Edmonton temporary off-leash dog parks not accessible, disability advocates say

Advocates worry temporary dog parks opened by the city are not accessible for people using mobility devices.

Six community leagues are taking part in the city's pilot program with dog parks in outdoor rinks

Marla Smith and Kuno outside the Kenilworth Community League's off-leash dog park. The park is meant to be accessible, but she can't enter it, or several others, with her wheelchair. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC News)

Some Edmonton community leagues have turned their outdoor rinks into off-leash dog parks for the summer; but some disability advocates said they aren't available for everyone.

Marla Smith uses a wheelchair to get around. She and her service dog, Kuno, love going outdoors.

She said she was excited to take Kuno to the Kenilworth Community League's off-leash dog park this week, but the problem is her wheelchair can't get inside. 

"When you see it [listed] on the city's website and you see that it's supposed to be accessible, you believe it," she said.

"So then you get in your vehicle, you come all the way here, you unload and it's not."

Kuno and his owner, Marla Smith, can't go into the temporary off-leash dog park because it's not accessible with her wheelchair. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC News)

Six community leagues are taking part in the city's pilot program this year. Interested community leagues apply and get approved by the city.

The city's website states the temporary off-leash area "should be physically accessible for all potential users including those using mobility devices."   

Smith said she has visited four of the parks, and could not access any of them. One of the issues is the rink have a lip wheelchairs can't get over, she said. 

LISTEN | Advocates say dog parks are not accessible:

'We're not welcome': Edmontonian says dog parks lack accessibility

2 months ago
Duration 1:49
Six community leagues are taking part in the city's off-leash pilot program that promises accessibility for all— but Marla Smith says they're falling short.

She said she worries about other community members like herself who use mobility aids but have service dogs they'd like to let run around. 

"It tells us we're not welcome," she said. "That's actually a phrase I commonly use: 'It's not that we can't get in. It's that we're simply not welcome here.'"

Listen to people with disabilities

Some advocates told CBC it's important to keep people with disabilities in mind when opening a space for the whole community.

"People with disabilities or in wheelchairs may have assistance dogs that they would like to take to the dog park and get their exercise," said Zachary Weeks with Voice of Albertans with Disabilities. 

Weeks said he would like to see people with disabilities consulted to ensure no one is left out. 

"If they're looking at making changes, we need to be mindful of how those changes will be made and how they will ultimately impact all sectors of the population," he said. 

Smith said she understands that adapting existing spaces can be hard, but she said people with disabilities should not be an afterthought.

"Put up a sign that tells us to text this number to have someone come out and help or something along those lines. But when you do nothing, it just basically says, you're not interested in us being here," she said.

The city is responsible for ensuring approved spaces for the off-leash program meet city requirements, including that they're accessible. 

"The city has reached out to two community leagues so far and have met them on-site to discuss options," wrote Nicole Fraser with the City of Edmonton in an email to CBC News. 

She added an analysis is underway to assess the program, and will investigate barriers and potential solutions to participate in the program going forward. 

The program will be evaluated at the end of the year, Fraser said, where the city will take feedback from the community leagues and the public on how to improve should the program continue.


Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi is a CBC reporter based in Edmonton. She worked in newsrooms in Toronto, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yellowknife before joining CBC North in 2017.