News / Toronto

Debate over off-leash dogs sparked amid strategy to save Toronto ravines

Owners want their pups to have the joy of running free in the forest. Environmental advocates say dogs need to be leashed.

Adam Goldhopf and Goldie, his three-year-old golden retriever.

View 3 photos

zoom

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Adam Goldhopf and Goldie, his three-year-old golden retriever.

As Toronto gets closer to a new strategy to protect the city's vast, precious ravines, one issue is dogging environmental advocates and park users alike: off-leash dogs.

Owners want their pups to have the joy of running free in the forest. Environmental advocates say dogs need to be leashed. And both sides are calling for changes that will let them meet in the middle.

“We need a balance,” said Adam Goldhopf, who frequents Toronto's ravine system with his three-year-old golden retriever, Goldie. "Should dogs be banned from ravines? No. Should all dogs just run free throughout every ravine? It sounds like that's a bad idea.”

Environmentalists already have some science on their side. Studies have shown that dogs trample plants, disturb soil, stress out small animals and reduce bird diversity. Plus, Toronto has a bylaw prohibiting dogs from running around off-leash, except on personal property or in a designated dog park. It's punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

Paula Davies, president of Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve, a heritage site in a ravine near Evergreen Brick Works, wants to see more enforcement of that rule.

In practice, pooches and their “entitled” humans “run rampant” through the ravines and rarely get called on it, Davies said. In Crothers Woods — an environmentally sensitive area with a mature forest and rare species — a sign saying dogs must be kept on a leash has been repeatedly knocked down.

City spokeswoman Jane Arbour confirmed signs were installed earlier this year, "and several have been vandalized or removed."

Goldhopf, who includes Crothers Woods in his treks with Goldie, had never heard about the concerns.

“I do let my dog off leash there,” Goldhopf said. “She loves running and going in the stream. She jumps around and gets muddy. It’s one of the happiest times she has.”

He thought the leash law was solely to stop human run-ins with badly behaved dogs and didn't realize it could harm the environment.

Goldie, who is a therapy dog, has an “amazing, chill and relaxed temperament,” thanks in part to all the exercise she gets, Goldhopf said. There's no substitute for off-leash time, he added, arguing that the dogs who need to blow off steam the most might not have the right personality for a small, crowded dog park.

“If the evidence is that dogs are going to destroy ravines, I 100 per cent will not take my dog off-leash. I’m not going to destroy the environment for the sake of my dog,” Goldhopf said, calling for better off-leash parks.

But he's skeptical: “I'm sure dogs do cause damage, in the same way living in your home causes damage to your home.”

More on Metronews.ca