Paw and Order: Tails of woe from Toronto’s dog parks

Toronto is home to 230,000 dogs, 60 dog parks and zero dedicated canine enforcement officers.


Toronto is home to 230,000 dogs, 60 dog parks and zero dedicated canine enforcement officers.


Things are getting pretty hairy out there; dog lovers and locals share their tails of woe. 

Judy La Rose-Young, who suffered the hand injury, with her dogs


Frisbee facetime

I have two dogs of my own, and I often go to the off-leash dog park. I had just entered the park and threw a Frisbee for my one dog who ran to get it. As my dog caught the Frisbee in his mouth, it turns out another dog in the park also had its eye on the Frisbee and latched onto the side of my dog’s face and wouldn’t let go. My dog was screaming, and I called for the owner of the other dog, but the owner was nowhere to be found. This dog was pulling so hard at my dog’s face that I truly thought it was going to be ripped off.

So I decided to try to help my dog but was dragged down to the ground by the other dog. I continued to hold on to my dog’s face trying to prevent it from being ripped off and used my free hand to hit the other dog in hopes that it would let go. I was screaming for help and became hysterical. It felt like 10 minutes had passed, and finally a man that I have seen in the park many times before grabbed a large stick and started to pound the other dog until it released my dog’s face.

Unfortunately, the other dog only released my dog’s face for a second, and immediately when back in to bite down on my dog’s face again, but it got my hand instead and bit down on it quite hard. I was terrified, I was crying, and I was screaming for help.

The owner of the other dog did finally show up after the incident and rudely refused to take any responsibility. I was able to get the licence plate number of the owner and then went to the hospital where I had stitches put in my hand. I reported the incident to Toronto Animal Services, but nothing happened in regard to the incident other than the animal control officer telling me that off-leash dog parks are “use at your own risk.” He then elaborated and told me he chooses not to take his dog to dog parks. 

The penalty: For the first reported bite, City of Toronto will issue a notice of caution. For the second bite or a severe bite, the city will issue an order to muzzle the dog.

The fix: A dog is property under the law, so the owner of the dog is liable for the actions of the dog. Because she had the licence plate of the dog owner, she could have gone to a personal injury lawyer who could track the owner down and sue for damages, which are often covered through house or renter’s insurance. - Sandra Zisckind, Personal injury lawyer with Diamond & Diamond

Dog owner Jamie Bussin at ​Ledbury Park Elementary and Middle School


Leash offensive

On a recent weekend, I went over to Ledbury Park Elementary and Middle School with my dog. They have a huge field and the only other people on it were a father playing soccer with his very young daughter. My dog is active, so I throw a ball with one of those extended arm flingers, and she retrieves it. I made sure myself and my dog and the path I was throwing the ball in was far from the father and daughter so as not to disturb them.

After about five minutes, the father, who had all the room he could possibly need to play with his child, purposely moved closer to where I was playing with my dog, so they were now in the area that my dog and I were in. I could tell he had an axe to grind. He turned to me and said, “This isn’t an off-leash area. Can you put your dog on a leash?”

I could see from his body language, before he even spoke a word, that he was itching to make a point. I replied, “Come on. We’re not bothering you. There’s nobody else here. You have plenty of room. Let’s just share the space.”

But he responded with, “But your dog shouldn’t be off leash.”

I explained to him that I was being careful not to throw the ball near him or his daughter and that we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all if he hadn’t moved purposely closer to where my dog and I were playing just to prove his point. However, my attempt at reasoning with him was to no avail.

He responded with, “Put your dog on a leash or I’m calling the cops.” I told him, “Go ahead.” I continued to throw the ball some more for my dog and unsurprisingly, no cops came. After a short while I moved on. 

The fine: $240 up to $5,000

The fix: The father should have approached the dog owner and explained why the dog being off leash was a problem. Is it just that it’s against the rules? Or is his daughter afraid of dogs? Nine times out of 10, when people are approached in a nice manner, there will be a positive outcome. Where people fall down is they move too quickly to an emotional response and don’t speak in a polite manner. Also, think about the long-term. They’re probably neighbours and will see each other again. - Anne Grant, mediator

Poodle poop

I have been walking in Cedarvale Ravine for exercise without a dog for many years. I enter the ravine via Suydam Park or Bilton Lane/Relmar Road in Forest Hill village.

For the past seven or eight years, I’ve noticed a woman with three small white and grey poodles. She has been on my radar as she refuses to pick up after them. She also regularly lets her dogs off leash near the children’s play area, which is not a designated off-leash zone.

Other neighbours have approached her about picking up after her dogs, and she has responded by saying, “It’s not her policy” and that she believes it is ecologically more sound to leave the dog poop on the grass. No amount of cajoling, reason or calling the city’s bylaw officers has had any effect on this scofflaw’s lack of civility, nor has she been fined as far as I know. 

The fine: $240

Caught without a bag? The fix: I’ve used a Big Mac wrapper, paper bags and a Tim Hortons cup. There is usually something lying around you can use. I have also gone home, retrieved a bag and gone back to pick it up. Large leaves work too. Don’t be shy to ask the next person you see with a dog. If they have an extra, they’ll give you one. - John Peat, dog walker

Sugar Ray rover

I took my dog to Sherwood Park and went to the off-leash area. We joined a couple who had an Australian shepherd, and the dogs played beautifully for 15 minutes when a man approached with his dog that looked like a boxer. The boxer proceeded to pin the shepherd and the owner asked the man to get his dog off hers. The shepherd then tried to pin my dog and started going at his neck. So I went over to the man and said, “You’re going to have to leash your dog because he’s trying to pin the other dogs.”

The man looked through me as if I wasn’t there, so I said again, “You have to leash your dog. He’s not playing, he’s being aggressive.”

He didn’t seem to see me, so I touched him on the shoulder and he then jumped and yelled, “What are you doing?”

At the same time, my dog ran off, so I left to get him but could hear the Australian shepherd’s owner yelling at the man while he swore profusely at her in response. I walked around the park for another 20 minutes with some other dog owners when I saw the man approaching again. I leashed my dog and pulled him over to the fence so we could pass the man. Then the man saw me and started running toward me with his fist clenched. I had my dog’s leash in my hand and so it was hard to defend myself; meanwhile, this man is running toward me yelling, “You assaulted me. You’re an asshole.”

I don’t think I’m Sugar Ray or anything, so I stepped aside to dodge him, and he ran past me, fell and rolled on the ground. The other dog owners helped hold the man back, and I left and went to my car and decided to call the police to let them know what transpired in case he tries to hurt anyone else. Sherwood Park was my favourite, but I haven’t been back since. 

The penalty: An assault charge could be laid.

The fix: Depending on the circumstances, you can call our non-emergency line, 416-808-2222, to report the incident to an officer and provide suspect information. If you fear for your safety or feel this person can injure you to an extreme, then absolutely 911 is the best option. Caroline de Kloet, Toronto Police Service media relations officer

Toxic treats

I live on Broadway Avenue and regularly take my dog for walks in the neighbourhood. One of my neighbours said that somebody has been lacing treats [with poison] on Roehampton Avenue and up on Mount Pleasant all around Northern Secondary School, so we’re all not walking our dogs there.

The woman who found the laced treats said she told the police, and they won’t do anything about it. She found raisins, which are highly toxic to dogs, as well as raw salmon, raw rice and kibble and bread that looked laced.

The penalty: Depending on the intent of the person who left the laced items, police will get involved.

The Fix: Pet owners shouldn’t give anything for toxin ingestion before speaking to a professional. We do not recommend trying to induce vomiting with items such as peroxide, as the dog can aspirate in their lungs and have life-threatening complications. Dr. Vlad Stefanescu, Yonge-Davenport Pet Hospital

Mike Good and his golden retriever Mason


Southern-fried retriever

We had a golden retriever named Mason for 15 years, and although we loved him and he was a big sweetheart, we also had some moments that were frustrating, to say the least. Many of those moments were probably a result of us not knowing much about how to train a dog properly at the time, but here’s what happened one day at Trinity Bellwoods Park.

We were in the official leash-free zone in the lower bowl of the park on a beautiful day. We were living down by the Exhibition grounds at the time and had walked to the park. Mason spent an hour running around and playing with other dogs, so I assumed he was nice and tired. I started walking up the hill to leave, and my mistake was that I didn’t leash him up right away. We got to the top of the bowl and I turned around to put his leash on, and I could see he had a hard gaze off in the distance. I started to look around to figure out what he was focusing on, and way off in the distance I saw a mom with her child having a little picnic with some Kentucky Fried Chicken. I immediately said, “No way Mason, come here man.”

As I took one step toward him, he darted off like a shot out of a gun. I ended up running after him as fast as I could, all the while screaming, “Mason! Come here! Mason! Stop!” I’m in a full sprint, and he’s still not listening to me, and I realize that nothing is going to stop him. He arrived at this beautiful moment between mom and daughter and shattered it all by sliding between the two. He knocked the toddler over and snatched their chicken. I was mortified.

I finally caught up to him, managed to put his leash on and turned to the mom — who by this time has picked up her crying daughter and is trying to console her — who looks like she wants to punch me in the teeth. I felt absolutely terrible, and I was struggling to find any words to say to her. I finally blurted out, “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry. Can I buy you more?…” and before I can finish my sentence she curtly responds, “Just leave. I get it, I’m a dog person, but I just need you to leave right now.” Fair enough.

The fine: $240 up to $5,000

The fix: Start small and slowly build in distance and distractions using a training or long line until he is reliable. Practise in different environments so that you know what your dog finds most distracting. Use a cheerful tone and treat your recall cue like a very special word. If you say “Come” casually all day, your dog will treat it casually. Use a high-value reward consistently. Make recalls a win-win for your dog by sending him back to whatever he was doing. If you end good times with a recall your dog will learn to avoid them. Caroline Applebee, certified professional dog trainer

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