June 3, 2019
By Joanna Lavoie, Toronto.com
From people letting their dogs run illegally off-leash, to pet owners who don’t clean up after their dogs after they do their business, coupled with a lack of green space that is sometimes inaccessible and unsafe, it’s no wonder dog owners and non-pet people are having a hard time getting along.
Back in April, a scuffle broke out in the CityPlace neighbourhood, near Spadina Avenue and Front Street, after a man approached a group of people running their dogs illegally off-leash at Canoe Landing Park, which has a temporary dog run. Tensions had been brewing for some time in that dense, urban area because the local off-leash park is simply too small to accommodate the sheer volume of dogs.
Eastward, visually impaired Leslieville resident Melanie Lepp was ticketed by a Toronto bylaw officer for allowing her dog to run off-leash illegally in Greenwood Park. Lepp avoided the official off-leash area, as she had fallen on the uneven pea-gravel surface during a previous visit. Her dog’s paws were also cut by the small stones. She fought the ticket in provincial court, to raise awareness over the safety concerns, and was ultimately found guilty by a provincial court judge, but fined $0.
These are just two examples of the lengths people will go to fight for their right to enjoy the city’s public green spaces, whether or not they have a dog.
Eric Code, the founder of Toronto Dog Park Community, says tensions like these stem from a lack of strategic thinking on the part of the city.
“Toronto does not plan dog parks right now. If residents want a dog park they need to request one in their neighbourhood,” said Code, who lives in south Etobicoke and expects “chaos” will ensue if an adequate off-leash dog park isn’t planned for the soon-to-be-redeveloped Mr. Christie’s factory site at Lake Shore Boulevard West and Parklawn Road.
“Like anything, you just have to plan, or it won’t be good. This is especially important in high-density areas,” he said, adding that because several city wards have very few, inadequate, or no designated off-leash areas, this results in people running their dogs illegally off-leash.
“(The city) is creating a dynamic that actually results in bylaw infractions. When the infrastructure doesn’t exist, people create their own,” said Code, who wants to see Toronto’s six-page dogs and parks policy revamped and greatly expanded to cover all bases.
Ward 19 Coun. Paula Fletcher, who chaired the city’s parks and environment committee when Toronto’s first people, dogs and parks policy was adopted in 2008, said dogs are a “fact of life in a big city” and they need to be taken into consideration when developments are planned.
“With the condo boom, there are so many dogs in condos. With condos, you don’t necessarily get kids — you get dogs,“ said Fletcher, who noted developers have no requirement from the provincial government to consider spaces for dogs in their projects.
“That’s what has exacerbated this conflict. There’s not enough space to meet the needs of the people and the needs of the people with dogs.”
Gary Pieters, president of CityPlace Residents’ Association, said his group is trying its best to “help residents with pets better coexist with their neighbours and other residents.”
In an email, he said they use social media to try to create a “dialogue that fosters more harmonious relations between dog and non-dog owners, to encourage dog owners to take better stewardship by picking up after their pets in public areas, and to further public awareness on by-laws that prohibits dogs from using the turf at Canoe Landing as a dog run and dog toilet and more.”
Pieters’ group also helps facilitate discussions and responds to questions on pet bylaws and etiquette.
Code pointed to a recent survey by Toronto Dog Park Community that found 91 per cent of people would use their local off-leash dog parks more often if they were more appealing. The same survey also found dog owners prefer the off-leash areas at Cherry Beach and High Park, because they both have natural surfaces and room to hike. The dog park at Grange Park also got high marks because it has trees and a great community vibe.
“(Most) dog parks don’t provide an experience people want. They have inaccessible pea gravel, no trees, and they’re getting smaller and harder to find,” said Code, who is also a member of the Lakeshore Dog Park Community.
Fletcher agreed something must be done about the problematic pea-gravel surface at least one dog park.
In April, she successfully put forward a motion to city council calling for an amendment to the 2019 parks, forestry and recreation capital budget, for the installation of accessible artificial turf at the Greenwood Park Dog Off-Leash Area. This decision came a week after Lepp’s April 9 court case.
Despite her efforts to raise awareness and better the situation, Fletcher said off-leash areas in Toronto “need to be higher up on the food chain.” She also said the city needs to be more “community-focused” in its approach to them.