Downtown going to the dogs?

City seeks input for downtown off-leash dog park

Downtown dog owners may soon have another spot to let their beloved fido frolic. 

The City of Winnipeg is seeking input from residents on a potential off-leash dog park in downtown Winnipeg. Through a survey, the city is asking what area would best serve a dog park and what it should feature.

“The consultation that is happening now is about gathering input about where it should go, what residents think and need and idea of where it could go,” Jenny Gerbasi, Winnipeg city councillor and member of the Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development, says.

“This is an initiative of Mayor Brian Bowman’s. He ran on creating a downtown dog park in the election.” 

The city will follow up the survey with an in-person event to update the public on project progress in early 2016. 

Executive director of the Downtown BIZ, Stefano Grande feels optimistic about the forthcoming project and thinks it’s necessary. 

“When you listen to residents that are buying or leasing, clearly they want amenities and services as part of their neighbourhood. Things like parks are really important… lots of residents have dogs now. A dog park will be a great amenity to have, it will provide service for downtown residents,” Grande says. 

The city believes a designated space for dogs downtown could make dog ownership more accessible in the neighbourhood, help encourage downtown living and attract people to the city’s core, but it may not be right for every dog and dog owner.

Robin D. Smyth is a Winnipeg dog owner and a volunteer for thepackproject.ca, a non-profit organization based in Regina, Sask. that provides animal welfare outreach, youth education, therapy dog outreach and dog rescue services.

As a dog owner, Smyth believes off-leash dog parks can be a place of trouble. Personal experiences have cut down her visits at off-leash dog parks.

“Dog parks can be a really good place for dogs to go. But I don’t think people know how to behave while they’re in them,” Smyth says.

“People think that their dogs are going to get along and that is not necessarily true.”

There are people who don’t or can’t read the behaviour of dogs which can result in dog fights. Smyth’s last experience at the dog park has resulted in her not going back.

“There was a very dominant male dog trying to mount my dog and she had her head down, she was averting her gaze, those are signs of fear and she wanted help,” Smyth says. 

“The owner of the male dog was not cooperative during the incident (and) refused to help.”

While a space to run free may be an important consideration for many dog owners, basic training can also go a long way to improving a dog’s public demeanour.

Val Poulton, the behaviour intake manager at The Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS) and certified professional dog trainer, is teaching a class which will focus on training leash-reactive dogs at the WHS.

“We use systematic desensitization and counterconditioning to change the dog’s emotion (behaviour) toward a trigger that has caused the dog to bark and lunge during walks,” Poulton says.

Training at the WHS has been requested by owners who need help with their dogs, both on and off leash.

“We’ve been contacted by people expressing to help them deal with pet challenges,” Poulton says.

Published in Volume 70, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2016)

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