Tensions and tempers continue to flare between dog owners and worried parents, angry that the city is putting pets ahead of their children’s safety by setting up an off-leash area at Little Norway Park.
In recent weeks, confrontations between upset parents and fuming dog owners over the off-leash designation have escalated from the occasional heated verbal interaction to threats of settling differences with a baseball bat.
“My daughter has dogs running after her and I’ve asked people to put them (dogs) on leashes and we’ve been told, ‘No,’” offered one worried parent at the community meeting. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable, when I see a German Shepherd running across the field that I should assume that the owner has them under control.
“This is going to increase the conflict.”
Parks department officials presented plans for two off-leash areas during a community meeting at the Harbourfront Community Centre on April 15 and the battle lines were quickly drawn among the 50 residents who attended.
Frustrated by the simple process for acquiring off-leash designations, Leigh Valliere, a neighbourhood resident told The Bulletin:
“The whole process is set up to be confrontational and increase ill-will.
“It’s a shame.”
Valliere continues, “Our problem is that this decision effectively places the priority on the exercise and well being of dogs than on children. We have no problem with off-leash areas just not this particular park.”
Area parents are demanding to know how the city will supervise the off-leash area.
Parks supervisor Carol Guy explained that the rules would be enforced but area residents were not impressed.
“There are four contact people who are going to be the link with the Parks, Forestry and Recreation bylaw, the councillor’s office, and Toronto’s Animal Services and we are going to work together as a team to address these concerns and resolve them,” said Guy.
Guy went on to point out that the soft approach would be most effective leaving the dog owners’ association to handle the frontline complaints.
Not satisfied, a group of residents plan to apply for off-leash designations in other area parks hoping to curb dog owners from using Little Norway.
“We need more ideas about this rather than one stakeholder’s idea of where the off-leash park should be,” said area resident Duncan Orthner.
“We can’t change that so someone is going to apply for an off-leash area on the south side of South Beach because we figure if they (dog owners) can get it approved maybe we can get ours approved and then they can consider both areas.”
Another area residents would like to see considered for off-leash is an area east of the Music Garden that is already being used by dog owners to let their dogs run free.
Plans for Little Norway Park include an off-leash, unfenced area at the north end of the park with possible future fencing, while Coronation Park would have a large fenced in area at the south-east end of the park along the waterfront.
Little Norway’s off-leash time of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. was met with mixed reactions; neither parents nor pet owners particularly happy with the compromise.
“I don’t have a job?” shouted one resident.
Many commented that due to the north end location of the off-leash area dogs might run into traffic or cross the ground level separation track running on to the ballpark and out of the off-leash area. Participant’s angst increased with Parks suggestion of a trial temporary fence in Little Norway that would cut up the park area.
After being inundated with emails after the community meeting, Coun.Adam Vaughan replied via email:
“I feel that other potential locations for an off-leash area in the park have not yet been fully explored.”
“If dog owners and others in the community can reach agreement on alternatives that meet everyone’s needs perhaps we can present a neighbourhood solution to the city as a way of moving forward,”
Little Norway Park became the main focus while the plans for Coronation Park remained relatively unscathed as the hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. only raised concerns about lighting at night.
Parks staffers were prepared to erect signs and open the off-leash areas June 2009 but with the community outcry over Little Norway Park that timeline may no longer be achievable.