Home Accessibility Are Dogs Safe at Dog Parks in Toronto?

Are Dogs Safe at Dog Parks in Toronto?

Dog owners raise concerns about dog parks in the city after one dog is severely injured and another dies.

by Steven Buttar
A photo of a dog park featuring a small dog looking back at a blue statue of a dog.
Allan Gardens Dog Park is one of many dog parks in Toronto. (TMU/Amulyaa Dwivedi)

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A Toronto dog owner is mourning his service dog’s death from ingesting drugs she found in the dirt at a Toronto dog park. Christopher Dabweed and his dog Maxine were frequent visitors at the Barbara Hall Dog Park just outside of The 519 community center. 

According to a CityNews story from Sept. 2023, Toronto hosts “75 off-leash dog areas” for “a city of almost 300,000 dogs.”

On March 29, Dabweed and Maxine went to the park to get in some playtime as well as exercise.

Dabweed and Maxine were doing laps around the park to get in some exercise when Maxine started to choke on something. Dabweed is partially sighted and suffers from hearing loss; he assumed Maxine picked up a stick and told her to throw it away. However, when she stopped in her tracks Dabweed sensed there was something wrong and shouted for help. Maxine was taken to an emergency animal hospital and was pronounced dead by veterinary staff within an hour of admission.

Hospital staff told Dabweed that Maxine ingested Methamphetamine, a synthetic drug that often comes in crystal, powder or pill form. Dabweed was left traumatized and saddened by the event. 

“I’m in shock, I don’t know how to grasp the fact Maxine is gone. I’m partially sighted and suffer from hearing loss. Maxine was my eyes and ears, I wish I could go back in time and avoid the situation altogether,” said Dabweed. 

Similarly, Marcello Balenzano also experienced a frightening event at Allan Gardens Dog Park when he took his dog Gracie to the park, which has multiple encampments. Gracie’s paw was punctured by a syringe on the ground, and she was prescribed antibiotics and injections for her injury.  

“I can’t even take my dog to the dog park, which is intended for dogs, because of the trash such as syringes,” said Balenzano. “The city is not doing anything about the homeless encampments that have absolutely destroyed the park and made it unsafe.” 

Encampments have been common at Allan Gardens and other parks across the city.

Marty is an Allan Gardens resident and lives in one of the tents in the city. He says although he acknowledges and sympathizes with dog owners like Dabweed and Balezano he says there is a much bigger issue to look at.

“I feel bad for those dogs who have been injured because the park was unsafe or dirty. I’m a recovering crack addict myself and have seen people just throw their broken pipes or needles in the dog park grounds because they’re not in the right head-space. But we need housing, we need jobs, we need mental health care,” said Marty.

The 519 is one of many organizations trying to tackle the housing crisis as well as offer support groups for those dealing with substance or alcohol issues.

In their 2022 annual report, titled ‘Bringing it home’ the organization launched a new shelter program in partnership with the City of Toronto and Homes First Society for those who are struggling with housing, especially those from marginalized communities such as 2SLGBTQ+ community. 

“That’s great that places like the 519 are helping, the rise of homeless folks and drug use is always rising. We need resources, again I don’t wish anyone’s dog is harmed because of these issues,” said Marty.

In an emailed statement to OTR, a spokesperson for the city of Toronto wrote, “Residents are encouraged to connect with 311 to report garbage, hazardous materials and safety concerns so that the appropriate staff can be notified to attend to the issue. The City provides regular outreach services to individuals in encampments, including offering debris and waste removal, with the goal of keeping people safe while working to connect individuals with permanent housing and simultaneously working to ensure all community members are able to enjoy city parks.” 

Last fall, Toronto City Council adopted a motion – ‘Citywide Approach to Dogs Off-Leash Areas’ asking the city for better fencing around dog parks to address safety concerns. A report will be directed back to city officials later this year with more information.

Although dog owners like Dabweed and Balenzano sympathize with those who are dealing with homelessness and addiction issues, they are calling on city officials to do more to make the parks safe as well as help those in need.

Steven Buttar is a fourth year journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University. He is working with On The Record for his last semester of journalism school.

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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