East Van’s lack of off-leash dog parks is bad for everyone

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      If I told you that the City of North Vancouver—population 58,000—has no off-leash dog parks, you would probably be surprised. And you would be right—there are, in fact, six off-leash dog parks in North Van. 

      But East Vancouver, an area with a similar population to the City of North Vancouver, does not have a single off-leash park. Within a large, mostly residential area bounded by Clark Avenue to the west, Boundary Avenue to the east, Hastings to the north, and Broadway to the south, there is not even one off-leash dog park. An estimated 50,017 people (as of the 2021 census) live in this area, and they have nowhere close to take their dogs for socialization and exercise.

      Vancouver’s People, Parks and Dog Strategy estimates dog ownership at 36 per cent of all households. At 2.2 people per household, this means there are likely 8,000 East Van pooches with nowhere to socialize near home. The closest dog park for any East Van resident is more than a 15-minute walk, and requires crossing at least one major arterial road.

      Off-leash areas are important for dogs. Walking and sniffing at their own pace calms dogs. Running, jumping, playing, and socializing helps dogs be dogs, and reduces fearful or aggressive behaviour.

      Vancouver’s 2016 Parks and Recreation Master Plan identifies Grandview-Woodland as an underserved neighbourhood when it comes to off-leash parks. Although the adjacent Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood has some, these off-leash dog parks are on the periphery. Within the bounded area of 50,000-plus residents, there is nothing.

      The Park Board recently made a commitment to improve access to off-leash dog areas in the Downtown, Fairview, and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods. However, nothing has been offered further east.

      Dog ownership was once considered a luxury. Dog parks were, perhaps, seen as a benefit for the few who chose to own a dog and needed somewhere to take their pet. Then the pandemic hit. The importance of having a dog for social, physical, and mental wellbeing quickly became apparent. Dogs offered companionship when people were isolated, structure when there was nothing to do, and exercise when there was nowhere to go. 

      Early in the pandemic, some friends and I did a daily check-in. When the question of whether we’d gotten outside came up, my friends often answered no. In contrast, I would have been out, talked to a few other dog owners (at a safe distance), and, invariably, spoken with a stranger who wanted a dog but whose housing wouldn’t allow it. My dog was key to my wellbeing during that intense time of isolation.  

      On this side of the pandemic, dog ownership has stabilized. There are now approximately twice as many dogs in Vancouver as children under five. Due to the unaffordability of Vancouver, young families are moving out of the city, but dogs are here to stay. And while children’s play areas remain abundant, off-leash dog parks, especially on the East Side, are few and far between.

      Admittedly, sharing park space with dogs isn’t for everyone. But in Vancouver, the era has passed of every dog owner having the privilege of a large yard for their pet—as has the idea that dogs are a luxury. For many people, dogs are their social, physical, and/or mental health safety net.

      The City of Vancouver’s Animal Control Bylaw states that “a person who keeps a dog must not permit, suffer, or allow the dog to run at large” (notably, “at large” is not defined). But the same bylaw also states that “a person who keeps a dog, or a person who has care, custody, or control of a dog, must give the dog food, water, shelter, and exercise sufficient to maintain the dog in good health.”

      In my mind, the second requirement nullifies the first if there is no off-leash option within 10 minutes of home. The next time an animal control officer inquires as to why your dog is off-leash in an underserved area, let them know you are only following the bylaw—your dog requires off-leash time to maintain good health. Until the City provides more options for dog owners, this may be the only solution.