Leash-free in Ontario

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The dogs greet each other with excitement and sniffs. They then bolt for a romp through the grass and around the trees, taking turns chasing each other. Periodically, other dogs arrive and join the fun, only pausing to greet more arrivals. No matter the breed or size, generally all canines are welcome to experience a taste of freedom, provided that they relate well with others. Occasionally, dominance will be displayed or challenged, causing a scuffle. Once the disruptive dog’s owner, who has been chatting with other doggy parents, has admonished his or her pet, the animals continue their play. The canine community is quickly becoming an important part of society. About one-third of households in Canada have a dog, resulting in more than five million of them countrywide. Like their human family, they need fresh air and exercise. While a leashed walk can be satisfactory, the freedom of an off-leash dog park is preferable. Many cities in Ontario have these special places where dogs can run, play and socialize with others of their own kind. So that the animals stay close while they mingle and frolic, many of these parks are fenced in. This keeps the dogs safe from any outside harm and out of the way of people involved in other activities. Although some of these tracts of land are unfenced, signs are usually posted letting you know where dogs are allowed. Toronto Toronto’s High Park has an unenclosed leash-free area in the middle of its 162 ha (400 ac) urban oasis. The landscape in this zone features well shaded trails and benches. After your four-legged friend has enjoyed a satisfactory run, you can walk him or her leashed through the rest of High Park. A pleasant stroll to Grenadier Pond passes through the beautiful Hillside Gardens and by Grenadier Restaurant. Since dogs aren’t allowed inside or on the patio of the restaurant, there are a few concession stands throughout the park for people needing refreshments. The park’s entrance is conveniently located near a subway stop. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) allows leashed or crated dogs on the subway, buses and streetcars during non-rush hour times. London Though London doesn’t allow pets on their public transit, the city does offer three generous sized fenced-in dog parks. They are managed by the London Dog Owners Association, whose purpose is to encourage responsible dog ownership and to support the interests of dog owners in cooperation with the London community. Both Pottersburg Park - about five ha (14 ac) and Stoney Creek Park - about four ha (ten ac) feature open grass fields and treed sections. If your dog leaves the open field, it is easy to lose sight of him or her among the trees. You may want to tag along since dogs should always be monitored when loose. Be aware of excitable dogs crossing the narrow bridge or running and splashing through the creek at Stoney Creek Park. Greenway Park has about two ha (five ac) set aside for dogs. The area features mostly grassy terrain with a few trees. Bushes and young trees cover the back section near the fence. Each park in London features a double entry gate system, which allows smoother entrances and exits, and a separate small dog area, which is also convenient for the elderly or timid animal. Artistically designed bone-shaped benches are the newest features that have been installed in all three parks. This is in response to a combination of a need for seating for pet owners and a continual desire for public art. After you have relaxed on one of these interesting additions while watching your dog play, you have the option of walking with him or her leashed on the multi-use pathways near each park. An elaborate system of these paths runs throughout the city. Although socializing is common while using the parks and trail systems, dog parks provide an excellent opportunity for people to mingle with others who have at least one thing in common - their pets. Socializing is not only beneficial for dogs, but also for their owners. Woodstock A group of regulars meets daily in the midafternoon in the Woodstock Dog Park. The group even throws a yearly Christmas party that includes their dogs. Though the party is for this crowd only, anyone is welcome at the park. The regulars are very proud of it, taking measures to keep it safe and clean. Visitors will be reminded to pick up after their pet if it's discovered they haven’t done so. Sarnia Waste Management Inc. has taken on projects to regenerate the land of their closed landfill sites, including Blackwell Park in Sarnia. This park has only been in existence for a few years. Trails meander throughout and connect to the Bluewater Trail system running through the city. Blackwell Park has a small playground for children and a 1.4 ha (3.5 ac) off-leash area for dogs. The paw-friendly zone offers an enclosed grassy field with no trees or bushes (making it easy to watch your dog) and overlooks a pond boasting a variety of waterfowl. Trees have been planted throughout the rest of the park, but are still small. Someday as the trees grow, the pathways will be well shaded, offering a refreshing break after a run under the open sky. The moment comes for each dog when playtime is over. The owners call back their contented pets. They are leashed up and led out of the park where some will continue on a leashed walk and others will head home for a pleasant nap, maybe dreaming about their doggy friends - constant companions and new ones made, never realizing how fortunate they are to have these recreational places. For More Info Information about Blackwell Park, the rest of these, and other Ontario dog parks, can be found on the website Pets.ca. Each park is given a brief description of location and amenities.

 (c) Cheryl Smyth, 2008

To Add: Chatham now has a fenced-in off leash area at John Waddell Park. The side facing the Thames River has a gate, where dogs can leave the park to enjoy the water.

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