Delenn Kershaw knows her dog parks.
The dog walker seeks out Humber Bay Park West because of its nice off-leash area with beautiful waterfront trails nearby. On this morning, she's out with pups Walter and Riley, headed to the dog park in South Etobicoke.
But it's not the norm when it comes to Toronto's dog-friendly amenities. So news that this week a city committee recommended Toronto pursue a new approach to building and maintaining its dog parks is welcome, she said.
"The nature space here is quite beautiful," Kershaw said. "And I know a lot of people, even from High Park area, they come from quite far to go here."
Joan Alexander is one of those dog park commuters. She drives 25-30 minutes from her home near Weston Road and Highway 401 to make the trip to Humber Bay Park West.
The people are friendly and the park is well-maintained. It also has a wooded area for dogs to play in and explore, she said.
Other city dog parks just don't measure up, Alexander said.
"They're just plain open fields with gravel or grass, fenced in," she said. "We can do that in our backyard."
Toronto has 75 off-leash areas with most in and around the downtown area. But some city wards have none. Coun. Chris Moise, who represents Ward 13, Toronto Centre, is behind the push to create a dog park master plan.
The city is home to an estimated 300,000 dogs and there aren't enough off-leash areas to meet surging demand, he said. And with the concentration of those parks in the city centre, people in suburban Toronto often have to travel to access one. He says that isn't an option for everyone, which can lead to conflict.
"Right now, because there's not enough off-leash dog parks in the city, we find dog owners have their dogs in school grounds and other spaces they probably should not be," he said.
Moise says the city's approach to locating, developing and designing off-leash parks is ad hoc. It requires more coordination and a look at what other Canadian cities are doing right, he said.
Right now, developing a new dog park in Toronto costs approximately $500,000 to build. Moise is hopeful that an overarching plan can drive down costs.
"We build parks, we build different things, and there's a cost to it," he said. "Not doing anything, there's also a cost to that as well. So, I think in the long-term, we're actually saving money."
Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, who chairs the city's Infrastructure Committee, endorsed the request for a dog park master plan this week. The current process to get a dog park built in a neighbourhood is labour intensive for residents and often ends in frustration, she said.
Coun. Chris Moise is pushing the city to create and off-leash park master plan to help improve the quality of Toronto's dog parks. (Mark Boschler/CBC)
Neighbours are required to form their own committees, do their research, propose a site and then submit a plan to city staff. Often they're then told their plan doesn't work or the site isn't suitable, McKelvie said.
"We need city staff to say 'here are suitable locations' and then go out and do the engagement," she said. "So, just flipping it around."
Councillor Dianne Saxe voted for Moise's motion and acknowledges that the request comes at a time when the city is facing a severe budget crunch. But creating the master plan doesn't commit the city to new spending, she said.
"We're not talking about spending millions of dollars building things," she said. "We're talking about planning what to do. And having a plan, to me, is almost always a good idea."
Ultimately, city council will have final approval over the master plan at its next meeting in October. If it gets the go-ahead, Delenn Kershaw says Toronto wouldn't have to look far to find a ways to improve its current off-leash areas.
She points to Mississauga, which has separated areas for small and large dogs at its off-leash parks and taps for drinking water on hot days. These little things could go a long way toward improving current city dog parks, she said.
"There should be more amenities and maybe (locating) them a bit better. ….I think that there definitely should be more."