Boom in dog ownership creates conflict with neighbours, pressure for more off-leash dog parks

·3 min read
The demand for pet adoption skyrocketed during the pandemic and in the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver off-leash dog space was already at a premium.  (Shutterstock / Stanimir G.Stoev - image credit)
The demand for pet adoption skyrocketed during the pandemic and in the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver off-leash dog space was already at a premium. (Shutterstock / Stanimir G.Stoev - image credit)

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Dog adoptions skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and in Vancouver, which already has limited off-leash green parks for pups to play on, pet owners in one particular neighbourhood are struggling to find suitable space to exercise their animals.

There are almost 40 dog parks in the city and in 2017, the Vancouver Park Board estimated there were about 55,000 dogs in their People, Parks and Dogs Strategy which sets out a framework to accommodate park users with and without dogs while minimizing conflict.

By calculating something called the "dog density factor," which is the number of dogs relative to the size of the neighbourhood they live in, and then calculating the amount of off-leash space in that area, Mt. Pleasant comes up as the most under-served neighbourhood.

According to 2017 statistics, the neighbourhood, nestled in the centre of the city with Main Street at its core, had 500 square meters of off-leash dog space for an estimated 30,000 dogs.

Now, factor in that the B.C. SPCA saw a significant spike in adoptions in 2020 and that space is likely to be even more squeezed.

As a consequence, people are letting their dogs off leash in parks where doing so is not permitted, which can cause conflict between park users.

A popular spot for dog owners to let their animals off leash is at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. The Vancouver School Board permits people to use the grounds before and after school hours, but pets are supposed to be leashed.

Kirk Perris told CBC he was walking to the school grounds on a December night with his four-year-old son when an unleashed dog "just came out of nowhere" and chased his child.

"He was very traumatized by it," said Perris, who rallied together some parents of students at the school after the incident and formed a committee to find a long-term solution for concerned parents and pet owners.

Veronika Khvorostukhina
Veronika Khvorostukhina

The committees proposed solution is not to point fingers, but to build a fenced-in dog park.

"Building a dog park in the area, ideally on the school grounds, will lead to stronger community within Mt. Pleasant," said Perris.

And right now, some area residents are leaving the community daily to find suitable space for their animals.

Jessica Kim and Nariman Mousavi have two large dogs and Kim said they bought a car to be able to drive their dogs to off-leash parks for exercise because there is nowhere appropriate nearby where they live in Mt. Pleasant.

The couple now drive twice a day out of the neighbourhood to give their animals space to run.

Veronika Khvorostukhina
Veronika Khvorostukhina

Theresa Weaver, another neighbourhood resident, told CBC she takes her dog to China Creek North Park on East 7th Avenue, which is not an official off-leash park but people have started using it as one.

The closest sanctioned park where she could let her dog off leash is half an hour away at Trout Lake Park on Victoria Drive and Weaver says there is no time to go there and back on her 30 minute lunch break.

Vancouver Park Board senior planner Erin Embley, who manages the People, Parks and Dogs Strategy, says there are plans in the works to add more off-leash space in Mt. Pleasant at Jonathan Rogers Park on West 7th Avenue.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"We support and recognize all the benefits of people in parks with their dogs and the health for them and the community building that happens," said Embley.

"It brings people a lot of joy and so we want to be proactive ... but we have to be careful and go through our process," said Embley.

Five other neighbourhoods were identified in the 2017 strategy as being in need of more park access for dogs based on the number of licensed dogs, the population density and predicted population growth. They include Kitsilano, downtown, the West End, Fairview and Grandview-Woodland.

LISTEN | Langara Journalism Read-Mercer Fellowship winner Veronika Khvorostukhina talks to The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn about the need for more puppy play space in Vancouver:

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