Toronto parks staff will be talking with communities across the city about the idea of making some of their parks leash-free for dogs early mornings and late evenings.
Toronto’s parks and environment committee decided to look into the idea Friday, Nov. 9, at the urging of Don Valley East Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.
A dog owner himself, Minnan-Wong said currently in many parts of the city, finding an off-leash area in city parkland that’s also large enough to provide reasonable exercise is difficult to impossible.
Minnan-Wong said the city should look at a system in place in New York City, where certain parks are designated entirely leash-free between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and between 9 and 11 p.m.
In a letter to the committee, Minnan-Wong said the system has led to a reduction in the number of dog owners who let their dogs off-leash illegally. And he said dogs who are able to exercise freely are generally better-tempered.
The committee members were skeptical.
Scarborough East Councillor Ron Moeser admitted his opinion was coloured by personal experience.
“I had a daughter who got bit through the lip...we had to take her to hospital,” he said. “You hate to have that colour your opinion, but I’d say it’s controversial in Ward 44. I think if you went to the community with this, it would probably be around 50-50.”
Scarborough-Rouge River Councillor Raymond Cho said when consultation comes back, he’d recommend any leash-free area be only used by muzzled dogs, and owners be required to carry flashlights to better find errant dog feces in the dark of early morning and later at night.
York Centre Councillor James Pasternak said when it comes back, communities will be consulted individually.
“We have to be careful of the safety factor,” said Pasternak.
“In Ward 10 we decided to put two off-leash zones in existing parks and that seems to work. There is no support that I can see to make this a pan-city proposal. Almost all the emails that I received are negative on this. The only thing to bring in is a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood system. Because if there are neighbourhoods that are already fighting fenced-in zones, they’ll fight doubly hard against this.”
Minnan-Wong, however, said worries about the leash-free times are misplaced.
“There was some level of concern by some councillors, but it’s important to have an informed debate, and within this debate, that councillors understand that this will result in healthier dogs. Healthier, well-exercised dogs are dogs that aren’t aggressive and don’t bite.”
Minnan-Wong admitted his views were informed by his experiences with his own dog, a Chesepeake Bay Retriever who goes by the name of Strider, after the character in The Lord of the Rings.
“If you have children and they’re taking skating lessons, you have opinions about skating programs,” he said.
“I have a dog, and a certain expertise and experience about having a dog. I think I see owners walking their dogs pulling at the leash that aren’t exercised, really wound up and if they were properly socialized and exercised, they’d be better dogs.”