Toronto councillor proposes ‘master plan’ for off-leash dog parks

A Toronto city councillor feels the current approach to the city’s dog parks is haphazard and needs improvement. Dilshad Burman with the new approach he’s proposing.

By Dilshad Burman

There are 75 off-leash dog areas in Toronto, but one councillor feels in a city of almost 300,000 dogs, that’s not nearly enough.

Councillor for Ward 13 – Toronto Centre Chris Moise says he’s also looking to change the way the city approaches the issue.

“Currently, when we create a dog park, it’s with consultation with the local councillor and community. But it’s a haphazard way of doing things, which I don’t think is good for our city of three million people,” he says.

He thinks the city needs a master plan for off-leash dog parks, overseen by city staff. The goal is to not only take a holistic look at the feasibility of including off-leash areas in current parks, but also include them in future ones.

“Take the haphazard approach out of the councillor’s hands and put it in staff’s hands who are actually experts in their field and have an understanding of the wider, broader city issues that we’re facing around off-leash dog parks,” says Moise.

Among those broader issues is the distribution of off-leash areas across the city, particularly in the downtown core.

“There are some wards with no dog parks — the Etobicokes, the Scarboroughs. But that being said, they have a lot of green space. But in the downtown core, we don’t have a lot of green space,” explained Moise.

“So we have people walking dogs in school grounds or in other inappropriate places because there is no place for them to walk their dogs. And even where there’s no off-leash parks, people are still having their dogs off-leash.”

Downtown residents CityNews spoke to agree that more dedicated off-leash spaces are needed.

“I think there should be much much more – there are so many dogs at all given times,” says one resident.

“Where I live, which is out at Queen Street and Dovercourt Road, we’ve been campaigning for an off-leash park since 2018,” adds another.

“The city needs to standardize the parks, they need to look at where the dogs are and make sure that there’s lots of parks.”

Moise says that kind of standardization will benefit both people with and without dogs.

“People who don’t have dogs don’t necessarily want to have dogs running around them in an open park. And that’s understandable,” he adds.

“As much as I love dogs and everybody loves dogs — but let’s make space for everybody … it’s an equity issue in that we need to make sure that everyone feels safe and included in the city’s plans going forward.”

Moise also noted the need for upkeep and repairs to existing dog parks and in a summary of his motion, says they need “improvements that reflect current best practices for surfacing, shade, trees, seating, and other design features.”

He adds that bylaw enforcement would also be better served if there was a city-wide plan for off-leash areas. The fine for having a dog off-leash outside of a designated area is $365.

“How can we ticket somebody when there’s not an appropriate space for them to walk their dogs or have their dogs off leash? So I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s equitable,” says Moise.

“I think that if we have a master plan in place and we have dog parks across the city, so people know that they should go here and not there, then we can actually enforce the bylaw. But as it stands now, I don’t think it’s actually conceivable to enforce that rule.”

When asked earlier in the day, Mayor Olivia Chow said having a plan is “always useful.”

“But in terms of funding…we have a budget process rolling out soon,” she said.

The motion was considered by the Infrastructure and Environment committee on Wednesday and is slated to go to council on October 11.

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