Mayor Rob Ford’s recent announcement that the city will be increasing its vigilance for people who let their dogs off-leash in undesignated areas raises the topic of off-leash dog parks and their importance for communities.
The risk of having to pay a $250 ticket to let your dog roam free has made off-leash dog parks more popular since they began springing up in 2007, when the city created a dogs off-leash policy providing controlled spaces for owners to bring their dogs to play without a leash.
Scarborough residents used to have to travel long distances to Markham, Pickering, or downtown to bring their dogs to an off-leash park before Brian MacFarlane and the Curran Hall Community Association began the process of getting Scarborough its very own off-leash dog park.
“I thought it was nice how people would just sort of congregate around and talk, and dogs would be running,” he said. “It was good because it really brought people together and I thought that might be nice for our neighbourhood, too.”
After the application process was completed in just under a year, the city approved MacFarlane’s plan for the park and Scarborough welcomed its first off-leash dog park in September 2010 when the Botany Hill Off-Leash Dog Park first opened. The park is a medium-sized space of 3,000 square metres with a wooden fence and multiple gates.
Since that time, Scarborough has gotten two more off-leash dog parks, one in Thomson Memorial Park and another in L’Amoreaux Park. The community near Wanita Park has also recently applied for its own off-leash dog park.
Ryan Foley lives in the area near Botany Hill Park and has been taking his dog Nitro to the park since it first opened.
“It’s convenient. It’s a great place for the dogs to socialize. You get to meet people in the neighbourhood,” Foley said.
Although there are two bylaw officers in the neighbourhood who come by periodically to the Botany Hill Off-Leash Dog Park to ensure all the rules and regulations are being followed by users, MacFarlane says that the users themselves enforce the rules of the park more than anyone else.
“They’re very protective about the place. They’re very careful, like if your dog has had shots or whatever before they come in, if it’s somebody who’s new, and that kind of thing,” MacFarlane said. “They want to make sure that it’s kept safe and clean and that’s really what we like actually. It shows stewardship of the place.”
Most of all, the dog park has allowed people in the neighbourhood to meet each other and bond with one another, both the owners and the dogs. MacFarlane said the best part about the park is that it is having a positive influence on the community and bringing people together.
“It’s like actually if you had kids, if you had a group of kids in the same age group that are excited to see each other, that’s what the dogs are like…that’s actually what the owners are like, too,” he said.
A group of people who use the Botany Hill Off-Leash Dog Park even got together to build an agility course for the park in memoriam of a fellow dog park user, Aron Royle, who died this year.
“He [Royle] died in a tragic snowmobile accident, actually. That was just recently. So, a bunch of the guys are getting together. They’ve donated some money. They’re going to put up an agility course in here. It’s kind of nice,” Foley said.
Besides giving dogs a safe, regulated space to run and play without a leash, the Botany Hill Off-Leash Dog Park has provided residents in the area with an opportunity to get out and meet each other and to become involved in their community.