Some Ottawa dog owners say they're running out of off-leash dog parks, as a popular but informal park on Lemieux Island will be closed while construction goes ahead on the Chief William Commanda Bridge.
There will be no public access to Lemieux Island as of Monday, and construction is authorized to last until July 2024.
Public spaces around the Lemieux Island Water Purification Plant will be used as staging areas and docks, while construction crews convert the decommissioned rail bridge into a pathway across the Ottawa River for cyclists and pedestrians.
"It seems like we're losing spaces for dogs in the neighbourhood," said Morgan Gallupe-Paton, who visits Lemieux Island several times a week with his partner Lauren McBeath and their beagle Mikey.
"At least for the next two years or so, it seems like there are going to be no spaces to let our dogs socialize and enjoy themselves."
The city installed signs in 2019 reminding dog owners to keep their pets on a leash, but many residents have continued to use Lemieux Island as an informal off-leash park.
"Lemieux Island is basically the only place we can take him and let him off-leash," said McBeath.
Petition gets hundreds of signatures
Many dog owners learned about the closure in a newsletter to constituents circulated by Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper in late August.
Some launched a petition in response, calling on the city to either reserve part of the island for dog owners or turn a piece of nearby land into a park.
The petition had garnered nearly 500 signatures as of Saturday night.
"Lemieux Island is one of very few dog parks in the city of Ottawa that includes water access," it reads. "Due to the recent closure of Laroche Park, citizens in and around the Hintonburg area are left with very few options."
Leiper told CBC News that when he was presented with the closure plan, both he and Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney urged the city to set aside part of the island available for public use.
"What we've been told is essentially the entire island will be a staging area for construction," he said.
CBC reached out to the City of Ottawa for comment but did not get a response in time for publication.
NCC declined alternative site, says Leiper
Leiper said he requested the National Capital Commission (NCC) change the designation of a nearby plot of green space north of Burnside Avenue in the Mechanicsville neighbourhood to allow for off-leash dog use, but the agency declined.
That particular lot is the subject of a controversial proposal to build a half-dozen embassies and accompanying parking space.
Leiper said he is now pushing the NCC to install snow fencing along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway to make it safer for dog owners who choose to let their dogs off leash there anyway.
Nearby alternatives include an off-leash area in the southern portion of Fairmont Park and a space for dogs at the Tom Brown Arena, said Leiper, but he expects many will still feel these alternatives are "a diminishment" of their experience.
Gallupe-Paton is one of them.
"We just want to give them [the dogs] the best experience in this neighbourhood as possible," he said.