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The Weather Network
Aug. 19, 2018 | Sunday
Local News
Dog park would encourage healthy, active lifestyle — and not just for the dogs
Betty Knight and her Australian shepherd Lizzy. (Richard Harley)

In this day of municipalities recognizing the importance of healthy lifestyles, a dog park could be considered an option to encourage residents to become more active.

Particularly in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with its large population of seniors and dogs, says Betty Knight, a dog owner who would love to be able to let Lizzy, her Australian shepherd run free in a safe environment.

A house is not a home without a dog, says Knight, and her eight-year-old rescue dog requires a lot of exercise.

"She loves to get out and run free. A tired dog is a happy dog, and happy dog, happy family."

Lizzy is living a retirement life, which includes walking on a leash, "but she would love to run and play and interact with other dogs."

Knight says socializing is as important as exercise, both for dogs and owners, especially seniors.

"Both would help promote health and safety, for dogs and their owners."

Knight has found a popular location where dog owners take their pets to run free, but it's not an officially sanctioned off-leash site and has to be visited early, before the "the rest of the world wakes up."

While Parks Canada has provided an area on the Common for dogs to run off-leash, it's not fenced, and the space is shared by pedestrians and cyclists, including families with kids, which is not the best situation for the safety of all who use it, she says.

"It's not the dogs or the kids' fault, but it's a situation that is set up for failure. I'd like to see something set up for success."

A fenced-off area, she says, is necessary for the safety of all.

Volunteers would likely be involved in helping to maintain the property, and dog owners are pretty responsible when it comes to cleaning up after their pets, she says.

As for location, that's for the Town to decide, Knight says, but she would encourage the topic of a dog park to be added to the Town's website's Join the Conversation, allowing residents the opportunity to weigh in on where they would like to see it located.

"We have to trust our elected officials to make a sound, prudent judgement, taking into account the needs of the community, including accessibility for seniors."

But she hopes the Town will embrace the idea of a dog park, to benefit not only canine members of the municipality but the dog owners.

"In this day and age we tend to spend a lot of times indoors in front of screens, instead of outdoors in nature. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for man and beast alike to be more active and spend more time in the fresh air. The more we can provide opportunities for people to do that the healthier we'll be as a society."

She is supporting Coun. Betty Disero's efforts to investigate a dog park, believing it would be a valuable addition to the municipality.

Disero said she has had several requests from residents in the last two to three years, but when she's approached Town staff, "they weren't keen on the idea."

She made a motion at the recent council meeting to have it considered in the recreation master plan, which is expected to be looked at next year.

She told councillors a og park in a confined area would eliminate safety issues for children who use the recreational paths for cycling, and may be frightened by dogs. 

"Some municipalities provide dog parks that are clean and provide an opportunity for separation and socialization of canines."

She said a dog park would also help neighbours who complain about dog owners letting dogs "go on their front lawns."

Coun. Terry Flynn said he'd like to see Glendale, an area that has lots of dogs, be considered for a test project for a dog park. 

While some residents have suggested the Virgil sports park as the preferred location, Disero left that for staff to sort out, with public consultation.

Coun. Maria Bau-Coote recalled a previous discussion with an earlier council and asked for a review of that discussion.

"This is a new term, a new era - it's time to get new information," said Lord Mayor Pat Darte, who then agreed the information from the 2011 staff report could be reviewed.

At that time, the 2011 report shows, a resident asked for a portion of the Virgil sports park, the area referred to as the corral, to be fenced for dogs. The space was created by the Virgil Business Association for the horse show that was an annual event of the Virgil Stampede in its early years, followed by the mud bog and now the site of a demolition derby. The location was not found suitable by parks and recreation staff, citing its proximity to the pavilion which is used in the summer by families for picnicking and socializing. The cost of a steel fence and gates was also a concern, along with the ongoing maintenance required by town staff, and no other location was considered. Council endorsed the staff recommendation against a dog park at that time.

Coun. Martin Mazza, who was on council during the earlier discussion, said "it was a different term of council, different staff, different CAO and different philosophies. There is nothing wrong with having another look at it, to see if anything has changed."

Council unanimously supported Disero's motion to have a dog park considered in the town's recreation master plan as a research item, including looking at potential locations.

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