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Jul. 31, 2021 | Saturday
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Letter: Off-leash dog park should remain on Commons
Letter to the editor

Dear editor:

I saw the article on the review of the Commons' off-leash dog area in the latest edition of The Lake Report. This is the first indication I have had that such a review is under way.  I did not see the signs reported in the article to have been posted

When we moved to Niagara-on-the Lake in mid-2002, I was advised that there was an “unofficial" off-leash area for dogs at the Commons.

As it was described to me, the off-leash area consisted of the access road off John Street East up to the footpath roughly paralleling John Street East up to the asphalt footpath joining John Street and Queen's Parade.  The off-leash area was deemed to be between the trees bordering the access road and the footpath, but in the absence of activity on the fields in the area, they could be used as well.  

There is nothing of visual or historic interest that can be accessed using the dog park area, the footpath and road aren’t ideal for wheelchairs, walkers or strollers of any sort and they are not a shortcut between things that are of interest.  

The asphalt pathways around the Commons and Fort George are likely about three times as long as the dog park area and are closer to historic attractions in the area, so the current location for dog exercise is a very good one.

I walked my dog in this area and occasionally into the Paradise Grove wooded area every day until late 2008 when our dog died. We moved to St. Davids at the end of that year.  

None of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Parks Canada or the Niagara Parks Commission has any green space in St. Davids suitable for either on or off-leash dog exercising, so I resumed visiting the Commons in 2017 up to three to four times per week to walk our current dog.  So I have about 10 years of experience and observation to bring to the table.

My walks on the Commons normally occur in late afternoon, so the time varies slightly with the season. The large majority of the dogs that I observe tend to be what I call small, i.e. under 23 kilograms (50 pounds).

 Those of us with dogs in this size range choose our walk times with coyotes in mind, largely because coyotes pose a threat to our animals, not the reverse. Even the owners of larger dogs are careful, because if coyotes are hunting on space they share with us, sightings tend to be in multiple numbers, not singles.  

In 10 years of observation, I have only once seen a domesticated dog start to chase a coyote.  The event lasted a few seconds until the coyote disappeared into the trees. I have never seen deer chased by dogs. I would assess these types of events as rare.  

One thing that has changed recently is how Parks Canada maintains the grass fields on the Commons area. In the 2002-08 time frame, Parks Canada would cut all of the field to the west of the dog walk footpath and all or almost all of the field to the east of the footpath to the edge of Queen’s Parade at least twice per year.  

The more recent practice is to still cut all of the field to the west, but only about 25 metres of the field immediately to the east of the dog walk footpath. That has allowed bird nesting in tall grass to resume after a long period when it wasn’t suitable and for mammals to move undetected much closer to people using the gravel footpath.

I suspect that the decision to reduce the amount of the property where the grass height is kept low was an economic not an ecological decision. In the 2002-08 period, I never saw an unleashed dog come near a noisy mobile lawn mowing machine. In the 2017-21 time frame, I’ve never seen a mowing machine in operation.

And finally, a word about complaints.  It’s interesting that the number of complaints has risen because, anecdotally at least, neither the numbers of dog users and non-dog users observed by me at the time I use the dog walk has changed significantly since 2002.

 The only change I have noted is fewer non-dog walkers and a few more cyclists.

For the record, I haven’t seen any significant increase in foot or bicycle traffic on the asphalt covered footpaths that dog owners can only use if dogs are leashed. There’s plenty of room for everyone so far. The population growth in Old Town is one of the lowest amongst the five villages in the town and the Commons is not a tourist destination.  

Are these single complaints or multiple complaints by a few complainers? I’m also curious about whether the non-dog user complainers understood the signs posted at each end of the “unofficial" dog walk area.  And in cases where the answer is yes, it would be useful to know why they chose this particular route over the better ones that exist for casual walkers or bicyclists.

 “Littered with droppings” is not a particularly helpful comment either because it’s subjective. Again anecdotally, I cannot recall ever seeing more than a dozen droppings on a walk both ways on the entire footpath/access road and I confess to not having stopped to determine what percentage of my observations were indigenous animal droppings.

And I don’t count the disposable bags I see on my trips because, like others, I clean up after my dog but may leave the bag just off the trail for pickup on my return trip and deposit it in the container on the access road at John Street East.

I would be happy to participate in a discussion panel on this subject. This dog walk area has been in use for at least a quarter century. Dog users value it as much today as they did when it was first opened for such use.

Kenn Moody
St. Davids