Ward 11 dogs bound by red tape in off-leash park search

When Marilia Janicas wants to let Brooklyn, Cosmo and Sophie run and play leash-free, she and her three dogs make the trek down to High Park, she says.

Janicas has lived in Ward 11 for almost 10 years and has spent many of those years trying to bring an off-leash dog park to her York South-Weston neighbourhood.

Sadly, there’s no walking distance leash-frees here.

—Marilia Janicas

“Sadly, there’s no walking distance leash-frees here,” she said. “You can go to Humber College, down by Lakeshore, [but] that’s a lot farther [than High Park].”

Ward 11 councillor Frances Nunziata reached out to area residents in her February community news update email asking for suggestions on where a new off-leash park should be established.

The push for on off-leash dog park isn’t a new one. Janicas has suggested many potential sites for a park in the ward. And, she said, so have others. None have been successful.

“They’ve given up hope,” she said. “They say: ‘Oh yeah, we’ve tried that before. We’ll never get one.’

“So they don’t bother. They’ve been in the area for 20 to 25 years, and that’s sad.”

Potential off-leash parks can be rejected for a variety of reasons, said Edward Fearon, the city’s acting manager of parks standards and innovation.

“Sites are denied if they do not meet the criteria set out in the People, Parks and Dogs Off-Leash Policy,” he said. “Some examples include: land which is not owned or managed by the City of Toronto’s parks, forestry and recreation division; proximity to residences; and protection of natural environment areas.”

The rules can be frustrating and often lead to more questions than answers, Janicas said.

“I proposed a site down by Rockcliffe Public School. Across the street there’s massive piece of land, which is vacant.” Janicas said. “[The city] had indicated to me that it’s a floodplain, environmentally they couldn’t do it. Now there is a big sign saying that they’re selling the land for development.

“So dogs running around or development? Which is worse for floodplains? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Across from the buildings on Woolner Avenue between Scarlett Road and Jane Street sits a stretch of hydro lines and some allotment gardens. People tend to use it as a leash-free zone anyway, Janicas said, so she proposed a park on that property.

That site was also rejected, she said. The reason: the land is not city-owned.

“I’ve seen city trucks mowing the lawn in the summer,” Janicas said. “So again, there seems to be a little bit of a conflict there.”

Despite the inability to find a park for Ward 11 so far, Nunziata executive assistant Jennifer Cicchelli and Fearon both said they remain optimistic.

City staff are continuing to explore options for an off-leash area within York South-Weston and hope to have a site identified this year, Fearon said.