Some Westmount dog owners worried about 'dust clouds' in King George Park
'A lot of itchiness, and scratching,' is caused by the dust, says dog owner Claudia Baruch
Some pet owners who use the dog run in King George Park in Westmount are calling on the City to make changes because they're worried about potential health effects from all the sand in the area.
"It's filthy," said Claudia Baruch, the owner of a golden retriever named Toby. "This material sticks to you, and sticks to your dog.… It's on your clothing, it's in your hair. If you wear Chapstick in the winter, it's stuck to your lips."
Baruch and other dog owners say the sandy surface is causing dogs and humans to cough.
"I've been told that dogs have had eye infections directly after being here. A lot of itchiness, and scratching, to the point of making wounds," said Baruch.
Worries over effects on dogs' breathing
One of the main concerns that dog park users have is the potential effect on dog and human respiratory health.
As several other dogs chase each other further down in the park, kicking up more sand, Baruch points out a large cloud of dust that is produced, as it rises up to the level of nearby trees.
"Look how high that is, it's almost at the branch. That's way above those [people's heads]," she said.
A few metres away, dog walker Ian Shulman from Concierge 4 Pattes says he's seen first-hand how dogs and humans react to the park.
"Dry days, it's terrible. I mean, people coughing, dogs coughing. And when it's wet, the dogs are filthy," said Shulman, who adds that the sand can get stuck in dogs' fur.
"You wipe, you wipe, you wipe, but the only way to really clean it is to wash them," he said.
City commissions report on park dust
When the City of Westmount was approached by concerned citizens, it commissioned the SOLROC Group to study the dog park, and write a report.
The report found that 10% of the time, the level of the material silica in the air at the dog park surpassed the threshold at which workers would need to wear respiratory protection, and that people who visit the park would experience about six minutes of "excessive exposure" per hour.
The report concluded that the risk of the silica-induced disease "silicosis for humans, and probably for dogs, is low," but animal and human health professionals to whom CBC showed the report said conclusions on possible health effects aren't so cut and dry.
Respirologist and veterinarian say effects are possible
Dr. Maxime Cormier is a respirologist at the Montreal General Hospital and an assistant professor at McGill University.
He says that silica aside, the level of dust shown in the report could be enough to affect someone's breathing, even if they are only in the park for a short while.
"Someone with asthma or underlying COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) that would be exposed to such high levels of dust, even for a short amount of time, could definitely have their symptoms aggravated with coughing, shortness of breath, sputum production, and stuffy nose," said Dr. Cormier.
"That could be enough to even lead to hospital visits."
When it comes to dogs, Dr. Karen Joy Goldenberg from the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital says the situation isn't much different.
"A dog who is elderly, a dog who has breathing problems, is going to have much more severe effects, but honestly, for any dog, I don't consider this to be an ideal, safe environment," said Dr. Goldenberg.
The veterinarian notes that there have been several studies on greyhound dogs, which race on similarly dusty tracks for periods of 90 seconds, twice a day, and show "much higher levels of debris, chronic inflammation, and even scarring in their lungs."
"So to me, any dog is at risk of this," said Dr. Goldenberg.
City says it is open to finding solutions
In an interview with CBC, Westmount mayor Christina Smith said she is aware of citizens' concerns about the King George Park dog run, and is open to hearing from experts who may have concerns about the park.
"I know it's a serious issue for some of the users, and one which we take seriously. I think we can try and find a solution to this. We've made a major investment in these dog runs."
Smith said one option is to spray a dust-reducing substance on the sand, an avenue the City has tried a few times, but which dog park users told CBC was not effective in the long run.
When it comes to potentially replacing the sand with another material, such as grass or stones, Smith notes that each option has its pros and cons, as grass can become muddy, and stones can be uncomfortable on dogs' paws.
"It would be great to find a solution which [users] were happy with. Not everyone likes every material, so what we change it out for may not be agreeable to someone else," Smith said.