Tuesday, August 13, 2013


 Toronto Star article on dogs off-leash in Sam Smith Park (Aug. 13/2013)

There are few things dogs in southern Etobicoke love more than running free in Colonel Sam Smith Park. But local bird watchers are suggesting pooches be banished from the nature area, claiming they are destroying nesting habitat for songbirds.
Birders say off-leash dogs have been attacking the feathered creatures that nest in the designated bird sanctuary’s wetlands and meadows. As a result, they argue, there are fewer birds to gaze at.
“I’ve noticed a decline of certain species over the years, I’m sure because of the dogs who go galloping through the grass,” said Terry Smith, founding member of Friends of Sam Smith Park.
Although Sam Smith has a designated off-leash zone, many dog owners prefer to let their pets run untethered through the main park, ecologically enhanced by the city to provide an avian habitat. Angry birders say dogs are thwarting the reproductive efforts of songbird species that normally breed on the grass, like Savannah sparrows and killdeer.
Bird watcher Peter Whitmore says he’s seen red-necked grebes, which nest on floating vegetation in the lake, lose offspring to mutts who dive after them in the water.
“I saw one pair lose three sets of eggs,” he said. “That just broke my he
Dog owners say the park’s leash-free zone — a fenced-in field beside a water treatment plant — is an unfit place to let their hounds run wild.
“It’s like a corral,” said Keith Elliot, 53, who routinely allows his two dogs to roam loose in the park’s habitat areas. “Might as well keep them in my backyard.”
Jennifer Mirrlees, 33, feels the leash-free area is too unsanitary for her Aussiedoodle.
“Dogs pick up germs in those zones because there are so many dogs in a small area,” she said. “I don’t think dogs are creating that much havoc in the park. Everybody lets their dogs off leash here.”
Unleashing one’s dog in a non-leash-free area is illegal, says Toronto Animal Services program manager Mary Lou Leiher, but there aren’t enough bylaw officers to enforce the rules.
“On any given day we may have four or six bylaw officers for the whole city,” she said. “There are about 1,500 parks in Toronto….so their plates are full.”
Birders say Sam Smith has become a no-landing zone for songbirds that once used it as a stopover on their migratory flights. Some argue the park should adopt a similar “no dogs” policy to Tommy Thompson Park, which is considered a significant wildlife area.
“Birds flying across Lake Ontario need a place to stop, eat, rest and mate,” said nature photographer Richard Sigesmund. “So why not make the park dog-free?”
Some dog owners disagree. “Why should they have any more rights than the dog people?” said Martha, who often unleashes her four Norfolk terriers in the park. “We all pay property taxes for Christ’s sake.”
Leiher wouldn’t comment on whether the city would consider banning dogs at Sam Smith, but suggested dog owners police their pets instead.
“We advocate for making sure your dog is a good canine citizen,” she said, “which doesn’t include killing small animals in the park.”


Anonymous said...

How do you do, I just want to inform that I read the article in the Star about dogs interfering with birds. I feel very strongly the issue of banning dogs from the park should be taken up with the local councilor, and also Mayor Ford. Local residents feel the park is their private domain and not a resource like all other city parks that are for everyone. The notion, as stated by one of the residents in the article that they should be allowed to let dogs roam free because they pay property taxes is utterly absurd, and is a perfect example of their attitude of entitlement.

Sir Sam Smith is unique, and these people are ruining the park experience for everyone.

It's time to ramp up the lobbying and get this very special park designated 'no dogs' as soon as possible.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Anonymous said...

I do not hit golf balls in Sam Smith Park because it is illegal and a safety hazard, unleashed dogs are also illegal and a safety hazard. Leash laws are in place for a reason and must be obeyed, the city needs to target the area for enforcement.

Anonymous said...

For those of us who enjoy Sam Smith Park - with or without a dog - know that to focus only on dogs as being a problem for birds is a joke. The city dug up a natural meadow to build a skating path, there is a football pitch right beside the bush where warblers gather in spring. There is a LARGE marina that seems to expand every year, and it is right where the grebes nest. There are teens that light firecrackers all summer long, large groups that have bonfires every night. But perhaps the biggest joke - if they want a sanctuary for birds - shouldn't the oiling of geese and swan eggs in spring be banned? How can you protect some birds but others?
AND, birders and photographers are some of the worst offenders, they don't hesitate to get as close as possible to the birds, the nests, ignoring the posted signs to stay clear.
But I guess it's just easier to blame the dogs.

Anonymous said...

I am still suffering back problems from having been knocked down by dogs last year.I am the one on the hook for chiro-physio and all the drug costs that I need to take to manage the pain.Even yesterday I did not see one dog on leash although I saw many dogs.I have yelled at dogs to get away from ducks and the owners seemed to think I was the one with a problem.You know the dogs off leash is a problem when you drive to Luther Marsh-about 120km away and you run into someone who is complaining about the off leash dogs in Sam Smith.And how they had to photograph the dog's waste and bring it to the owners attention.

Susan said...

I have to agree with the comments made by anonymous re: the numerous issues threatening the birds. Off-leash dogs are not the only problem. I am an avid user of Sam Smith park, and would hate to lose the opportunity to walk my dogs there. Somehow, we all have to learn to live together.

I was unaware of the damage done to the nests of birds. Now that I know, I will be especially careful. Perhaps educating dog owners, rather than banning them would be a better approach. Most dog owners that I've met in the park are responsible, and would take care if they knew their dogs were damaging wildlife.

Inconsiderate people, and irresponsible dog owners should not be allowed to ruin the enjoyment of Sam Smith Park by everyone. Try educating people before restricting them.

Sunny said...

This shouldn't be an us against them issue. I love dogs, but I also love all wildlife and unleashed dogs are illegal, so let's just leash our dogs!

Pollution might actually be the largest culprit(from fireworks, teens, photographers, late night parties, hikers, even some dog owners). Every year on Earth day I pitch in and help clean the park of garbage... unfortunately many people (dog walkers and non) walk past me like i have a disease for picking up garbage.

I was picking up garbage along the shore once, and a large unleashed dog ran towards me with such ferocity that I had a small heart attack (the owner was miles away), the dog sniffed and carried on, but I really would have appreciated if it had been on a leash to save me from wondering of it's motives. It also took a poop before running back to its faraway owner, leaving a nice surprise for an unsuspecting visitor.

Anonymous said...

I am a responsible dog owner and a wildlife lover.
I walk my dog in the park once or twice a day 365 days a year.
I also pick up garbage each and every day I'm in the park.
A lot of this garbage is in areas where people are watching birds.
Should I be banned from walking my dog in the park? Who then would pick up the hundreds of bags of garbage I pick up? I see many many bird watchers walk past the very garbage I pick up?
Should they be banned from the park or should the people watching the birds and throwing the garbage be banned?
You cannot regulate everyone, so the easy way out is to regulate one faction...dogs and their owners.
All I know is neither myself nor my dog leaves anything behind in the park...quite the opposite actually as I have to clean up after others daily.
This is a multi use park for the enjoyment of everyone not just a select few of elitists.

Anonymous said...

I do not own a dog, and I have seen the full range of off leash dog behaviour including being chased by a dog while cycling through the park. I have to say that there are responsible and irresponsible dog owners, just are there are responsible and irresponsible park users that do not own dogs. Maybe a greater controlled area of the park needs to be made accessible to dogs, and maybe all users should gently remind irresponsible dog owners of the rules when they seem them being broken.

Nancy Barrett said...

I posted this Star article on my Facebook page and here are some of the responses:

"There is a time and a place for everything. I love my dog and she gets occasional off leash play outside our yard (which is big enough for her to play lots as it is). However, I'm really choosy about where she gets to play off leash. Maybe that's because I don't want her screwing up my own photo ops, but I also don't want her disrupting nesting critters. She gets a bit more off leash time during winter when I snow shoe. I am very much annoyed when I see off leash dogs in wildlife refuges and wetlands where they are supposed to be on leash and my other dog isn't trust worthy enough off leash to ever be off leash)".

"When I go in park to take photos always carry in my pocket few milkbones.... just in case..."

From a friend who owns a sled dog team: "Couldn't agree more - if this is a bird nesting site there should be no off leash dogs."

"My feeling? There should be no off leash dogs period outside of your own space at your home or in a regulated and recognized off leash dog park/area."

"Education of pet owners is the first step; intelligent designation of no-dog areas (such as in Tommy Thompson Park) is a must; by-law enforcement is a no-brainer. The status quo of accepting the loss of nesting or staging birds is immoral, ignorant & detrimental to our natural heritage."

Peter Whitmore: "I'm quoted in the article, so I guess my position is fairly clear. I don't mind dogs in that park so long as they are on a leash (and not a 50-foot long leash). If dog owners are not willing or able to cooperate on THAT basis, I think they should be banned, period."

As for my personal feelings, I have witnessed many off-leash dog incidents during my time there. I am a birder and a photographer. I am very disturbed by the number of times that I've seen birds being harassed and chased while I've been quietly observing them. Many numbers of migrant birds as well as those who stay to breed use this park, and while I don't personally have anything against dogs, I do have a problem with dog owners who feel they can let their dogs roam at will off-leash. When I heard that the grebes' nests have been disturbed, that eggs went missing--possibly predated by dogs--I became incensed. While I would love to see the park designated as a bird sanctuary, I do feel that a compromise can be negotiated--AS LONG AS DOG-OWNERS KEEP THEIR PETS ON A LEASH.

Anonymous said...

I used to let my small dog off the leash while walking on the point as he didn't bother the wild animals and usually stayed on the path. One day however he spotted a rabbit and went tearing after it. I wasn't pleased but since he didn't catch it I wasn't too concerned and I continued taking him leash free to the point. One day he spotted a beaver and this little dog who could not be coaxed to enter water under any circumstances would not get out of the bay where the yacht club is. He was frenzied. He swam after the beaver for an eternity. The beaver was probably trying to tire him out before going in for the kill. I found out afterwards that beavers have killed dogs in SS before. Anyway, I was convinced then that he would stay on the leash for his own safety and for the well-being of the wildlife. Wild animals are struggling to survive and certainly don't need my pampered pet making their lives even more difficult.

Anonymous said...

My practical suggestion is to staff one by-law enforcement officer at the park,The amount of money gathered in fines would more than make up for hiring more officers.
In my opinion no dogs should be on the large spit at all.it should be gated and no dogs allowed.The smaller spit could be turned into a leash free area.One beach could be designated for dogs.Many times all of the beaches have dogs on them running free.
Some spots in the leash free area in High Park are so overused that there is only dirt where used to be lots of plants,so no matter what we give for leash free the area will turn into a mud field.Unless we designate the whole park leash free.User beware.

Anonymous said...

One idea is turn the large playing field into an alternate off leash area when it is not being used by the players(which seems to be most of the time)It's a huge area and partially fenced.
I believe there should be no dogs at all allowed in the wilder area of the park as people cannot seem to manage to leash them.Unless there is a complete moratorium on dogs in those areas the existing problems will persist.

Anonymous said...

There are all kinds of irresponsible park users, with and without dogs. Regardless of the method (leash or training of commands), owners should have their dogs under control. They should also teach their teenaged kids not to trash the place and leave broken beer bottles on the shoreline. Litter, poop or otherwise, should not be left on the ground. Cyclists shouldn't rip along the paths at 40k and should be using their bells to announce their presence.

Most dog folks are also nature lovers, and I believe would be responsive if they were made aware through signage of where the sensitive areas are. Most folks aren't aware that birds can nest on the ground in the grass.

If we're going on an enforcement tear, let's do something about the supposed bird-lovers who take bags of bread (yes, I know, NOT a good food for those birds, but people don't know that and they mean well) to feed the birds and LEAVE THE PLASTIC BAGS on the beach.

Let's ban picnic-ing as well, since a large contingent of them seem to easily bring lots of packaged food into the park, but don't seem to manage removing the garbage when they are done.

I see a lot more dog walkers than anyone else picking up garbage. Let's not get so shirty about dogs that we end up excluding park supporters from wanting to be 'friends of Sam Smith'. Many of the dog-people are local residents who use the park every day, year round, and truly love it. We ('good' dog owners) are as horrified as anyone about dog owners who allow their dogs to knock people over, do not know where their dogs are, and therefore do not know what they are doing or where they are pooping.

We need a team strategy and lots of education for everyone to understand what it takes to maintain a viable parkland that can be enjoyed by all.