Last week Winnipeg City Council unanimously approved the long-awaited master plan for off-leash dog parks.
Dog walkers at Kilcona Park’s off-leash area
Winnipeg Network of Dog Owner Groups (WINDOG) President, Donna Henry appeared before Council to endorse the plan and to ask for dedicated funding to upgrade existing dog parks and to create new ones.
Knowing that the City has historically taken funds collected for one purpose and used them for another, the off-leash area advocacy coalition is concerned that unless funding for off-leash dog parks is dedicated, money will be redirected when it’s expedient to do so.
According to Dave Domke, Manager of Winnipeg’s Parks and Open Space Division, which oversees the city’s off-leash areas, the City needs to earmark $300,000 for dog parks in each of the next 6 years. He agrees, however, that until the City develops an action plan for each of its off-leash areas, no one really knows what it’s going to cost to upgrade existing dog parks, let alone create new ones.
Domke says that right now the highest funding priority is to improve safety and enhance amenities in existing dog parks. Earlier this month, he told the Executive Policy Committee that Parks’ goal is to secure off-leash areas as separate spaces, by, for example fencing them. Until that happens, dogs, runners, joggers and cyclists will continue to share off-leash spaces.
Football at Little Mountain Dog Park with predictable results
WINDOG has long argued for fencing dog parks and designating them as ‘single-use’ areas where only activities associate with off-leash dog are permitted. Together, these two measures will improve safety and reduce conflicts that arise when off-leash dogs and other park users share the same space.
Dogs doing what dogs love…chasing a fast moving object
WINDOG believes that the cost of fencing dog parks is minimal. Kilcona Park Dog Club recently solicited quotes for fencing its off-leash area, and according to Donna Henry, “Our Board was surprised. The work can be done for less than $40,000. Last month Maple Grove Park Dog Owners Association fenced its dog park for $16,000. Fencing the boundaries of these two dog parks would secure 70% of Winnipeg’s off-leash greenspace.”
If we look at the bigger picture, fencing and upgrading furnishings in existing dog parks may be relatively minor expenditures. The City’s plan does indicate that, from time to time, it may be necessary to purchase land for a new dog park. This might happen, for example, in a neighbourhood with a high dog population that has no off-leash area, no suitable public greenspace, but has privately-owned land that is suitable and available.
As the price of land continues to rise, and knowing that Bonnycastle – the smallest dog park in Winnipeg, and built on City-owned land – cost over half million dollars to develop, WINDOG’s view is that the proposed budget of $300,000 year will not go far.
Mayor Bowman fulfills his 2014 election promise to create a downtown off-leash area…
Bonnycastle, a new gated community…for dogs!
Except for Bonnycastle, where no expense was spared on artificial turf designed specifically for dog parks, ornamental fencing and double gates, trees and shrubs, lighting, benches and a drinking fountain, Winnipeg dog parks continue to be seriously underfunded. It is well-documented that Parks has not had an increase in its service delivery budget for fifteen years. This has led to a decline in the quality of amenities, and many services have had to be reduced or discontinued. And as resources have declined, the City has increasingly come to rely on off-leash area stewardship groups like those at Kilcona and Maple Grove to raise money for capital improvements and to supply volunteer labour to help with park maintenance.
Kilcona Park Dog Club and CITO Geocache volunteers spread wood chips on off-leash trails
Clearly, without adequate, dedicated capital funding, the City simply won’t have the capacity to create new off-leash dog parks to accommodate the growing dog population.
WINDOG and its partners have asked City Council to create a dedicated capital fund for off-leash areas, just as it has recently done for street renewal. However, Henry wants to make it clear that “WINDOG is not asking for a tax increase like the road renewal fund. A modest tenth of a percent of the current tax allocation would yield half million dollars a year. Over the next decade, that’s five million dollars that can be used to create new dog parks and upgrade existing ones to comply with OLAMP standards.”
WINDOG’s proposal to Council comes at a time when the City faces significant financial challenges. With an infrastructure deficit pegged at $6.9 billion over the next ten years, the new Council will have some difficult choices to make. Kudos to Councillor Janice Lukes, who’s already announced that, if re-elected, she intends to support a dedicated capital fund!
Janice Lukes – Winnipeg’s first ‘Super Dog-Friendly’ candidate
In the months leading up to the October 24 municipal election, WINDOG encourages dog owners to ask their own candidates where they stand on the question of dedicated capital funding for dog parks. WINDOG will be asking questions too. Once again, as part of its ‘I Own a Dog AND I Vote’ campaign, the coalition will survey candidates and post their responses on its website – along with “Super Dog-Friendly, Dog-Friendly, Neutral, Dog-Unfriendly, and Super Dog-Unfriendly” ratings.
Look for the “Super Dog Friendly” icon at windog.ca