Off-leash areas to be in by summer's end

[attach]4634[/attach]Dogs at Earl Bales and G. Ross Lord parks are getting a new leash on life — by getting rid of the leash.

The city is moving ahead with plans to install off-leash areas in both parks, Earl Bales by the end of the summer and G. Ross Lord during the fall.

“I think off-leash areas are great because it’s very important for dogs to socialize and they can do that there in a safe environment,” says Sylvia Schwab, who visits Earl Bales with her husband Dirk to walk their dog, Sandy.

They started coming to the park after the off-leash area closer to where they live, in Ledbury Park, was [url=]put down by the city[/url] at the end of June.

The city received the original proposals from dog owners’ groups in January 2010 for Earl Bales and August 2010 for G. Ross Lord.

Meetings for public consultation were held in February of this year, and resulted in the city doubling the size of the Earl Bales off-leash area.

At Earl Bales, a 5,550 square metre segment of grass surrounded by trees has been selected, while at G. Ross Lord a 3,680 square metre area will include 75 metres of trail.

There are currently 48 off-leash areas in Toronto, but only four in North York.

Like the Schwabs, local dog owners Harvey Jacobson and Bruce Stewart are excited about the new addition.

“I think it’d be an excellent idea if you could do that everywhere but you can’t,” Jacobson says.

While he says he might not use the space with his dog, a “Heinz 57” mutt named Queenie, that’s not out of a lack of support.

“The only reason I wouldn’t let her off-leash, even in an off-leash area, is because when I want to go home, I want to go home,” he exclaims. “She comes back when she wants to.”

Stewart says he can’t see a reason to object.

“I don’t know why there’s an issue in establishing an off-leash area because there’s plenty of room for everybody,” he says.

Dog owner Jackie Perron moved to the Bathurst and Sheppard area just to be close to Earl Bales, for her and her two dogs’ sakes.

But she’s more hesitant about how valuable the new doggy destinations will be.

“It depends where it is. If it’s just a fenced off square area that’s in the beaten sun I don’t see any good to it then,” she says.

While the city is aware of dog owners’ desire to make off-leash area designs more than just a patch of grass, there are many challenges to doing so, says the city’s Director of Parks Richard Ubbens.

“We want to make sure that we’re not working against our natural heritage policies and our practices for enhancing the natural space of Toronto,” he says.

“And then we’re also looking at protecting individual trees.”

Ubbens says that converting or adding trails to off-leash areas is expensive, in terms of fencing and upkeep, and goes against the city’s policy of trying to keep already-stressed ravine areas natural.

“You don’t think of those things, but we do have to think of those things,” he says.

A response to a question in the minutes from the public meetings says the city didn’t consult a dog behaviourist in creating the off-leash areas.

But Ubbens says the city still draws on its own experts, and reviews plans with the dog owners’ associations.

“It’s not just slapped together, it’s a design process.”