation between breeds. So consider the logistics of trying to enforce a law based entirely on visual clues. (And then what do we do about mixes?)

Inefficient use of tax dollars
In Delta, one factor in overturning BSL was the amount of time spent investigating “pit bull” complaints that were no actual threat to community safety. New West has one of the best animal control teams in the region, and fairer bylaws would serve them better by freeing up their time to investigate actual aggression incidences and nuisance behaviours, addressing problems before they start.

Proven alternatives
There is no city with breed restrictions that can show a substantial drop in bite rates. But the City of Calgary can. Their approach looks at proven risk factors for aggression like spay/neuter, early socialization and training, past behavior and – most importantly – ownership. With many pit bulls in their midst, they currently have the lowest bite rate and highest licensing compliance rate on the continent.

The New Westminster bylaws already address a number of risk factors by charging higher licensing rates for intact dogs, and applying a “vicious dog” declaration for unprovoked aggressive behavior to other animals or humans. I encourage our city leaders to build on these evidence-based approaches to community safety, and take breed out of the equation. It’s an outdated and knee-jerk reaction to animal control. Our community, our animal control officers, and our dogs deserve better.

Please talk to city council candidates about breed specific legislation and better animal welfare laws in our city, and vote with this in mind on November 19. Then join me in the New Year as I hope to start a conversation with City Council and encourage them to take a leadership role alongside Delta, Vancouver, Port Moody, Surrey, Port Coquitlam and many other cities that have opted for more progressive dog legislation.

Further reading

2nd Annual Petrifying Pooch Parade

All photos courtesy Donald McKillican

The Second Annual Petrifying Pooch Parade is scheduled to take place October 29th from 12-2 at the Queens Park dog park. Last year I had the honour to be a judge in the first ever Parade, a pet costume contest. It was a total hoot, and it was really nice seeing pet owners get all excited about their pets in a contest, and even more fun to see the pets excited about wearing something. My dog would have killed me if I had done that to her. Some dogs just dig it though, and that much was obvious with all the wiggling dog butts.

The free community event, hosted by local business Calli Co. Pet Services, will feature a pet parade, where pet owners parade their pooch in front of judges for a chance to win one of three special prizes for Best Overall Costume, Most Original Costume, and Funniest Costume. Judging will take place at 1pm.

In addition to the pet parade, there will be Halloween doggy bags for all pet participants and hot chocolate and treats for the human companions. The prizes, treats, and refreshments are donated by various New Westminster companies.

“The turnout last year was great, but we’d like to see even more pet owners and their pooches attend this year. It’s a great opportunity for the community’s dog owners to gather together, practice doggy socialization skills, and have some fun in the process,” said Brigette Mayer, owner of Calli Co. Pet Services in a press release about the event.

More information on the Petrifying Pooch Parade can be found at theCalli Co. Pet Services website.

Here are more pictures from last year’s event:

I'm a pretty butterfly!
Where's the fire?
The cheerleader was a winner! And very happy!
Buzz buzz!