A new lobby group says it will be nipping at the candidates' heels in the run-up to Winnipeg's municipal election this fall.
The Winnipeg Network of Dog Owner Groups, or WINDOG, wants the campaign to go, literally, to the dogs.
Donna Henry, the driving force behind it, said WINDOG will be an umbrella group for dog park clubs throughout the city.
Its goal is to lobby on behalf of dog parks, but for the first six months, the focus will be on tracking candidates' records on dog park issues.
Henry said WINDOG wants to fill city council with dog-friendly candidates.
"Absolutely," she said. "A dog-friendly mayor and council is what we're looking for."
Henry, who cut her teeth on park management with Parks Canada in northern Manitoba and Yukon, has brought $20,000 worth of park improvements, such as benches and wheelchair accessible picnic tables, to Kilcona Park.
That's where you can usually find her, with her two Samoyeds, Terra, 14, and Hudson, eight.
"They're our kids," she said. "They're our 'fur' children."
Henry said other parks deserve the same amenities, yet many are under pressure from developers, transit plans and other plans that favour other park users at the expense of off-leash areas.
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"Look at the amount of green space in the city of Winnipeg," she said.
"We have 4,000 hectares of parkland here. Only three per cent of that is off-leash dog space. And when you look at it, it's some of the worst land in the city. [They're] built on garbage dumps. They're built in industrial areas."
Henry said no one would put a playground for children in an unsafe area, and dog parks should be treated the same.
She said WINDOG has support from vocal dog park advocates in Vancouver and New York who have changed the face of their cities by electing dog-friendly politicians.
She said things are starting to change in Winnipeg for dog owners. She said two years ago, there were just two organized dog groups, at Maple Grove Park and Kilcona.
But now, Little Mountain has a group, and more are springing up at Brenda Leipsic, Charleswood and Bourkevale.
Henry is optimistic WINDOG will play a role in changing the face of Winnipeg city council.
"I think it's already starting to happen," she said. "WINDOG will be really active in the election campaign this year. We're running the 'I own a dog and I vote campaign.' It worked in Vancouver … I'm sure we can do it here."
Humane Society jumps on board
Winnipeg Humane Society CEO Bill McDonald said he supports WINDOG. He said dog parks are under threat in Winnipeg, particularly at the Brenda Leipsic park next door.
McDonald said one of the reasons the humane society moved to its current location was because of all the green space at the doorstep.
Now he's worried not only that a rapid transit corridor would push out the dog park, but plans for a residential development would put 3,500 homes just across the fence from the humane society's outdoor dog pens.
"I have barking dogs," he said. "It is a concern that I will be dealing with barking dog complaints on a large basis in the future. And we didn't come here to have complaints about us."
McDonald said he's optimistic WINDOG can make a difference at city hall.
"There is a very large public appetite for off leash dog parks," he said. "The city bought into it at the original stage and now they seem to be shrinking them a little bit."
McDonald said candidates' track records on dog parks should be made public.
"The councillors should pay attention to this," he said. "This isn't something that's going to go away. Green space in a city our size, particularly in the central portions of the city, is limited and once you pave it over and put houses up, you're never going to get it back."
'We need a voice'
Talk of an umbrella group that would lobby for dog parks and make candidates' records public has inspired dog owners in other parts of the city.
Carla Lamoureux said she and her dog, Tommy, go to Bourkevale Park, which looks out over the Assiniboine River, almost every day.
She said in 2010, a plan to build a boat launch — which would have cut the off-leash area drastically — blindsided dog owners.
The project never went ahead, but Lamoureux said that situation is not going to happen again.
"We want dog-friendly candidates," she said. "We want people that are looking out for our vote also."
Lamoureux is starting up a dog group at Bourkevale so it can be a member of WINDOG.
"We need a voice," she said. "We need to bind together as groups and to make sure that we have a say. We're totally willing to work with the city and the community clubs. We just want to be a part of it. It's our parks. We have to take ownership, I think, at this point."
Fielding proposes more dog parks
St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, who irked Bourkevale dog owners with his initial support for the boat launch, said he's listening to dog owners and has some ideas for them, chief among them increasing the number of dog parks, from the current 11 to 16.
"The city has a whole bunch of surplus land," he said. "Sometimes there'll be just kind of a open space that's not being used for any purposes. I think it'd be really easy for the city just to dedicate a few more of these areas, put some fencing around [them], creating a dog area. I don't think it would be a huge financial cost to the city."
Fielding said there are many important issues facing the city, but improvements to green space, even modest ones, are worthwhile.
"There's a lot of important issues out there," he said. "There's infrastructure. There's crime. There's everything else so, I think if you can create an amenity, having a few more dog parks ... it's going to make our community a little bit better, the quality of our city a little bit better."
Fielding, who is mulling a run for the mayor's job, made the comments Thursday, the first day mayoral candidates could register. He said he will make an announcement soon on whether he's running.
In the meantime, Donna Henry said WINDOG's website launches Monday.
"It'll have a clickable map," she said. "We'll be out interviewing candidates and you'll be able to go to the map, click on your ward and see what the positions of people are. We'll be out all over the city this summer for the next six months, letting people know who we are, what we're doing and where they can go to get information."