Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dog Park Plans Unleashed In Scarborough

Pair of sites expected to open in September

Dog park plans unleashed in Scarborough. Willow, runs for a ball thrown by its owners in Toronto's Withrow Park off-leash dog area. Though other parts of Toronto have 43 off-leash dog parks, the first two in Scarborough are slated to open in September of 2010. File Photo/WILLIAM MEIJER
Off-leash dog parks are finally coming to Scarborough with two sites are approved and set to open in early September.
Scarborough Centre Councillor Michael Thompson said Botany Hill Park and Thomson Memorial Park will be the first two areas to embrace the off-leash runs many other parts of Toronto have had for years.
"We support the idea as long as there is a balance of safety for dog owners and dogs and other users of the park," said Thompson.
The two locations are a start, but some dog owners in Thompson's ward aren't satisfied with the plans.
The rest of Toronto boasts 43 off-leash parks, and local dog owner Richard Spiegelman wants more Scarborough locations put on the fast-track.
"We are tired of being criminalized because we want to take our dogs in a park," said Spiegelman. "We are taxpayers, we pay for the parks and we would like some access to those parks."
Since 1995, Spiegelman has been walking his border collie, Duchess, in Wexford Park. He has never had a problem when she is off leash, but knows of people who have been ticketed for what he sees as a citizen's right to enjoy public property.
"We are made the instant villains all the time. Dogs in the park are always seen as bad and we are tired of that," said Spiegelman.
He is trying to get the city to approve Wexford Park as another official off-leash zone. On Thompson's suggestion, he started the Ward 37 Dog Owners Association to get the community behind him. So far, 166 people have signed up but Spiegelman hasn't yet filled out an application with the city.
There are many factors to be taken into consideration before city staff can recommend a public park be designated as an off-leash area. This process can take months.
In an attempt to move his suggestion through the red tape a little quicker, Spiegelman unsuccessfully tried to set up a meeting with Brenda Patterson, general manager of the city's Parks, Forestry and Recreation division.
"It was decided that whether or not he spoke to the general manager wouldn't make much of a difference because it would have to be considered through staff who would deal with the issue anyway," said Thompson. "They key is that we ensure a process is in place so that each opportunity can be dealt with in such a way that all the interests of everyone are considered."
Thompson said he would like the park approval to move through at a quicker pace, but there are concerns from residents and potential sites need to be thoroughly examined. Though Thompson hasn't spoken with anyone who outright opposed the idea of dog parks in Scarborough, he did recently hear from a pair of constituents who suffered dog bites in public parks.
According to Spiegelman, incidents like that won't be addressed under current rules in most parks, which stipulate all dogs need to be leashed. In his experience, those rules are frequently broken and rarely enforced.
"If you go to any park, any time of day, there are dogs off leash already," said Spiegelman. "You have all these rules about dogs in parks and they don't work 99 per cent of the time. Let's work on making rules that do work for people using the parks."
The off-leash park in Botany Hill Park, 277 Orton Park Rd., is scheduled to open on Sept. 1 and the one in Thomson Memorial Park, at Brimley Road and Lawrence Avenue, should open soon after.