by Dave McKague
My Dog Teaches … "Beware of Politicians"
The city of Toronto recently adopted a "People, Dogs and Parks Strategy". According to their spokesperson, the purpose is "to accommodate the canine population and have a consistent off-leash policy". Sounds laudable enough and something every dog owner could support.
But if you are a dog owner, I suggest that you get a copy of the People, Dogs and Parks Strategy – Staff Report from their website and read it. The actual intent is a far cry from the public relations line. It makes one think that we would all be much safer if we posted "Beware of Politician" signs rather than "Beware of Dog" signs.
In this report, they acknowledge that there are not nearly enough areas in the city of Toronto in which to let your dogs run free as nature intended.
They state that there are 1,470 parks in the city comprising 7,390 hectares (over 18,000 acres). Yet with all this parkland, there are only 32 areas in which you can legally let your dog run off-leash. There are none in the large municipalities of North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke. And of course, if you own a "pit bull" or any dog which an animal control officer thinks might look like one, there are zero areas in Toronto – or Ontario, for that matter – to do so.
If you do the math, about 2% of parks have areas in which to let your dog run free to get the exercise they need. When you consider further that most leash-free zones comprise a small fraction of the park, there is only an infinitesimal amount of space in which the estimated 250,000 dogs in the city are legally allowed to be off leash. (In Appendix 1 of the report, the leash-free areas were listed in a confusing mish-mash of square meters, acres, square feet and hectares. After doing the conversions and calculations, the best estimate I could come up with was that only about 0.5% or 1/200th of the available parkland was designated as leash-free. Some of the areas have limited hours, data for a couple of the areas were not listed and one area was reported as a linear distance along Lake Ontario, making exact calculations impossible.)
So after giving lip service to the fact that there are not enough leash-free areas and that the current ones are over-crowded and over-used … their solution? Possibly close some existing leash-free areas and spend over $1.1 Million to hire additional by-law enforcement officers to "rigorously enforce the by-laws". (No, I am not making that up; it’s in the document.)
When you consider that I have been approached three times by animal control officers in the last two years while playing fetch with Hunny (with no one else around), and that the only concern was whether or not I had my dog on a string, it makes one question the intent of increased enforcement. It certainly can’t be to improve public safety.
I checked with the city and discovered that there were 896 reported dog bites in Toronto in 2006. That is less than four out of every 100,000 people. Now, each one of these is regrettable but by no stretch of the imagination can this be construed as a major problem, especially since most of these bites would have resulted in minor injuries and could have been prevented with better education and training on dog safety.
Listening to the politicians and reading the newspapers, one could easily get the impression that dogs running loose in parks puts everyone in imminent danger, especially in those "over-crowded and over-used" leash-free areas (which by their logic, ought to be the most dangerous areas in the city). And yet just 44 of these 896 dog bites (5%) occurred in parks. (This confirms what every canine expert knows and every study shows; that the overwhelming majority of bites occur on the dog’s property and not in neutral territory such as a park.) From my observation of people and dogs in leash-free areas over the last three years, I would venture that the vast majority of these occurred trying to break up a fight between dogs.
So what do our city politician’s do? On the very last day before the summer recess and several weeks after telling us that they did not have money in the budget to implement it, they passed the "People, Dogs and Parks Strategy", including the $1.1 Million for hiring new by-law enforcement officers. (For the record, that is over $26,000 per dog bite.)
Will it improve public safety? Not a chance. But what might work is if we all became more vigilant and put our politicians on short leashes.
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." H. L. Mencken
Previous "Petitorial" articles by David McKague:
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