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Mar 2019

No Funding for Winnipeg Dog Parks!

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A City Council committee has turned down Winnipeg Network of Dog Owner Groups’ request to fund implementation of the city’s new Off-Leash Area Master Plan (OLAMP) and invest in dog parks.

Appearing yesterday before the Standing Policy Committee on Protection, Community Services and Parks, WINDOG president Donna Henry asked the City to increase the 2019 Parks and Open Space capital budget so the long-awaited plan can be implemented.

The plan, which is a framework for creating and managing the city’s dog parks, was developed over the past two years in consultation with Winnipeg dog park advocates and dog owners at a cost of $100,000. It was approved by City Council last July. The plan’s supporting documents state:

“The City will establish a budget line to support capital investment in the establishment and enhancement of OLAs…and will establish additional operating budget resources for the management of OLAs…”

Parks and Open Space administrators say the City needs to allocate an additional $300,000  for dog parks in its capital budget in each of the next 6 years. The priority – upgrading existing off-leash areas. The money would also be directed to creating new ones in under-serviced neighbourhoods. Parks also needs additional funds in its operating budget – $15,000 to comply with new service standards (garbage collection, etc.) in existing dog parks and $9,905 per hectare for new ones.

Parks is committed to upgrading existing dog parks and creating new ones. But the division’s budget is stretched to the limit. Without secure capital funding that simply won’t happen.

Henry reminded the committee that groups in Point Douglas, the North End and at King George V Park have been waiting for years for a neighbourhood dog park. Residents have met with ward councillors, gathered names on petitions, and made presentations to community committees, EPC, and city council. They’ve heard the same message from every level.

“Be patient. Wait until the off-leash area master plan is complete. The City will have a process in place for creating new dog parks. And there will be funding to create and maintain them.”

Despite those assurances, yesterday’s decision means there is still no money for dog parks. Committee councillors (Sherri Rollins, John Orlikow, Ross Eadie and Vivian Santos) declined to make any changes to the proposed parks budget and endorsed it unanimously. It’s worth noting that this is the same committee that served as the master plan steering committee over the past two years, shepherding the plan through its development.

The committee’s decision should come as no surprise. Except for developing a new downtown dog park at a reported cost of approximately $700,000 to fulfill  Mayor Bowman’s 2014 election campaign promise, the City has not invested a cent in its off-leash areas since the first ones were established in 1998.

In the past few years, however, things were beginning to look a little brighter for Winnipeg dogs and their people. In 2014, in the run-up to the civic election, in addition to the promise of a new dog park for The Forks, City Council approved $100,000 to develop an off-leash area master plan.  Last July, during the run-up to the 2018 civic election,  Council voted to approve the master plan, even though elected officials knew there were important deficiencies in it. Cynics, including a few councillors, have suggested Council’s approval was merely expedient – the optics of throwing a bone to voting dog lovers, an attempt to “be seen as doing something for the dog park community”.

The election has come and gone and with it, it appears, Council’s interest in doing anything for the dog park community.

What message does the committee’s refusal to recommend funding to implement the plan send to dog owners and dog park advocacy groups?

That the new off-leash master plan has become just another document, shelved and gathering dust?

That the planning process was an utter waste of taxpayers’ dollars and that our participation in developing the plan, which we believed was valuable, was just a hollow exercise?

Until City Council is prepared to fund implementation of the off-leash area master plan, Winnipeg’s dog parks, in terms of their quality and quantity, will continue to deteriorate. And they will continue to rank at the back of the pack compared to other Canadian cities.

Follow the link to read WINDOG’s full submission to the Standing Policy Committee on Protection, Community Service and Parks.


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