Thursday, September 10, 2009

The real difference between Calgary and Halifax

This is a snapshot of where some of Calgary's off leash spaces are - there are 138 of them covering more than 1,275 hectares.

I got an email in the last couple of days because the The HRM Off Leash Parks Strategy Committee will be hosting a neighbourhood meeting between local residents, ball team officials and off leash proponents to meet and discuss off leash issues at the Robert Drive Ball Diamond over in Dartmouth on September 23rd.

That ball diamond had not been being used as a ball diamond so had been deemed usable as an off leash space last year during the off leash strategy "testing" phase - and one thing that set this spot apart from every other legal off leash space in the HRM is that this spot was completely fenced in - and word got out about that fact, so this became quite a popular spot for dog owners who wanted to exercise their dogs off leash but perhaps weren't quite sure that they had a perfect recall for their dog, or didn't want to have to interact with bicyclists and joggers and things like that - so the park got a lot of use - and in the spring - the turf was pretty much all chewed up, and guess what happened?

The City closed the park down because they said that dog owners were abusing the park, there had been complaints and ONE ball team had signed up to use the park. I talked about the facts in a post at

So in other words - when tax paying dog owners in the Halifax Regional Municipality find something that actually works for them - the city closes it down.

It's interesting, because right now the city of Calgary is reviewing their own offleash strategy - and in October 2009 they'll be presenting their final report to their City Council - they talked to, get this - THOUSANDS OF DOG OWNERS, asking they wanted for their tax dollars and licencing fees. Wow. It was the most comprehensive dog ownership survey in history.

As a result of this study - Bill Bruce will be asking for MORE OFF-LEASH PARKS - NOT LESS. (Note here - I am quoting from a newspaper article from the Calgary Sun that I will be putting at the end of this post).

And what's really amazing is - parks that are overused - are a SIGN THAT MORE OFF LEASH PARKS ARE NEEDED IN THAT AREA - not that dog owners are abusing their privileges.... can you imagine! Here's a quote from the Calgary Sun article that's at the end of this post - "Nora Tuckey, president of the Southland Natural Park Society, is hopeful the call for new dog parks will finally be heard. "It's been badly needed for many years, especially to relieve the pressure at places like Southland," she said. "It's been pounded into the dirt through overuse." "

So to me, it's quite glaring what the real difference is between Calgary Alberta and Halifax Nova Scotia when you compare our municipal governments attitudes to it's tax paying dog owners - one government wants to work with, cultivate good relationships, make good use of space, realizes that the dogs are NOT going away - and neither are their owners, and are an income stream that could become lucrative if they worked it correctly in a positive way - and another municipal government obviously thinks of dogs and their owners as something that is a waste of time, does nothing but spoil the environment, every owner is bad and should be lucky for what they DO have, only wants the City to spend money they don't have, and generally just wants to create an adversarial relationship so that maybe the tax paying dog owners will go away and all the dogs will die of old age and the owners will be so devastated they won't replace the dogs and the city won't have any more of those awful things that just get fleas, shit and piss everywhere anyway. Yuck.

So anyway, if you're interested in off leash spaces - or at least the Robert Drive Park off leash space - there's going to be a meeting to talk about the possibility of maybe reopening it - it was supposed to be reopened in September, but I guess that's not happening since the meeting is September 23rd, and the meeting is about "the possibility of reopening it" - I love Halifax's bureaucrats. You should show up at the meeting.

Thank dog Halifax is dog friendly DESPITE City Hall. Just go out and live your life - that's what I do, and that's what 1000's of other dog owners do. And it's pretty good. No one bothers you. Because do you know what? Just about everyone loves dogs - and I'd say that anyone reading this blog has good dogs that are lovely to be around, so don't worry. It's all good.

Here's the meetin info - The HRM Off Leash Parks Strategy Committee will be hosting a neighbourhood meeting on Wednesday, September 23 from 7:00-9:00 pm at the East Dartmouth Community Centre, 50 Caledonia Road to discuss the reopening of the off leash field at Robert Drive. This will be an opportunity for local residents, ball team officials and off leash proponents to meet and discuss off leash issues at the Robert Drive Ball Diamond.

Here's the article from the Calgary Sun

Dogged demands
Survey shows Calgarians calling for more off-leash areas

An off-leash park within walking distance of every home -- such is the utopian demand of those sharing their home with canis familiaris, better known as the family dog. Whether that shaggy Shangri-La vision of a dog park for every community is realized will ultimately be up to Calgary's aldermen -- but the people have spoken, and a lot more room for Rover and Rex is what the people want.

"We have a good database to take before city council, to say 'this is what the public thinks, and this is what they want.' And it's pretty safe to say what they want is more parks," said Bill Bruce, head of Animal Control and the city's chief bylaw officer.

A "pretty good database" is an understatement, after the bylaw department spent the last year talking to thousands of dog owners, asking what they want for their tax dollars and licensing fees.

And so, new off-leash parks for the Calgary's 100,000-plus dogs will top the plan when it's presented to city council in October. That's when the full results of the most comprehensive dog-ownership survey in history will be released to aldermen. Council ordered the study last year, after concerns were raised about overcrowded dog parks and the management of existing sites.

The final report is still being compiled, but the headline to follow can easily be drafted weeks in advance: Fur Flies at City Council. It's bound to be a contentious subject. Surplus land is in short supply in Calgary, yet 100,000 voters are pretty hard to ignore.

Having reviewed thousands of responses to the still-ongoing study -- there were nearly 5,000 when summer began -- Bruce said dog owners have made their desires clear.

As a result, he'll be asking city council for more off-leash parks.

"More parks would be my hope -- the goal is to end up with more," said Bruce.

"We absolutely will not end up with less."

Though he'll be up against the space demands of sports groups and developers, Bruce said overcrowding in large parks like Southland makes for a compelling argument.

One solution might be adding smaller, neighbourhood parks to take the pressure off the big off-leash zones.

Bruce said owners would rather take Fido for walks without a car ride first.

"People want the parks closer, so they don't have to drive so far, and that makes sense for environmental reasons," he said.

The remaining requests are fairly basic, says Bruce, including fences for safety, and more garbage bins.

And, said Bruce, dog owners want the parks to themselves, instead of sharing with cyclists and other humans.

"They want a segregation between dogs and other uses, because they feel mixed use is a recipe for disaster," he said.

Along with surveying the mutt-owning masses, the bylaw office mapped the concentration of dogs in Calgary.

The deep south is by far the most canine-crowded end of Calgary -- yet the only sizeable dog park is Southland, beside the Deerfoot.

Ald. Linda Fox-Mellway, whose ward covers the deep south, says she needs to see the full report before committing to new off-leash parks.

"I know there are a lot of dogs in the south, but I have to see the report first."

The plan for new off-leash parks already has at least one supporter on council. Ald. Ric McIver, whose ward contains Southland, said it was an issue he raised in early 2008.

"Council wasn't ready to act then, so maybe when they're armed with this new information, they'll be ready to add off-leash areas," he said.

McIver wants the city to include off-leash areas in the blueprint for every new community, much like sports fields and playgrounds are planned now.

Nora Tuckey, president of the Southland Natural Park Society, is hopeful the call for new dog parks will finally be heard.

"It's been badly needed for many years, especially to relieve the pressure at places like Southland," she said.

"It's been pounded into the dirt through overuse."


  1. Interesting post. I agree with you that despite NS politics this province is a great place for dogs. I go everywhere and mine are usually off leash and most people I meet seem to like having dogs around.

    As an ex-Calgarian, I am keen to see what happens there. Wait and see based on my experience. Bill Bruce and Parks and Recreation clashed until we left in 2007. Between 1995 and 2007 Calgary lost a lot of off-leash space, and many of the areas that are now off-leash are small, beside busy highways, or not used for anything else - crappy in other words, while the really beautiful trails are much reduced. For example, when off and on leash changes were made in Bowmont Park, the only designated off leash access to the Bow River left was where the water was the dirtiest.

    Unlike here in NS, where I was never approached in a negative way cause Will and Davie are off leash, in Calgary people can be very uptight and I witnessed bylaw officers lurking in the bushes or behind a park bench to catch the offender.

    Another way the City restricted off leash access was to pave trails and instill a bylaw that forbids dogs to be off leash within so many meters next to the paved trails so they don't interfere with other park users. That leaves brush or mountain bike trails for dogs even in off leash areas.

    Not only do some beautiful Calgary parks changed from all off leash to very restricted off leash, but some sections became No-Dog.

    Environmental damage was also blamed on the dogs - even though we had documented evidence and area shots that much of the damage is caused by off-trail mountain biking.

    Thanks for keeping me in the loop what's up in my former stomping ground.

  2. Those are really good comments Silvia - because they ring really true to the feedback that the City has received from dog owners in the surveys that they've done and are going to be presenting back to Council in October - I don't think I gave links to that information in my blog post. The summary of the focus group issues are at and they have some interesting issues for dog owners - other summaries are at - when you talk about the fact that a lot of the off leash spaces are small, and beside busy highways - here in Halifax - we have a lot of those spaces too - that are currently unused for anything else - and if they'd simply be fenced in - would be perfect for off leash use - and would be welcomed by a lot of people.

    It's interesting that the surveys conducted in Calgary are saying the same things that John Charles here in Halifax says is exactly the opposite of what dog owners here want - Calgary dog owners are saying they need some off-leash only parks, they want their parks fenced in (for safety), they want more garbage cans, they want the parks to themselves instead of sharing them with cyclists and other humans, and they feel mixed used is a recipe for disaster.

    Once again, Calgary is talking - and the bureaucrats paid by the tax paying dog owners - are maybe going to listen to them. Unlike other cities.

  3. I think that a city needs both, all-dog fenced in spaces, ideally at least one in every community, but also off leash trails in multi-use parks.

    In my opinion, what we, as dog owners and lovers should aim for, is more integration - like Europe. If we only lobby for fenced-in, dogs-only parks we imply that we are after segregation.

    Southland Park in Calgary, the one mentioned in your blog, had a fenced in space within the park that people could book - 20 minutes at a time. That was great for some dogs. Real world multi-use exposure and safety.

    Dogs are individuals and not every set-up is best for every dog, therefore we need a variety. I'd hate to loose places like Shubie and PPP in exchange for all fenced-in dog-only areas.

  4. I am 100% in agreement with you, Silvia - dogs need every kind of experience - sniff and pass, wrestling, on leash, off leash, human, dog - every kind - and right now - the HRM bureaucrats don't feel that tax paying dog owners deserve to give their dogs ANY legal kind of experience though.