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posted June 7, 2001

[June 2001] Dog troubles:

In the spring when the weather gets nicer it often seems that the number of dogs in the park rises. Sometimes trouble starts. These are the current troublesome dog issues:

1. Pit bulls: Many people with and without dogs are unhappy about the presence of pit bulls in the park, especially if they are off leash.

2. Dogs off leash: In the middle of May the park staff called the Animal Control Department to report a pit bull without an owner. The dog had stolen pizza from a child at the pizza oven and had barked at people, frightening them. Some parents left the park immediately with their children. The Animal Control officer, when he arrived after an hour, was unhappy to learn that many people walk their dogs off leash in this park, and said that if people are so stupid as to do that and break the by-law, he would either order an enforcement blitz (ticket: $260) on this park or refuse to respond to calls in the future. He seemed undecided which course of action to take.

Park staff asked Councillor Mario Silva's office to check these statements with the head of Animal Control, Kim Smithers. She said the officer did not express department policy in his suggestion that their office might not respond to dog-related calls for assistance in the future. Ms. Smithers said she would be interested in finding out more details about dog issues here. Her phone number is 416/338-6677. So far it has not been possible to reach her by phone, since she is very busy.

3. Dogs in the children's play areas: When park supervisor Tino DeCastro learned that some dog walkers are taking their dogs to the children's sandpit late at night and allowing them to play in the sand, he had signs posted asking dog owners not to allow their dogs in these areas, for reasons of hygiene. (Small children play a great deal in these areas and they sometimes get the sand in their mouths.) The owner of a pit bull named Boomer has three times refused to abide by these signs. He says he believes it's his right to take his dog anywhere in the park that he chooses. The third time he told the person asking him to remove his dog from the sand play area, that she should "grow up."

Tino DeCastro says he is prepared to issue a trespass letter to anyone who continues to exercise their dogs in the areas set aside for children. Neighbourhood veterinarian Jack Gewarter was consulted about the hygiene issue. He told us that unless a child directly eats dog or cat feces, the transmission of parasites (just from dog fur if the dog rolls in the sand, for instance) is extremely unlikely. However, he felt a responsible dog owner would not take his dog into children's play areas at any time (and most of our park dog walkers don't).

4. Dog fights: There were two instances in May when a pit bull attacked another dog in the park. In the second case the dog being attacked was also a pit bull.

Discussion: The questions raised by these attacks and by other dog issues have prompted various suggestions (many, but not all, submitted by dog walkers themselves). These are all the suggestions given so far, in no order:

  • muzzle all pit bulls;
  • park staff should have a wild-life net in the park in case a dog needs to be caught but is violent;
  • permit dogs to be off leash only before 9a.m. and after 9p.m., as they do in Prospect Park in New York, and some other urban parks;
  • have a separate dog area;
  • have a meeting between Animal Control and dog owners, or just between dog owners, to work out ground rules of acceptable behaviour, (not the standard, and unenforceable, "all dogs must be on leash") and then single out dog owners who are breaking the rules and ask Animal Control to ticket them;
  • post signs about dog rules;
  • issue letters of trespass to dog owners who break the rules, disallowing them entry to the park until they change;
  • encourage dog walkers not to congregate in large groups where the dogs are so numerous they scare other park users.

Recommendation: since dogs not only cause problems in parks but also contribute greatly to the safety of parks (because of the frequent presence of people in the park at all hours), as well as enabling their owners to have more freedom in the city (because of their sense of being protected) - that dog owners schedule a meeting with Animal Control supervisor Kim Smithers to work on solutions to the problems that have come up. Also, people with suggestions (whether they own dogs or not) can email them to park supervisor Tino DeCastro at so that he can convey them to the meeting.

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