To the dogs

Off-leash parks provide freedom for pets and sometimes consternation for owners

Calgarian Alex Middleton and his four-legged companion Captain are familiar faces at the Britannia Slopes off-leash dog park, typically frequenting the southwest area of the city two to three times a day.

It’s a home away from home for the pair – a fact not lost on Middleton.

“The reason I moved to Elbow Park was to be closer to Britannia Slopes,” he said.

Middleton and Captain are not alone. When making a move from their condo, accessibility to off-leash areas was also a huge selling feature for Terri and LiShelle Trembath in purchasing a home in the northwest community of Hawkwood.

“We love having three off-leash areas/dog parks within walking distance from our house,” said LiShelle, who owns a 10-year-old mini American Eskimo named Kenai. “It just simplifies life having the parks at our fingertips.”

Thousands of Calgarians and their four-legged friends have been testing the limits of the city’s dog park infrastructure, which currently totals about 150 off-leash locations in all four quadrants. It will soon be joined by a new location at Connaught Park off 14th Avenue and 11th Street that by the end of the year will feature a fenced off-leash diamond-shaped area, seating plaza on the west side of the park and separate grassed sections for seating areas for other park users to utilize.

Yet off-leash areas in the city have come under fire in recent months after it was reported residents were tossing stones and slurs at City staff erecting erosion-prevention fencing in the Britannia Slopes park.

Cameras were also placed in the area, as well as at River Park and Sandy Beach, after reports of vandalism and damage to construction.

Many area residents have expressed their frustration, arguing hundreds of metres of fencing in the area effectively limited off-leash sections of the area, which is currently undergoing a major redesign. The protesters went so far last November as to walk their furry friends in prison garb across the Sandy Beach Bridge, challenging City staff to “let our dogs out of jail.”

“While we have appreciated the effort the City has made to maintain and repair the park, the esthetics have left many with mixed feelings, said Britannia Community Association president Tim Taylor.

“Temporary orange fencing and the camera are eyesores. Hopefully in the summer, some of the temporary fixtures will be removed. We have been assured by the City they are both necessary and the park will ultimately be better and more sustainable.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has since publicly rebuked protesters, saying to those involved: “You need to rethink your priorities.”

Construction in the natural area came after council approved a combined park management and design development plan based on recommendations heard through public engagement.

“This park is for all Calgarians; our work is to do exactly what they told us to do: save the park for the future and provide safe access for all citizens,” said Doug Marter, manager of planning and development for Parks.
“We’re hoping that people will realize there are a number of interests (around maintaining the park) and that rational thought will come to bear.”

All park improvements and recommendations in the Britannia Slopes are expected to be completed by the end of next year.

In the meantime, with warmer temperatures on the rise and off-leash areas expected to gain their seasonal popularity, the City is offering up some tips on keeping both pooches and humans happy in all local parks.

“Under the City of Calgary’s responsible pet ownership bylaw, owners are asked to keep their dogs under control at all times whether in an on leash area or off leash area,” said Jondrea De Ruyter, communications adviser with Animal and Bylaw Services.

“It’s important to note that all of Calgary’s pathways are on leash for dogs even in off leash areas so both owners and their dogs must remain on the right hand side of the pathway at all times unless moving around other pathway users.”

De Ruyter added owners can’t operate bikes, skateboards or inline skates while with a leashed-dog, and that canines aren’t permitted on school grounds, playgrounds, sports fields, golf courses, cemeteries and wading or swimming areas.

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