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Going To The Dogs

I have a “friend” who has an amazingly cute dog who we’ll call “Shellie”. Shellie is an AussieDoodle (half Australian Shepherd, half Poodle) a breed that needs more than a walk around the block. She needs to run. There are some neighbourhoods in Toronto that have phenomenal off-leash dog parks (Sherwood, Cedarvale. Earl Bales) but none in my friend’s neighbourhood. Full disclosure: there’s a small, sad enclosure which operates more as a gravel covered toilet than a dog park. Shellie is indifferent to it. One can not blame her.


So my friend, like many of his friends who have dogs who need a bit of a run congregate in a field next to an outdoor skating rink each weekday morning before work and the chores of the day to give their pets a little freedom. It’s city-owned parkland, and thus a public area. So my friend, his friends and their dogs, when they visit this area are, in fact, outlaws. Nobody pays them too much notice...until a complaint is made to the city. When that happens their criminal behaviour draws attention. By-law officers work on a complaints basis and they have to come out to enforce said by-laws, which typically starts off with education and warnings and then escalates to tickets.


As you might have guessed, someone has made a complaint. And as I write this note, the situation has progressed beyond the education and warnings stage. While my friend is working within the system to resolve the issue, it strikes him as a bit farcical. If you speak to the by-law officers they’re not terribly enthusiastic to hand out tickets. They also recognize that certain dog breeds do need to run. The existing dog run toilet doesn’t meet the needs of the dog owners or their pets. 


The complaint at issue is that the dogs were off-leash. But that’s just a catch-all for noise (which exists whether dogs are leashed or not). Or maybe poop. (Although the group is generally very good about picking up...I’m told). But the underlying issue at the root of it is how we as a community share collective assets like public parks. The group has petitioned to create a better dog park. But the existence of the gravelly one, the cost of a new one and objecting neighbours are hurdles that must be overcome for that effort to succeed. My friend, who ironically wasn’t much of a dog person before getting Shellie, understands the position of those who think dogs can be a nuisance or potentially dangerous. But dogs improve urban life - the owners get exercise, and socialize when the dogs are together. They keep an eye on the park and therefore cut down on potential crime - things that build better neighbourhoods (There’s a health and wellness angle to virtually every topic!). 


The by-law paradigm doesn’t really result in anything other than confrontation - an end game of tickets, trials, wasted time and money and frustration for all involved. My friend sometimes relishes a good fight, and is not beyond (ahem) taking the matter to the press, but in this instance is also trying to work with the city to see if they’d be willing (if they have the jurisdiction) to assist in facilitating a discussion with a view to a negotiated result -perhaps a part of a grassy field that is designated as off-leash a few hours a day, outfitted with some stylish poop-bins. You might be reading and hearing more about this in coming issues.


In the meantime, during the...dog days of Summer, I hope that you enjoy this otherwise by-law abiding issue of Tonic. Joel Thuna and Claude Gallant discuss how to get a good night’s sleep. Megan Horsley explains why farmers’ markets are so great and which ones you should visit in Toronto and Emily Lipinski explains all about intermittent fasting and whether it works. Discussions of all three articles can be heard this Summer on THE TONIC. As always if you want to debate civic governance or anything else in this note or issue of Tonic, feel free to contact me.