RIDIN’ THE RAIL IN TORONTO

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Tessi in The Big City Tessi didn’t know what to make of this unfamiliar type of transportation; however, it didn’t take her long to accept it as part of another adventure. Fortunately, because of all our escapades she is generally open-minded. On this particular day, she lapped up all the sights and sounds, along with the attention she received, in this crowded city so unlike her home in our quiet village. Toronto is filled with busy people fitting work and play into their daily lives. Sometimes it can be difficult to find enough time for play with family, including the family pet. The city is not only a remarkable place to have a dog, it's also an excellent place to visit with one. It’s easy to travel to all the many pet-friendly spots. As long as they are leashed or crated, dogs are allowed on the subway, buses and streetcars (Toronto Transit Commission—TTC) during non-rush hour times. Helen, Tessi and I headed to Toronto one pleasant early spring day. Since I don’t care for big city driving, the TTC offered a perfect way for us to tour around. Toronto has assorted metro parking for commuters. Vehicles can be left in one for the day while the owner uses public transit to reach his or her destination. Metro parking lots not only make driving less of a hassle, but also can be cheaper than other locales in the city, such as downtown. These lots do vary in price but are free on weekends. Yorkdale Mall, which is close to Highway 401, has one such parking area. The Subway We found our way to the subway station from where we parked. We each opted to buy a day pass for riding the rail since we were probably going to spend just as much on multiple single ride fees. Tessi’s trip was free. While getting ourselves organized, we were called over by the security guard at the gate. I was half expecting him to demand to know what we were doing bringing a dog on public transportation. But he didn’t; he was just curious to know what breed she is. As we were waiting on the platform, I chatted with a fellow passenger, who mentioned he was from Newfoundland. His response to my question on how different he found the city from his home province was not surprising. He said that people generally have a bad attitude in Toronto, though good moods seem to float all around on this delightful sunny day. High Park Many pleasant people were relishing the sunshine and warmth in the 162-ha (400-ac) High Park, which is one of many parks in Toronto that has an off-leash dog area. I chose to visit this particular natural oasis, since it's close to a subway stop. Inside the entrance of the park we discovered a large information map that included an illustration of the off-leash area. Since the canine zone is not fenced in, signs are posted as to where they are allowed. Benches are located in the centre for the comfort of the owners. After Tessi had a satisfactory romp, I leashed her up again for a wander through the rest of the park, aiming for Grenadier Pond. We came across Grenadier Restaurant on our way. The restaurant has a patio; however, signs indicate that dogs are not allowed. A few concession stands are located around the park, giving canine-accompanied people an opportunity to buy refreshments. Since we were walking by the restaurant, Helen went inside to buy lunch. While I waited outside with Tessi, I had an interesting conversation with a woman sitting on one of the benches. She gladly moved a Christmas wreath displayed beside her so I could sit. She told me she had found it by the side of the road. At this point, she was tired of carrying it and asked if I wanted it. Considering I had enough to carry (and I really didn’t want a wreath), I passed on her offer. Also beside her sat a beat up orange leather bag and a plastic bag containing a beautiful cream-coloured crochet blanket, which she also offered to me. Again, I told her I had enough to carry. Helen, when she returned, was offered these items as well, of which she also declined. The woman decided to leave the blanket and wreath spread out on the bench in hopes someone would take them. We left her, her unwanted items and the restaurant behind to continue to the pond. There we found a variety of waterfowl, including a beautiful swan that seemed to like Helen or maybe it just liked posing for her camera. I’m glad I had my telephoto lens with me, since every time I moved closer to the bird it would hiss at Tessi. I guess it sensed her hunting instincts. As we continued on the trail hugging the pond we discovered more birds. Eventually, we came across a friendly small dog waiting patiently while his owner was watching the ducks in a marshy area. While I petted her dog, the woman told us she was checking on a certain duck that had previously been wounded. After frequent checks she had come to the conclusion that it seemed to be slowly healing. We continued on the trail, which eventually led us back to the street where we made our way to the subway platform. Before heading back to Yorkdale Mall, we rode the subway downtown, where we joined a smothering crowd filling the sidewalks. I’m glad I had Tessi on a lead; I would have lost her for sure. Outside of the Eaton Centre we watched an Elvis impersonator, who was covered in silver paint from head to shoes, perform staggered motions of a moving statue. A Wander Through the Eaton Centre We watched him for a bit, and then headed inside. A photography customer once told me she had taken her Cavalier King Charles spaniel into the Eaton Centre. Even though a small animal is easier to get away with in public places, my customer did say she had seen bigger dogs in the building. So I had to try a mall excursion with Tessi. We weren’t the targets of any nasty looks and, as usual, a couple of people came over to ask about her and pet her. When we stopped at a kiosk selling canine paraphernalia, Helen asked the saleswoman if animals were indeed allowed in the mall. She thought not. No one ever did tell us to leave and the mall did make a couple of sales off us. (I ended up buying a small item at the kiosk and Helen bought batteries for her camera.) Later I realized I probably should have looked at the signs on the entrance doors to the mall - the ones saying “no shoes, no shirt, no service” along with “no dogs allowed.” My photography customer had gone to Toronto during Woofstock (Toronto’s annual festival for dogs). I have a feeling the rules were probably relaxed that weekend. From an email to Toronto Tourism I sent later, I did learn pets are not allowed in the Eaton Centre (other than service animals). After our mall tour we found the subway heading north to Yorkdale Mall. Tessi enjoyed a good sleep while sprawled on the floor of the subway car, oblivious to the smiles she caused around her. Luckily, there weren’t too many people for her to be in the way of. Helen and I were worn out ourselves. As we passed what we thought should have been our Yorkdale stop, we realized we had hopped on the wrong northbound train. The north-south/south-north part of the system is U-shaped, with downtown being at the bottom of the "U." The whole system is very simple to navigate as it is well signed; yet, it’s easy to get on the wrong car if you’re not paying close attention. The underground railway experience was not only new to Tessi, but also to Helen and me. We knew we’d get where we wanted eventually, it just ended up taking longer. I felt more awake for the drive home anyway after the needed rest. We only tackled the subway that day. Someday, when I feel really adventurous, I’ll challenge myself to figure out the bus and streetcar system. I would never envy living a big city life (I lived in London, Ontario for many years - it was too big for me), but if I had to live in Toronto at least I know Tessi would have a good life. With all its parks for dogs to run, play and socialize in, with an easy way to reach them, we have another reason to envy a dog’s life. For More Info
For Further Reading on Our Toronto Adventures

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2008

June 2008 - Sadly, since I’ve written this article, a couple of dog deaths have occurred in High Park, along with a few injuries. It is such a shame to hear of this happening in such a beautiful park or anywhere for that matter, especially when our pets need off-leash parks. My heart goes out to those who lost their pets. (Information about the dog deaths can be found by Googling “High Park dog deaths.”) Submit Comment
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