British Columbia

Boom in dog ownership creates conflict with neighbours, pressure for more off-leash dog parks in Vancouver

Demand for pet adoption skyrocketed during the pandemic just as off-leash dog space was already at a premium in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver.

Vancouver Park Board says it's working to provide more off-leash space in Mount Pleasant neighbourhood

The demand for pet adoption skyrocketed during the pandemic and in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver off-leash dog space was already at a premium. (Shutterstock / Stanimir G.Stoev)

From July 5-9, tune in to CBC Radio One's The Early Edition at 8:20 a.m. for Dog Days: a new special series that explores how dogs are changing our urban environment and the perks  and pits  of it all.

Dog adoptions skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and in Vancouver, which already has limited off-leash green parks for pups to play on, pet owners in one particular neighbourhood are struggling to find suitable space to exercise their animals.

There are almost 40 dog parks in the city and in 2017, the Vancouver Park Board estimated there were about 55,000 dogs in their People, Parks and Dogs Strategy which sets out a framework to accommodate park users with and without dogs while minimizing conflict.

By calculating something called the "dog density factor," which is the number of dogs relative to the size of the neighbourhood they live in, and then calculating the amount of off-leash space in that area, Mount Pleasant comes up as the most under-served neighbourhood.

According to 2016 statistics, the neighbourhood, nestled in the centre of the city with Main Street at its core, had 500 square metres of off-leash dog space for 1,663 licensed dogs.

Now, factor in that the B.C. SPCA saw a significant spike in adoptions in 2020 and that space is likely to be even more squeezed.

As a consequence, people are letting their dogs off leash in parks where doing so is not permitted, which can cause conflict between park users.

A popular spot for dog owners to let their animals off leash is at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. The Vancouver School Board permits people to use the grounds before and after school hours, but pets are supposed to be leashed.

Kirk Perris told CBC he was walking to the school grounds on a December night with his four-year-old son when an unleashed dog "just came out of nowhere" and chased his child.

"He was very traumatized by it," said Perris, who rallied together some parents of students at the school after the incident and formed a committee to find a long-term solution for concerned parents and pet owners.

Kirk Perris is a member of a the MTP Fido parent committee at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Vancouver. They have put up signs around the school perimeter asking dog owners to keep their dogs on a leash when using school grounds. (Veronika Khvorostukhina)

The committee's proposed solution is not to point fingers, but to build a fenced-in dog park.

"Building a dog park in the area, ideally on the school grounds, will lead to stronger community within Mount Pleasant," said Perris.

And right now, some area residents are leaving the community daily to find suitable space for their animals.

Jessica Kim and Nariman Mousavi have two large dogs and Kim said they bought a car to be able to drive their dogs to off-leash parks for exercise because there is nowhere appropriate nearby where they live in Mount Pleasant.

The couple now drive twice a day out of the neighbourhood to give their animals space to run.

Jessica Kim and Nariman Mousavi drive their dogs Junior, a three-year-old Formosan mixed breed, and Howard, a six-year-old shepherd mixed breed, to a dog park two times a day to give the animals the exercise they need. (Veronika Khvorostukhina)

Theresa Weaver, another neighbourhood resident, told CBC she takes her dog to China Creek North Park on East 7th Avenue, which is not an official off-leash park but people have started using it as one.

The closest sanctioned park where she could let her dog off leash is half an hour away at Trout Lake Park on Victoria Drive and Weaver says there is no time to go there and back on her 30 minute lunch break.

Vancouver Park Board senior planner Erin Embley, who manages the People, Parks and Dogs Strategy, says there are plans in the works to add more off-leash space in Mount Pleasant at Jonathan Rogers Park on West 7th Avenue. 

Groups of people in Vancouver gather in Jonathan Rogers Park in March. The park could potentially be the site of a new off-leash dog park, according to the Vancouver Park Board. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We support and recognize all the benefits of people in parks with their dogs and the health for them and the community building that happens," said Embley.

"It brings people a lot of joy and so we want to be proactive ... but we have to be careful and go through our process," said Embley.

Five other neighbourhoods were identified in the 2017 strategy as being in need of more park access for dogs based on the number of licensed dogs, the population density and predicted population growth. They include Kitsilano, downtown, the West End, Fairview and Grandview-Woodland.

LISTEN | Langara Journalism Read-Mercer Fellowship winner Veronika Khvorostukhina talks to The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn about the need for more puppy play space in Vancouver:

Veronika Khvorostukhina speaks with Stephen Quinn about how some neighbourhoods in Vancouver have more to offer for dog owners than others — and how the city is planning to fix that to end conflicts with people who don't want to share park space with off-leash dogs. 9:18

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said there were an estimated 30,000 dogs in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood in 2017. In fact, statistics from 2016 show there were 1,663 licensed dogs in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.
    Jul 09, 2021 6:41 PM PT

With files from Veronika Khvorostukhina

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