Monday, May 5, 2008

WALKS WITH DOGS - Kathleen Sims

Many of us enjoy walking in Sam Smith Park with our dogs and it is a fact that city dogs are not exercised enough for their physical well being. Indeed, in Turin Italy, as of2005, a city bylaw was enacted stating that owners will be fined up to $750 if they do not walk their flogs three times a day. In addition as pack animals, city dogs do not have enough opportunities to socialize with other members of their species, which is necessary for their psychological health. Our park offers this opportunity, which many people take while supervising the canine interactions.

Now that spring is here the ducks, geese, swans, and some additional birds are nesting on the ground in Sam Smith Park. Eggs are laid and incubated, in many cases near the water's edge. They are wild creatures without access to veterinarian care should they be injured in any way.

On a daily basis although Sam Smith Park does not have a designated leash free zone dogs are off-leash walking beside their human companions, socializing with other canines and in some cases running about unsupervised and out of sight.

It is the third category that is of concern during nesting season. Do you know where your dog is at all times? Is your dog harassing or harming wild life? In addition, should your dog behave in a way which threatens signets, swans can take quite aggressive defensive actions and Canada geese also are known to defend their goslings.

Sadly, throughout the world birds generally are under heavy threat of endangerment if not extinction. The reasons for this include destruction of wetlands and forests, mono-crop cultivation, pesticides, oil spills, diseases (such as avian flues and West Nile), and tall brightly lit buildings along their migratory paths (such as in downtown Toronto as documented by FLAP). Furthermore, a 2003 study in Holland indicated that in noisy urban environments some songbirds cannot shift the pitch of their songs enough to attract mates and the noise can prevent their young from even hearing and learning their mating songs.

Of particular ethical interest quite outside the supervision issue is a 2007 Australian study that showed that walking dogs in natural areas dramatically reduced the number and variety of bird life. "Dog walking and conservation areas really don't mix," according to ecologist Peter Banks, a specialist in prey and predator behaviours.

To not be one sided it must be acknowledged by this feline lover that predation by house cats especially in North American where indigenous birds have not evolved defense mechanisms to non-indigenous cats is a terrible threat to bird populations. This ethical dilemma is whether to let kitty outside at all. At the very least, it is recommended that cats should be inside at dusk and dawn when the birds are most vulnerable.

As to dogs, it is suggested that if your pet is leash free and not by your side, he or she does not go into the naturalized part of the park during nesting season. Indeed a responsible person who cares about all animals and their well being (and who understands that there are some people who are afraid of dogs) should always have their dog in sight and under their direct control.

It is the presence of the birds that make Sam Smith Park a beautiful and peaceful place for us all, especially the many visitors who are active bird watchers. Let's think about the ancestors of our doggy friends, the wolves and how they co-operate for the benefit of the pack.

Suggested readings: Bridget Stutchbury's “The Silence of the Songbirds” and John Terborgh's “Where Have All the Birds Gone” (1989)

Posted by Kathleen Sims


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