Story and photo by Andrea Cranfield –
A new bylaw that recently came into effect allowing dogs to run off leash at Fisher Park may have some people barking mad. Fisher Park, located between Holland and Harmer Avenue N., has changed from being a park where dogs had to be on leash at all times to a park where dogs now have designated hours where they can run leash free. Whether or not to allow dogs to run leash free has been a controversial issue that has had people weighing in on both sides of the debate.
A lengthy consultation process was started about a year and a half ago after a group of local dog owners started pushing to have the rules changed.
Thirty-one residents who live within a five-block radius of Fisher Park signed a petition requesting some off leash hours and submitted it to the City. There were 85 eligible submissions. Of those, 46 (54 per cent) people voted in favour of having off leash hours, while 39 (46 per cent) people voted against.
It was decided that dogs would be allowed off leash from 5 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. year round, so that they would not interfere with children’s programming in the park. Leashed dogs are still allowed at all hours.
In the proposal, the dog owners had asked for a different set of hours that were broader and differed according to season, since there are more people using the park in the summer compared to the winter.
“It’s not exactly what everybody was looking for. Nobody was looking for this particular set of hours but as a compromise I think it shows the way forward for how we can achieve things in the Kitchissippi Ward,” says Councillor Jeff Leiper.
Leiper says the new hours were decided upon because not many other people are using the park during the designated off leash hours.
“Having dogs allowed off leash means that the park is useful for a few more hours every day,” says Leiper. “It’s a really busy park but after 8:30 at night, usage really drops off and it’s nice to be able to add those additional hours for the dog owners.”
Hilary McVey, a dog owner who frequents the park, admits the situation is challenging because there are so many different park users, including school children who use it as their schoolyard. And not everyone wants to see dogs running around.
“We understood that there are a lot of uses and we didn’t want to say we want it to be off leash all the time, because we knew that wasn’t a realistic thing to ask for… but we thought we had proposed some pretty sensible times,” she says.
McVey is a little disappointed with the new off-leash hours. “The hours that were given are not very practical versus when people are actually wanting to use the park.”
According to Leiper, some people are still against having any off leash hours at all.
“I received some feedback from people who are still very much opposed to this … You’re always going to be seeking a compromise that’s not necessarily going to make everybody happy,” he says.
Julian Bromwich lives across the street from the park. He says there have been problems with dogs being off leash in the past.
“Lots of times those really big dogs are off leash and running around and they knock little kids over,” says Bromwich. “The dogs are constantly tearing through the playground and knocking little kids off their feet. It happens all the time,” he says, nodding at his three-year-old son Xander.
Bromwich acknowledges the new off-leash hours might work since they probably won’t interfere with the children playing on the playground.
Leiper recognizes that some people are afraid of dogs, and off-leash dogs can make them wary and dampen their enjoyment and use of the space.
“The point that’s always made by responsible dog owners is that they do have their dogs under control and so it’s always controversial,” says Leiper.
McVey understands that some people are afraid of dogs but says the people who let their dogs run free at Fisher Park are very careful about making sure their dogs don’t approach anyone who doesn’t want them around.
“In my understanding, there’s never been an incident at Fisher Park where a dog has bitten someone or anything like that,” says McVey. She adds that the dog owners are very careful about not budding in on other people using the park. For example, when the middle school kids come outside for their gym class, McVey says the dog owners gather up their pooches and leave.
“We’re not interested in trying to stake our claim and pushing other users out, we want to work around other people who use it. It should be additive, it shouldn’t take it away from any other group that’s already using it,” says McVey.
Leiper says that some people are also concerned that dog owners don’t clean up after their dogs, but McVey counters that the dog owners who meet every morning are very conscientious in keeping the park clean.
“The groups that I know that go and use it … we clean up after our own dogs and certainly after any other dogs that have left a mess,” she says.
This issue is compounded by the fact there aren’t many off leash dog parks in the area. Hampton Park is a 25-minute walk away from Fisher Park.
Leiper says it was important to accommodate the dog owners because there aren’t many other options for people to take their dogs within walking distance.
“I see people driving in the morning to places where dogs are allowed off leash and we’re trying to encourage a walkable neighbourhood. So if we can open up the dog off-leash hours in parks that are located closer to people, that helps keep a certain number of cars off the road too,” he says.
McVey wants people to know that the dog owners who pushed for off-leash hours are not people who only care about dogs.
“All of our kids use the park, it’s not like we’re some group of renegade people who just care about dogs. We care about everybody and we are very conscientious … we really do care about all the different users of the park,” she says.
Overall, Leiper says he is pleased with the compromise regarding the new off leash hours.
“It’s a really controversial issue. I’ve received some [feedback from] people who are upset that we’ve done this,” says Leiper. “I’ve also received a lot of notice from people who are pleased that they’ve received this compromise.”