City closes off-leash dog area after dog suffers 'gruesome' injury

The photo on the left shows Rooster, a five-year-old husky mix, who was seriously hurt when he ran into a piece of metal debris while playing fetch at an off-leash area. The image of the right shows the piece of debris.  (Submitted by Glynn Pearson, Susan Smith  - image credit)
The photo on the left shows Rooster, a five-year-old husky mix, who was seriously hurt when he ran into a piece of metal debris while playing fetch at an off-leash area. The image of the right shows the piece of debris. (Submitted by Glynn Pearson, Susan Smith - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains a graphic photo and video of an injured dog.

Residents near a Calgary off-leash dog area are renewing concerns about the safety of the temporary green space after a dog's chest was sliced open last week on a piece of metal protruding from the frozen ground.

The city says it cleared the area prior to its opening in the spring, and did more cleaning over the summer. On Wednesday, the city closed the area until spring following inquiries from CBC News to the parks department and the area councillor. 

Concerned residents say that even after rounds of cleaning, dangerous debris remained in off-leash area. They questioned why it was still open to people and pets even after the dog was injured last Thursday.

"Parks seems to have the budget to clean up cycle paths in the winter, but we can't clean up debris," said Kevin Stanger, who raised concerns early on about the area. "I find it quite strange that they offer a park that's unsafe." 

WATCH | Kevin Stanger shows CBC News hazardous debris in off-leash area:

Stanger's concerns were heightened after a five-year-old husky mix named Rooster was seriously injured on a piece of debris at the off-leash dog area in the Aurora Business Park in northeast Calgary.

Last Thursday, Susan Smith, a dog walker with 15-years experience, was playing fetch with Rooster, one of her regulars, at the off-leash area, which is just south of 96th Avenue N.E., above Nose Creek Parkway.

While Rooster was leaping after a ball, he fell into what Smith described as a latticed piece of metal sticking out from the snow-covered ground. When Rooster limped back to Smith, she noticed blood on his leg.

Submitted by Susan Smith
Submitted by Susan Smith

"I bent down to investigate, and I saw that his whole chest was opened," she said.

Smith called Rooster's owners and rushed him to a veterinary clinic, where workers told her to go to a nearby veterinary hospital due to the severity of Rooster's wound.

"It was horrible," Smith said, describing the wound as "the most gruesome thing you've ever seen."

Days later, Smith returned to the off-leash area with caution tape. She had planned to mark off the metal object, but she noticed that the city had already put up orange plastic fencing around it.

Concerns raised months before 

Before the off-leash area opened last spring, Stanger, a longtime resident of the nearby Coventry Hills neighbourhood, said he raised concerns with the city.

Stanger said he took several photos of potentially hazardous debris, saying there were objects ranging from barbed wire to rebar sticking out of the ground. He shared these images with CBC News.

One of the photos, he said, showed the object that Rooster would run into months later.

Stanger described the off-leash area as a former dumping site.

Kevin Stanger
Kevin Stanger

"I wouldn't walk a person there, never mind anything else," he said.

With his background as a health and safety environmental specialist, Stanger said he did an analysis of the area. He sent his findings to the city, suggesting the off-leash area be moved. He notified Coun. Jasmine Mian, who represents Ward 3.

In an interview with CBC News, Mian said she met with concerned residents over the summer and saw some of the objects in the off-leash area. She immediately requested for crews to clean the area again. 

However, Stanger said a number of hazardous objects still remained after the summer cleaning, noting some were later obscured by tall grass.

Over $3,000 in vet bills 

Rooster was at the veterinary hospital for more than a day, and underwent surgery for roughly three hours, his owners, Glynn Pearson and Catherine Laing, told CBC News.

The couple said Rooster, whom they describe as an "athletic" and "fun-loving" dog, is expected to survive, although his recovery will take weeks.

The family's vet bills are around $3,000, and they will have to return to the hospital in the coming days to get a tube removed and, later, some stitches.

Submitted by Glynn Pearson
Submitted by Glynn Pearson

The couple said they'd like to see the city cover their veterinary bills.

Mian said she couldn't speak on any legal matters between the family and the city, but she expressed her condolences over what happened to Rooster.

"Unfortunately, there's always risks with these types of areas," she said. "There's always concerns around folks dumping, so we'll have to do some analysis to see what's appropriate going forward."

The off-leash area was closed Wednesday, after the CBC asked if the object that injured Rooster had been removed. 

"The area has been fenced off until removal [of the hazard] is complete," the city said in a statement, adding: "We are conducting additional visual inspections of the park to ensure no additional hazards exist and will be closing the off-leash area until such time we can determine if the off-leash area should re-open."

Alan Joiner, a community specialist with Calgary Parks, said on Tuesday that crews were unable to remove the object immediately because it was stuck in the frozen ground.

He explained that before the area was opened to the public last spring, crews went through and cleaned it. He also said there were rounds of cleaning at Mian's request in the summer. 

"So, obviously, when we've been in there … we satisfied ourselves that there weren't any hazards that were unacceptable to users," he said.

As for the object that wounded Rooster, he said that it was "hidden away for some time" and "exposed itself in a pretty unfortunate way."

Looking forward 

Mian said she plans to meet with residents about the off-leash area, saying "all options are on the table."

The councillor said residents have asked for years for more off-leash areas, and this spot met the criteria. She explained that she'd like to see the off-leash area fully cleaned up so it could be utilized until the space is eventually developed.

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

"It's incredibly sad what's happened, and we'll work to make sure we review this type of risk in the future," she said. 

Rooster's owners say they want to see the the remaining debris removed, noting the object that hurt their dog could have also posed a risk to a child or cyclist. 

"Our city has an obligation to ensure that our public spaces remain safe," Laing said.