Monday, July 4, 2011

Bylaw Enforcement Officers Overzealous In Sunnybrook Park?

Sunnybrook Park could be a dog walker’s paradise, but for John Boyce the tree-lined paths, shaded watering hole and wide off-leash park are clouded by one pesky problem — the people in the bushes. No, they’re not masked villains. They’re bylaw enforcement officers. “I was coming down the path and they jumped right out of the bushes in front of me to check the dogs’ tags,” Boyce said. “They’re out of control.” A dog walker who is caught with a tagless dog is slapped with a $300 fine.

Boyce is a licensed dog walker and complies by the rules: He makes sure each dog has a licence around its neck, keeps them on a leash until they reach the fenced-in area and doesn’t walk more than six at a time. But he’s one of several professional dog walkers who say they’re being “harassed” by overzealous officers who camp out in unmarked vehicles near the North York off-leash park up to five days a week, sometimes taking cover in the woods to try to catch them violating the rules. “People are afraid to come here now because they’re afraid they’ll get hassled,” said Lori Clubley, who has been walking dogs for seven years. “It seems like they’re after you — like you’re a criminal and you’re doing something wrong. We’re not criminals.”

Jeffrey Reffo, who prominently displays his dog walker licence when he’s out on the job, was stopped by the same officer twice in one hour — once on his way into the park and again on the way out. “I thought, ‘Did you hope a dog’s tag fell off so you could give me a ticket?’ It’s gone above and beyond what is reasonable,” Reffo said.

However, the city department that enforces the bylaws says officers are not encouraged to camouflage themselves in the woods and catch dog walkers off guard. “Absolutely not. I can assure you that is not our practice,” said Elizabeth Glibbery, manager of Animal Services. “We don’t like to issue fines. Our mandate is to educate the public about off-leash park areas and rules in general regarding animals. We’re not catching the public as a surprise.”

But dog owner John Cole said that was not his experience when his docile Norfolk terrier Teddy snuck out of the enclosed dog park. Cole had enlisted his dog-walker friend Reffo to keep an eye on the 16-pound pup while he jogged 12 metres to the parking lot to get some water from his car. He said the “food-obsessed” dog slipped under the fence while an officer was checking its tags — and he was slapped with a $360 fine. “It was so ridiculous. She coerced him under the fence — and boom, she gave me a ticket,” Cole claimed. Read more at www.thestar.com.