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Our Community

Creating parks that are welcoming for all

Not all members of our community are comfortable with dogs, and encountering an unleashed dog in an on-leash area can be an unwelcome surprise for many. Our public parks are for everyone and allowing our dogs to be loose in on-leash areas creates barriers to entry to our parks.

Two High Park Stories

"Our children have enjoyed the programming at the High Park Nature Centre as much as I did when I attended decades ago when I was a child. The issue is that they have unfortunately developed a distaste for and fear of attending camp, or any kind of organized activity in High Park due to the numerous incidents they have had with off-leash dogs over the years with the worst ones being since the pandemic. It seems to be a city-wide issue in parks and now in schoolyards, despite all of the signage.

We know that efforts are being lead through initiatives such as Take the Lead and Paws for Parks but there doesn't seem to be much traction or relief. Adults in my running group who have been bitten and chased by off-leash dogs in on-leash areas are also starting to avoid the park. As someone who grew up living a few blocks away from High Park, this makes me feel incredibly sad.

I'm not sure how many humans will be deprived of being able to walk freely in all* areas of the park without an unwanted or harmful interaction with a dog until this is sorted out. (*by all areas, I am not referring to those which are being rehabilitated and are out of bounds to foot or paw traffic in order to preserve the park’s ecosystem).

We wish that our kids could join your great camps and clubs, but we’ll have to sit them out until some massive changes are made to how the dog situation is being handled by the City



"High Park is my son and his best friend Eli’s go-to spot to explore. The array of animals that we’ve discovered is astonishing! 


During our nature walks, it’s become clear, however, that there’s nowhere in the park where we can avoid an encounter with an off-leash dog. Eli’s cautious around dogs, not for any particular reason — it’s just how he’s always been. And he’s especially uneasy around ones he doesn’t know, even if the owner says “they’re friendly”. We intentionally stick to areas where dogs are supposed to be kept on a leash, but this just doesn’t happen. 


It would make such a difference if we could visit the park, just once, without worrying about a dog coming up to us for a sniff or tearing past on a trail. I’m very comfortable around dogs but seeing things through Eli’s lens has made me sensitive to those who aren’t. I wish people could understand how the simple act of leashing your dog where it should be would carry so much positive weight for at least one 6-year-old park visitor."


- Jessica

Service Animals

Unleashed dogs can impact the work of service dogs who are doing critical jobs for their handlers - jobs that have life safety implications. Service dogs are well-trained but still subject to distraction if they are approached by an off-leash dog. 

"I have often heard non disabled dog owners complain about on leash dog rules.  I’m sure they are only thinking about other non disabled people in the park. I’d like to offer my perspective as a blind person with a working dog.


My dog is trained to guide me, safely through public space. And, like all guide dogs, he has distraction issues. In his case, he is distracted by other dogs and things that “dart”. Such distractions are  part of my management  as a guide dog user, and I try to avoid places where darting is more likely. Dogs off leash are a serious problem.  


My dog has only been with me in Toronto for three months. In this time he has been aggressively  and physically threatened  by three dogs that were not on a leash. All three thrust their head at my dogs neck and chest area,  growling and knocking my harness handle to the side. I can assure you this is absolutely terrifying, both for me and my dog. It also compromises his ability to guide me following such a distressing experience; my safety and his is threatened.


As all dog owners know, unusual visual stimulus can cause a dog to suddenly shift behaviour. The sight of a  coat hanging off a tree can send a dog into fright or fight. The same can occur when dogs see  another dog with a harness  and handle.   As I am totally blind, I can’t see a dog approaching so can’t warn my dog to turn away. I also don’t expect dogs off leash – I never go to an off leash area, but what protection do I have when dog owners choose to make up their own rules?


The other real problem I have is that dogs off leash will make my dog’s job extremely  difficult. My dog will be distracted, anxious and stressed by their unpredictable movement. If I think I’m travelling through an on leash area, I don’t know how to interpret the behaviour. I may correct my dog, thinking he is simply not paying attention, when it is not his fault at all.


And if I am using my white cane, or simply walking my dog while holding onto someones arm, it is very frightening  to suddenly have a dog by my legs when I have no concept of its size, shape or breed. I have been attacked by dogs in my past and I am sure I am not alone. An attack on my guide dog, that causes injury, could mean the end of a working dogs life. They are valuable beyond words, and the financial investment in training them, averaging 50 thousand dollars, is lost to one unexpected moment when one dog owner thinks rules are stupid and their dog is of no risk.


If there were no off leash areas then I’d be writing in support of establishing safe and respected options for dogs to run free. But these areas exist. Use them.


-Alex Bulmer

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