Viewpoint: City Hall unleashes campaign against dog owners

Recently in the local news there were various reports of efforts by the City of Toronto to enforce off-leash bylaws which led to a lengthy discussion with my friends and neighbours, as our off-leash dogs chased balls or sniffed the grass amongst the various baseball players, kids with Frisbees and moms out with their strollers.

The consensus is that the City of Toronto has overreacted and its current policies are ill conceived, poorly communicated, ineptly managed and frankly, it’s a disgrace that in a neighbourhood as large as ours, in the very core of Canada’s largest city, dog owners are constrained to an unfenced patch of grass smaller than an Olympic pool bordered by commuter traffic.

I’ve been a resident of the St. Lawrence Community on and off for 25+ years and have had a dog in the family for most of those years. In all that time David Crombie Park (at the corner of Sherbourne and The Esplanade) has been the de-facto neighbourhood dog park. Generations of families and their canines have enjoyed and come to rely on this rare large green space as a place to exercise our four legged companions and to socialize with our neighbours after work or during the weekends.

In a community with a population approaching 70,000 residents, the only official “Off Leash” dog area is a small strip along the western edge of David Crombie Park that measures about 15 x 55 metres and is only open for use either before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

That’s right, in a high-density neighbourhood surrounded by condo towers, apartment blocks, townhouses, local businesses and increasingly congested roadways the total green space where our animals can get the exercise they need for their health and happiness, not to mention our collective sanity, is not much bigger than two suburban backyards combined.

Let us also consider the fact that the local area is seeing even more residential high-rise development which will bring in yet more pet owners into an area that is already crying out for some sensible relief from what seems to be a Toronto City Hall-led campaign against dogs and dog owners that’s sweeping the entire city.

Now some people will argue that the public spaces are meant for just that, “The Public” and that a non-pet owner shouldn’t be unduly inconvenienced. That’s a perfectly understandable point of view but at what point do our rights as pet owners get addressed and at what point does sanity reassert itself into the equation?

I agree that there are irresponsible dog owners here in Toronto as there are everywhere but city hall has lost all perspective and has frankly overreacted. If you don’t agree then please explain to me why here in Toronto the fine for running a red light in your car is $260, the fine for driving a car without a valid license starts at $200, the first-time fines for failing to remain at the scene of an accident or for careless driving start at $400 but a dog owner will be fined $360 for having their dog off leash?

I agree that we need to start a conversation about this issue. As our cities grow, as population density increases, now is the time to have an open and reasonable discussion about the issue of off-leash areas for dogs and the bylaws that surround pet ownership here in the city. As it currently stands, at least in the Downtown core, residential developments are still going up with barely a thought given to the practical realities of what those new residents will require in terms of open spaces, not just for themselves but also for the 4-legged members of their families.

Finally, those hysterics who claim that our animals are running amok on the streets certainly haven’t been to my neighbourhood. We have established a quasi-official dog park of our own and a working truce amongst the local residents that’s been in place for 20+ years. It’s not perfect, it could be greatly improved but it’s a start. What we don’t need is the heavy-handed bylaw enforcement/money drive and the histrionics of a few dog bashers with friends in city council.

— Sean R. Wilson