Liberty Village families and pet owners face off over scarce park space

An explosion in the dog population in the Liberty Village area is leading to serious conflicts between dog owners and parents looking for a peaceful place for their children to play.

Space is at a premium as the dog population in the condo-rich neighbourhood spikes

Liberty Village resident Sarah Gribeauval wants the city to establish a new off-leash park to ease tensions between dog owners and families in local parks. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News )

An explosion in the dog population in the Liberty Village area is leading to serious conflicts between dog owners and parents looking for a peaceful place for their children to play.

The conflicts have become so heated at Rita Cox Park, near the intersection of King and Dufferin streets, that one local dog owner has started a petition asking the city to establish a dogs-only zone in nearby Lamport Park West.

According to city staff, the number of dogs in the neighbourhood has increased by almost 40 per cent in the past five years. 

Local city councillor Gord Perks says friction between the two factions is getting worse.

"Because Toronto's population is growing and the amount of space in the city isn't growing, we're finding more and more conflicts over how these scarce parklands are used," Perks said Wednesday. "And dogs' off-leash areas is one of the worst conflicts." 
Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 14 Parkdale - High Park) is warning that Gribeauval's effort to establish a new park could take time and patience.

Sarah Gribeauval started her online petition 10 days ago, and says it's already gained about 130 signatures.

"Obviously your dog shouldn't be off-leash in an on-leash area," she told CBC Toronto. "But when you don't have many other options in the area, that's what happens."

Park is full of 'dog doo' 

The neighbourhood's population of registered dogs was about 637 in 2013, according to Toronto Animal Services program manager Mary Lou Leiher.

By the end of 2017, that number had grown to 882 animals.

Meanwhile, staff admit the actual number of dogs is significantly higher because no one knows how many dog owners are choosing not to register their pets.

Gribeauval said she's witnessed heated arguments between parents with children and dog owners at Rita Cox, which appears to be the epicentre of the dog-family friction.  

Stuart McConnell, a Liberty Village resident, said he brings his three-year-old son to Rita Cox Park almost every day in warm weather. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

Parents blame the friction on dog owners who treat the park like an off-leash area, and who don't pick up after their pets.

Stuart McConnell, who has a three-year-old son, heads to Rita Cox almost every day in the summer but says dogs limit the areas where his son can play.  

"The entire area where the dogs are, we can't use, because it's just too full of dog doo," he said. 

McConnell suggested dog owners instead use a fenced-in private dog run around the corner that was built specifically for the dog owners in the nearby condos.

New dog zone won't be 'A, B, C easy' to build

But Gribeauval said the run's door is broken, the grass is long gone, and the area is prone to flooding.

That's why she said she wants the city to work toward building a dogs-only zone at Lamport West.

But Perks is warning that setting up an off-leash park is easier said than done.

Sarah Gribeauval and her dog Charlie, a chihuahua mix, at Lamport Park West, where she wants the city to establish a leash-free area. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

"These things are never A, B, C easy," he said. "That's why I say you've got to approach it with patience. To the untrained eye, you see a parcel of land and you think no one's using it. But I've learned through hard trial and error to always check before saying yes or no."

Perks said the possibility is something he is "keen to look at and have a conversation about" but that background work is needed before he can determine if the idea is feasible.  

Local dog owners say a nearby neighbourhood dog run is run down and flood-prone. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

The core problem, said Perks, is that the area has experienced fast condo growth in a relatively small area.

"We're trying to imagine new ways of designing condominiums so there are amenities for dogs," he said. "The problem is that a lot of our neighbourhood parks are really small parks."