Sunday, October 11, 2009

Scenes from a dog park - 7

Is there such a thing as Thanksgiving Eve? There should be as a lot of people I know are celebrating the holiday with friends and family tonight, Sunday, the day before Thanksgiving proper up here in Canada.

It's a gorgeous day for Thanksgiving Eve. The sun is out in strength like it hasn't been for a while now. The air is cool and fresh. Leaves are starting to fall and right now they're at the point where they're still decorative on our sidewalks and yards and not yet the cause of more raking and bagging and disposing.

I brought Stella to the park behind Medieval Times by the CNE grounds this morning, something which I don't do very often anymore because we've been mostly leash walking these days. When Stella is off leash she just stands around or sniffs a few spots or grazes on grass - and that's not enough exercise and like most of us city folk, she needs her exercise.

The park used to be an unofficial off leash park and it's ideal for that. It's totally fenced in and except for a few weeks in August when the CNE turns it into a parking lot, only people with dogs ever use it. I say it used to be an unofficial off-leash park because in the last month it's become an official on-leash park with signs posted up indicating that compliance with the by-law is mandatory.

I'm not sure how much the new signage has impacted on the usage of the park by dog owners but when I was there this morning, no one else was there. In fact, when I walk by it on most mornings now, I hardly ever see anyone. The park isn't always heavily trafficked but you can usually count on there being a few dogs running around especially on a great weather day like today.

I started bringing Stella to the park the first year I got her. It was an overgrown field back then, a bit of a dump and unused, with fencing that was falling over. A fellow dog walker and I started going in there and letting our dogs have the run of the place because even though the fencing wasn't perfect, it kept our dogs contained and safe. Pretty soon, other people began bringing their dogs in as well and soon there were maybe 6 or 7 of us fairly consistently using the place. A couple of months into it, though, CNE security chained up the one entrance gate and we were locked out.

Not wanting to give up on the park, a few of us found out who was in charge of the place and talked to them and eventually got them to open up the park for us again. The CNE even went so far as to fix up the fencing, put in additional exit gates and started maintaining the field on a regular basis. It was all pretty nice, idyllic even, a worry free bit of fully fenced in parkland for dogs in a city where something like that is almost impossible to come by.

It may have been tempting and easy enough to keep the park a secret - after all, it was out of the way and no one really knew about it except for the handful of us - but instead we spread the word that it was open and that it was a great place for dogs to go off-leash without the owners having to worry about runaway dogs or traffic or parents with small children.

It may have been tempting to keep the park a secret and maybe we should have. The place became quite popular and along with increased usage, came problem users, not many, but enough. One professional dog walker used to come by with her eight or ten dogs, let them through the gate and then spend the next 10 or 15 minutes talking on her cell phone, eating her Egg McMuffin breakfast while her dogs crapped all over the place. She'd make an effort to pick some of it up but she missed a lot of it. Another guy used to unload his dozen dogs into the park and shout marching orders at them like some army sergeant, which the dogs would for the most part ignore, and it was all quite entertaining in a that's kind of fucked up behaviour sort of way for the rest of us as we watched. As his dogs crapped, he'd bag the stuff and then long distance throw them in the direction of one of the exit gates with the intention of gathering them up on his way out. I'd never seen flying blue bags of shit before that and wouldn't even have cared much except that inevitably the guy would miss a bag or two on his way out and then someone else would have to pick up after him.

It wasn't just the professional dog walkers, though. There were also dog owners who started showing up who wouldn't pick up after their dogs. It only takes one or two like that to ruin the park for everyone else. One dog, two craps a day over the course of a year - that's over 700 piles of crap and that's enough to turn any clean park into a poop minefield.

There were other problems as well, like aggressive dogs running loose, dog fights, dog owner politics, ticket happy Toronto Parks and Rec Officers - including one who exhibited clear signs of stalking female dog owners. Most of these problems, though, got sorted out and certainly there was nothing happening there that any other dog park in Toronto didn't face.

Over the years, most of the original group of dog owners disappeared. Last year, the friend who first started using the park with Stella and myself moved to another part of Toronto. By that point, I wasn't really using the park very much anymore either, only occasionally stopping in at the end of a walk and only for a few minutes to let Stella say hello to some familiar faces.

This past summer, the park gates were locked up again. I made a few phone calls to the CNE only to find that the person I used to deal with about park issues was no longer there and no one seemed to know who exactly was in charge anymore. Eventually, I got connected with someone in marketing of all things and was told that the park was locked due to the city workers' strike. Another dog owner made a few calls as well and was told the park was locked up because it was too filthy with dog feces - which it wasn't.

I suggested we get a group organized to try to get the bottom of this and we managed to get a few names together on an e-mail list but that's about as far as it went. No one really seemed that interested in making any phone calls or doing any digging on how to get the park back and I didn't want to be the point person on this because I hardly used the park anymore.

The CNE came and went and sometime in mid September, the locks were taken off the gates but the new leash law signs went up. There's not much point in bringing a dog to a fenced in park if the dog has to stay on-leash. It's no different from any other place in Toronto. It's about as helpful as bringing our dogs to the library. Locking the gates to the park for over a month, drove all the dog owners away. Now the by-law enforcement policy seems to be keeping them away.

So, there I was with Stella, standing in the middle of a nicely manicured little park, with the sun out and a cool breeze announcing the arrival of fall. Stella grazed a bit, every so often looking up to the gate to see if anyone was coming in. No one else came in.


Social Mange said...

Typical City of Toronto under Miller anti-animal behaviour.

Lynda said...

That's too bad - especially since my danes are deaf and I prefer fenced-in areas for them. **sigh**

Sara said...

We miss that park, but for most of the reasons you mentioned we started going to Trinity Bellwoods... that and Mr. Brown found the escape route to the garbage bins behind Liberty Grand.