The only real item on the agenda at Monday’s council meeting is whether or not the City of Guelph will proceed with its current plan for leash-free, fenced-in dog park facilities. An impromptu decision at Committee of the Whole earlier this month put the dog parks on the chopping block, but dog park supporters have rallied and they’re looking to undo the Committee’s decision. In a word, it’s overwhelming.
In all, 257 correspondences have were filed with the clerks office, and that’s in addition to the 27 people who will be delegating on the Leash Free Implementation Plan at Monday’s meeting. Of the 257 correspondences, the vast majority of them are asking that council maintain the fenced-in area of Peter Misersky Park, and keep the plans in place to complete a second leash-free area at Bristol Street Park.
“I honestly cannot understand why you would even consider closing the one at Peter Misersky Park,” said Allison and Janet Dunkley. “I have been there many times, at different hours of the day, and not once has the parking lot been filled, nor have I smelled any offensive odors coming from or even around this park. I have heard a few barks and woofs, but certainly not anything that could be considered a disturbance.”
“I am a relatively new dog owner who just recently discovered the dog park and the robust community surrounding it,” wrote Jack Runge. “My girlfriend and I are frequent visitors to the park and have made friends with other people similarly attracted to the wonderful space. It is the only fenced in park in the city, is a clean and large space, has plenty of parking, and is in a great location. And most importantly our dog loves it and it provides a safe and large space for him to get exercise and interact safely with other animals.”
Of course, it’s not just a matter of recreation for some dog owners. Jennifer St-Pierre has a daughter on the autism spectrum who just received a guide dog, and being able to allow the young dog named Thea to socialize freely with other dogs is a key part of their training.
“The fenced dog park provided the perfect opportunity for her to be a ‘dog’ with other dogs, meeting this socialization requirement,” explained St-Pierre. “You see, we are actually not allowed to have Thea off-leash unless it IS within a fully fenced enclosure.”
Other people have found improved mental health by using the dog park at Misersky.
“I have severe PTSD and acute agoraphobia has manifested as a symptom of the trauma. Trying to get my dogs out to the dog park in Cambridge/Kitchener had become nearly impossible as I let my condition go undiagnosed and untreated,” said Angelica S. “Since I found out about the Misersky Park dog park, I was elated and surprised at how often I was able to go. Not very often compared to a healthy individual, but night and day compared to Maple Grove.”
Only 26 of the 257 correspondences submitted are against the currently approved dog parks, and not all the complaints were about placement. One person noted that he was philosophically opposed to the idea of fenced in leash-free areas for dogs.
“We take our dog to Margaret Greene – it’s awesome” wrote Brian Carwana. “As a walkable path, we the owners get a walk in. The dogs frolic along the trails and into the bush – there’s tons to smell and investigate. And there’s no ganging up – they’re not all just sitting in a cage staring at one another, wondering who to jump on.”
“I don’t live in the Misersky nor Bristol street areas affected by current and proposed dog parks, however I have great sympathy for the concerns of residents in these areas,” said Judy MacEachern. “They have valid concerns with noise, traffic, and parking. I strongly encourage council to vote for staff to look for new sites, at a distance from residential properties, that are suitable for dog parks. I support dog parks, but not across the street from residential homes.”
“Years ago we were forced to move due to one of these dog parks,” said TA Heart. “The city should have done a better job at speaking with residents in the area where these dog parks are located, any such type of park should clearly be nowhere in any area residents live.”
Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to be a battle between dog owners and non-dog owners; those numbers are fairly evenly split. There are 146 correspondences where the person explicit said that they were a dog owner, and 111 where they explicitly said they were not a dog owner or did not disclose either way.
Still, of the people who wrote to council who were not in favour of the current dog parks, only four of them were, themselves, dog owners.
“As former president of a dog park association, I thank you for the recent closing/canceling the off leash areas. They are a magnet for untrained and unsocialized animals,” wrote Shawn Killeagh. ” I have seen everything from squabbles, and fights to deaths caused by poor owners. It is bad enough walking a dog on leash here in Guelph, thank you for eliminating some of these places”
“I do not agree with the City spending taxpayer dollars to establish leash free dog parks- people who wish their dogs to be leash free should go outside the City to areas such as Guelph Lake,” said Anne Holman. “Our family has had dogs for over 40 years and have never had need of a ‘leash free’ park.”
In terms of hearing from people living in the area, 35 of the correspondences said that they lived near either Peter Misersky Park or Bristol Street Park, and most had no issues with the dog park.
“I’ve never had issues with parking and no complaints about the noise,” said Farrah Trahan, who lives on Mountford Drive. “Please don’t listen to the few loud voices who are just bitter because they have to use their own parking space rather than have the convenience of city parking in front of their place.”
“It’s not just a dog park, it is a community hub where like minded folks can get together with their dogs and make friends and enjoy the outdoors together,” added Jennifer Hannah, who lives in the area and has two rescue dogs. “It’s a place where puppies learn socialization and off leash training.”
“I reside with my mom and younger brother and although they’re a bit nervous around dogs, these past 5 months they’ve begun to sit out on our porch and watch the dogs interact,” said Brandy Nomad. “I understand if the location is not ideal, but please if its possible, to keep it open until the new park has been completed?”
Of the 35 area residents, there were four who said that they were against the dog parks. One of them is Amanda Scott, who said that she has concerns about the traffic, the smell, and the all-day noise, which is problematic for her husband who does shift work and sleeps during the day. She also noted that the new amenity in Peter Misersky has had a negative effect on other activities in the park.
“For years this had been the ONLY tobogganing hill anywhere close to the neighbourhood,” Scott said. “Many days after school and weekends with kids playing and having fun is no longer happening. My daughter is heartbroken. You can’t toboggan into a fence…”
“Our once quiet street and park became a muddy, noise ridden nightmare,” wrote Toni Gilchrist. “Our windows remained closed for the summer due to the constant barking, owners yelling at their dogs, clanging of gates, car exhaust and the smell of dog feces.”
While some don’t care for having a dog park in their area, others wish that a dog park was easily accessible in theirs. “I have heard many students say they wish they lived in those townhouses for convenience with the dog park,” said Erica Gibson, a veterinary student who also trains service dogs. “There will be many people who may not want to be there, but probably many others who would want to be there.”
“I feel as though the negative impacts of the Misersky Park have poisoned the Bristol Park,” explained Drew Thompson, who was looking forward to having a dog park in his neighbourhood. “I want to be able to walk to the dog park in my community to exercise my dog. I want to be able to interact with my neighbours at this park. I don’t want to face driving to the edge of town to exercise my dog.”
In 52 of the correspondences, the cost and expense of building the dog park and then dismantling it less than a year later was mentioned.
“What is going to happen with all the metal from the fence when/if it’s taken down? What a waste. A waste of resources and labour and city money…OUR tax money!” wrote Carolyn Ellis.
“These types of actions (knee-jerk/ rife with poor judgment/ costly) are why no one trust’s [sp?] their governments and you’re viewed so commonly as crooks,” said Craig Powers. “You’ve raised my taxes and then pissed away city money, for what? All in a learning effort? That’s how we’re justifying this irresponsible use of city money?”
Five of the correspondences explicitly mentioned John Farley, the area man who has been the most vocal about the dog park in Peter Misersky. All five of the correspondences accused Farley of being abusive and hostile when dealing with people using the dog park.
“My colleague from work walks his dog at night and he claimed that a guy at the corner of the complex (Mr. Farley’s unit) was out on his porch as he walked past and just started swearing at him and threatening him to not he entered the dog park,” wrote David Schwan.
“He is the real nuisance, if you ask me,” added Leslie Stewart about Farley. “I love to treat my pup to some fun in the park, but I am frequently deterred by the idea that the angry fool will be lurking in the wings.”
“I personally witnessed John Farley bullying patrons to leave the park AND vandalizing the park by removing the temporary gates,” said Rosanna Sartori. “He is hardly a credible citizen for he demonstrated that he believed he was above the law and had greater rights than others.”
Farley will be delegating again at Monday’s council meeting. He has a presentation attached to the consolidated agenda, but it does not address any of the accusations made about his comportment toward people using the park.
Many of the correspondences acknowledged that the concerns of Farley and other area residents may be valid and merit further consideration, but they also caution council about shutting down these amenities until new dog parks are established.
“I’m not asking for the Bristol street park to continue to be built, just please don’t take away the current park until there is another place to take our dogs,” said Sarah Hollands, a dog owner living downtown.
“Guelph is the only city of this size that didn’t already have a dog park. And now we are going to have to have to wait years to have one again and that is ridiculous,” added Laura Hill.
In addition to all the correspondences to council, Ashleigh Tennis will present a petition during her delegation from Change.org. The petition asking to keep the dog park at Peter Misersky has been has been signed by 4,738 people.
Monday’s regular meeting of City Council begins at 6:30 pm. Guelph Politico will be covering the meeting.