If you asked a Torontonian to describe the Beach community they’d likely mention the overwhelmingly dense and diverse population of dogs.
The pets walk happily alongside their people, get pushed around in strollers, wear winter booties and stick their heads out of car windows. Beachers just love their dogs.
But not everyone shares their sentiments.
If you venture out for a stroll through a local park or just mosey around the streets, you’ll likely hear someone call out, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly,” as their dog jumps on a stranger, trying to plant sloppy, wet kisses on a face.
In addition to two official off-leash zones by the water, every winter between Nov. 1 and March 31 the entire strip from Woodbine Beach to the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant south of the fence line is turned into an off-leash area
Dog owners love this City of Toronto initiative, but have the effects on the non-dog owner community ever been considered?
Local mom Lana Luba recently took to a community Facebook group to learn more about the winter off-leash beach zones.
“My poor kiddo loves going to the water, but he always gets trampled by dogs,” Luba wrote. “He has great anxiety over this as it’s always happening. It’s hopeless to explain this to owners, as they always want to push their love for their dog onto him. Thanks. We really love being by the water.”
Luba’s five-year-old has had several incidents with over-excited off-leash dogs, one leaving him with scars on his face, and all leaving him and his mom left with trauma.
“There have been eight incidents in total, mostly in on-leash areas,” Luba said. “The worst part is that the owners don’t even do anything. They’ll just say, ‘Don’t worry, he’s friendly” or ‘My dog just loves kids.'”
Grey area of safety
Ione Burns, who frequents east-end off-leash zones several times a day, says she loves to let her dogs play on the beach in the winter.
But she understands that the off-leash beach can be a grey area in terms of safety and that courtesy is key.
“The beach is for everyone, all the time, but in winter everyone knows there will be off-leash dogs so people need to be prepared,” Burns said.
Burns is the founder of Lovabulls, a local dog-walking and boarding company. Oh, and she really hates it when people say their dog is friendly.
“It’s not fair to anyone. If you can’t control your dog, it shouldn’t be off-leash,” Burns said. “People who don’t follow the rules or respect boundaries kind of just ruin it for all of us who work hard to train our dogs. It’s not safe.”
Beaches-East York councillor Brad Bradford said he recognizes this continues to be a controversial issue within the community.
“The beach is a shared space. In many ways, the water is the heart and soul of the community,” Bradford said. “We have to treat it like any other shared space where first and foremost we take it upon ourselves to be considerate and thoughtful about the people around us.”