NORTH PERTH – It’s been eight years since the idea of a dog park was first considered by North Perth staff. Finally, it seems like it could become reality if residents come out to support the project.
At the March 15 council meeting, Manager of Programs Amy Gangl presented a report on guidelines for the development of the dog park. The idea of a North Perth Dog Park has been talked about since at least January 2013 when the development of a dog park was removed from the parks and recreation capital projects budget at the request of council.
Since that time residents have shown interest in having a dedicated off-leash area for dogs.
In May 2018 council received “a persuasive letter” from a local requesting a dog park be built. Later that year staff brought a North Perth Dog Park Report to council and a delegation representing a citizens group calling itself Wag ‘N’ Tails Dog Park Inc. requested the municipality donate one acre of land near the Steve Kerr Memorial Complex (SKMC) for the establishment of a dog park.
Council directed staff to prepare another report to identify municipal lands that could be available, the financial implications to the municipality and conceptual structure and regulations regarding the implementation and operation of a dog park in North Perth for council consideration.
In December 2019 staff met with a member of Wag ‘N’ Tails Dog Park Inc. to discuss options for dog park locations. Staff did a site tour of the general area located north of the SKMC property. The proposed area has a naturally-developed water source as well as dryland areas for dogs to run.
The area is larger than the requested one acre to accommodate small and large dog areas and minimize crowding opportunities which could increase stress and tension in dogs.
Staff has drafted terms of reference and rules for the North Perth Dog Park which were reviewed by Wag ‘N’ Tails Dog Park Inc who expressed their involvement would only be with fundraising to build the dog park. Once completed, they would step down from their director roles and invite other members of the community to be part of a group that would represent the park’s users and their dogs.
When the pandemic hit, staff priorities were required elsewhere and it was agreed it was not a good time to focus on the park.
The municipality kept in touch with Wag ‘N’ Tail Dog Park Inc. but last July, staff were advised the directors were relocating to another community to be closer to their family and the group was dissolved. They donated the $892.50 in funds raised to the municipality and have been set in reserves to go towards a future dog park.
In January the topic of dog parks arose again during the public engagement process for the Listowel Memorial Arena Park redevelopment survey. This prompted further discussions among staff.
Emphasis has been put on creating a healthy dog park culture. According to Gangl’s report, the momentum of a healthy dog park culture will continue to grow but an unhealthy dog park culture develops problems. A healthy dog park culture includes the positive behaviour of both owners and their dogs.
The 2017 parks and recreation master plan indicated 47 per cent of respondents supported additional municipal spending on a dog park, 31 per cent were neutral and 21 per cent were opposed.
An alternative to a dog park is to consider designating some open spaces as off-leash areas. Though this would reduce capital and operating costs, the safety of the community would not be the same compared to a fenced-in, off-leash dog park.
Coun. Allan Rothwell raised concerns about resident involvement in the park since Wag ‘N’ Tail Dog Park Inc. has dissolved.
“Are there any others that are dog owners who are any semblance of a group that would step forward?” he asked.
Gangl said that the first rule in the guidelines is that a community group must be established.
“We’ve identified what their roles and responsibilities are,” she said. “So community members must come together and they must decide that they are going to put this effort in and be a good partnership with the municipality for this to even exist.”
She said when she brings further information back in April she can make it clear that is key criteria regarding the establishment of the park.
"Hopefully those dog owners will step forward to help us get a dog park in the community,” said Rothwell.
Mayor Todd Kasenberg said he would like to see more information in the next report about the implication of a dog park on bylaw enforcement. He also said he agrees with Rothwell’s concerns about a citizen’s group to partner in the responsibilities surrounding the dog park.
CAO Kriss Snell said one of the issues he has discussed with Gangl is what the responsibilities of community members would be in starting a dog park.
“I think that is our struggle at this point because when Amy meets with community groups we want to make sure we have a clear distinction in what they will be responsible for doing,” he said.
Kasenberg said it made sense to him to approve suggested guidelines as terms of reference for a community group so the project can move forward.
“I think it’s closer to a catch-22,” said Coun. Julie Behrns. “How do we get a community committee to start taking a look at a dog park? Do we do it before we’ve set guidelines which says we were approving in principle?”
She said it would be fine if Gangl brought more information back in April.
“We already know through many surveys there are some people out there who are interested… but there is nothing stopping people out there in the community from forming a group to bring a presentation to council,” said Behrns.
Council unanimously passed a motion accepting the report on guidelines for a dog park and requesting Gangl to bring back further information on the project in April, specifically concerning bylaw enforcement at the dog park.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner