Looking Forward: Where do the Puppies Play?

by Markus O'Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

In 1970, Cat Stevens asked, “where do the children play?” Fifty years later, he might be joining with residents across the city asking a similar question about dogs. Where do they play?

There are currently more than 230,000 dogs living in Toronto. With pet ownership on the rise through the COVID-19 pandemic, pressure is mounting to establish more spaces for these new puppies to play. In most parks, letting dogs off leash is prohibited and can result in a $365 fine.

Spaces to let dogs run free and socialize are scarce in many parts of the city, including ours. There are sixty-nine off-leash areas in Toronto, but only nine of these are in North York and only one, (Bayview Arena) is in Willowdale. Condo owners along the Yonge corridor really have nowhere to go within walking distance. This simply must change.

Those that don’t own dogs are also getting fed up with dogs running free in parks without designated off-leash areas. As of August 16, the City had received 2,103 complaints about dogs running free in parks this year. Though by-law officers have been turning many a blind eye during the pandemic, more routine enforcement is resuming. Are dog owners and non-dog owners ready to unite to find a space (or several) where dogs can run free?

The technical challenge of establishing new off-leash areas remain very real. City staff look for large open green spaces with adequate drainage. Neighbours expect significant distance from their yards to a busy public location. Those using a park for other types of recreation may be reluctant to give up that green space. With few large parks in Willowdale, proposed locations have routinely been rejected by City staff.

During our surveys and consultations with area residents, as part of our work towards a five-year Willowdale parks plan, a possible site that has repeatedly come up for consideration is Glendora Park, located south of Sheppard and east of Yonge. An off-leash area east of the tennis courts, near the highway 401 sound barrier would serve thousands of residents within walking distance. The feedback we have received is that the park has ample open green space, and that being next to the highway would cause minimal additional noise impact.

Before progressing with this or any other potential sites, technical reviews are required along with possible adjustments to the City’s existing policies. Just as important are extensive consultations with the surrounding neighbourhood. Though an overnight solution isn’t likely, it’s time to begin those conversations – especially with a new review of off-leash policies expected to come to Council this fall.

For now, if you’re a dog owner looking forward to a new off-leash space, please be respectful of your neighbours. Keep your dog on a leash in City parks, stoop and scoop in all public places, and remember that some people aren’t fully comfortable around animals.

If you’re seeing a regular off-leash problem in your park, please contact our office, or call 3-1-1.