It’s Not Rocket Science — It’s a Fence
ABOVE: A single open-ended fence separates dogs and children at an Overbrook park, leading to multiple incidents of dogs chasing kids. (Photo: Dave Weatherall)
Overbrook residents are upset about the lack of boundaries between dogs and children at a local park.
Once an on-leash-only park, the rules changed in 2020 when city staff installed signs allowing dogs off-leash in the park. Despite regulations in place, dogs roam freely on the soccer field, playground, basketball courts, and surrounding area due to an absence of fencing.
Families who frequent the park have witnessed various incidents, including dogs chasing children.
Two years ago, Overbrook resident, dog owner, and father, Dave Weatherall, created a petition to seek compromise and have the city add to an existing fence along the soccer field to create a fenced-in dog park. The remaining park area would revert back to being on-leash.
Considering that the nearby community gardens are fully fenced in, Weatherall and his neighbours thought it wasn't a big ask, nor would it be difficult to achieve, but his experience with his local councillor proved otherwise.
With the signatures of concerned residents in tow, Weatherall submitted the petition with the simple request to Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward Councillor Rawlson King but was immediately dismissed.
Interactions with dogs and children continued to occur
Weatherall was again concerned when he learned of an incident involving a dog chasing his neighbours daughters. Renée Robichaud’s two girls, ages 4 and 6, were using the playground when a dog came from the adjacent dog park area. The girls ran away, but the dog gave chase and eventually tackled the youngest girl. This was the family’s third incident with dogs at the same park.
Robichaud’s spouse confronted the dog owner and was reportedly told to teach the girls not to run away from dogs. With their developing impulse control, it can be difficult for a child to resist the urge to run away from a charging animal, whether or not they know better. “A playground is supposed to be their free space. It’s a natural reaction to run; it might not be the best, but it’s what their bodies tell them to do,” Robichaud said.
A fence would keep children safe from dog owners who can't control their pets
Since the incident, both of Robichaud’s daughters have expressed discomfort around the park and dogs in general. Her eldest daughter is now terrified of dogs, cowering away at the sight of them. The two girls will now only visit the park if there are no dogs, leaving immediately when one appears. “I hope there isn’t another incident, but I’m fearful that something else is going to happen, and we need to get to that before it does,” Robichaud said, “I’m surprised this type of situation is even permitted.”
Upset by the incident with his neighbour’s daughter, Weatherall approached Councillor Rawlson King with a simple request to fix a serious and potentially dangerous problem. Surprisingly King seemed unconcerned and kicked the can over to the Overbrook Community Association. King’s office said any process to change rules concerning dog parks and off-leash areas must involve local community associations. It left residents wondering . . . why can’t King’s office start the conversation with local community associations given the seriousness of the matter and that it has escalated to involving the safety of children.
A fence would contain the dogs and keep the feces in the dog-only zone
The Overbrook Community Centre soccer field is a beloved outdoor recreation spot, but children regularly come across dog waste while playing. Weatherall says that while children are at school, “owners bring their dogs to the park in the morning or during the day if they work from home. Most clean up after their dogs, but not everyone does, and by the time the kids arrive to play after school, there are dog feces on the field and potentially aggressive off-leash dogs roaming the playgrounds.”
Not everyone is a dog lover
The Overbrook neighbourhood includes many new Canadians who do not share the same cultural feelings toward dogs; many are afraid of dogs. “One woman I bumped into voiced that she no longer visits the park because of the dogs,” Weatherall said.
Incredulously Weatherall has spent two years of petitioning, reaching out to the city, and conversing with community members. Weatherall says he feels frustrated and helpless. His follow-up messages to Councillor King, including photos of the dog waste in the field and playground, have been ignored.
When Ottawa Life contacted Councillor King's office for comment, the response was a message stating that By-law and Regulatory Services has noted the increase in dog-related incidents in recent years due to a spike in dog ownership during the pandemic, along with the closure of parks and dog training facilities during the lockdown. “By-law staff note that, consequently, many families who welcome a new dog into their family lacked the necessary resources and support to train and socialize their pets, resulting in increased incidences of problematic behaviour.”
But what about the fence?
Instead of getting a simple fence installed as requested by residents to deal with the issue, Councillor King's office responded to the issues raised with the word-soup non-action answer of the year, telling Ottawa Life Magazine that they hope to address these concerns with a proactive By-law monitoring initiative in the coming months. “By-law staff will also be monitoring to ensure dogs are under the control of their handlers even if a leash is not required, and ensuring dogs are kept from being within five metres of playgrounds, splash pads, and pools.”
King also claims that additional staff will promote responsible pet ownership practices, enforce relevant by-laws and regulations accordingly, and ensure that dogs are leashed unless specifically in off-leash areas. “By-law Enforcement Services informed my office that they will hire and train summer students to toll out enhanced park enforcement for the upcoming summer season,” King said.
Councillor King then directed Ottawa Life Magazine to By-law enforcement services for more details on the monitoring initiative, such as start date and duration. To date, and despite numerous attempts, By-law enforcement has not confirmed they are doing anything about this matter.
Wouldn't installing a fence be easier and cheaper than hiring additional enforcement staff?
While extensive monitoring is a possible solution, how effective will it be compared to a fenced-off dog park? By-law and Regulatory Officers in the park daily may reduce the amount of dog waste and dog-child interactions, but what happens when they are not there to keep dogs from roaming freely and defecating in any area?
Many Overbrook residents feel that the situation is infuriating, avoidable, unsanitary, and dangerous. Weatherall has had no luck moving his vision forward and feels city staff are unwilling to fix it. “This doesn’t happen in other neighbourhoods, so it shouldn’t happen in ours.”
Let Councillor Rawlson King know how you feel
The Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Overbrook Community Association can be reached by email at email@example.com
In the event of a dog attack, victims or witnesses should always report to 9-1-1 in the case of immediate emergency or to 3-1-1 in cases of non-emergency. Residents also have the option to file a claim against the City if they believe the City has been negligent in its maintenance of facilities.