Commentary

Hounds Hunt for Hamilton Off-Leash Parks

It doesn't seem like too much to ask that all Hammer-folk can walk to a park and let their dogs off-leash legally.

By Lindsay Soomet
Published August 31, 2009

"There are many options in Hamilton for dogs and their owners," claims The City of Hamilton website, but where, oh where may they be? We have seven designated areas to let our canine companions loose in a community of 714,900 people in its metropolis - the ninth largest city in Canada! Dogs are abundant here, and most are on-leash or backyard-bound when it's time to play fetch.

After a recent move to Hamilton, I made it my mission to keep Finnegan, my two-year-old chocolate lab, as chipper as he was in Toronto. So far, I've failed. Water is sparse in steeltown, though wherever I seem to be going or coming from, Lake Ontario is looking back at me. Can we not deem some portion of it to the dogs? In Toronto, Finn had beaches to choose from - now he's left dogpaddling in half-filled puddles from earlier rains.

Thanks to some neighbourly advice, we did find a great spot hidden away in Dundas. On Tally Ho Drive there's a small parking lot that can easily be missed, with a trail leading to forest, endless pathways, and yes, a pond and stream! Warren Park is the sweet spot for a drenched game of retrieval, but without wheels, you and your poodle are out of luck.

Further up the mountain the SPCA has a designated park with a small stream too, but it's quite the hike to venture to, and even on a Sunday afternoon you'll find only a handful of tail-waggers and their owners.

An alternative is to take the pooch out in the wee hours of the morn, when it's so dark Fido can let loose in a city park without being spotted by the law. But c'mon now, who wants to rise before the break of dawn and risk a whopping $125 fine just to see their dog run in an open field? Finn is a lucky little guy to have an owner that takes such chances to see that doggy grin.

Proposed Park at Young and Ferguson

Things are taking shape on the horizon, though. Some of our City Councillors are stepping up for Hamilton's hounds. Bob Bratina, the city's Ward 2 Councillor, who's not a dog owner but still has a huge sense of appreciation for the ones in Hammertown, may have dug up the perfect location to cater to dogs, their owners and concerned neighbours.

"The rail trail goes past this ideal spot - a big, triangular piece of land just to the east of Young [St.] and Ferguson [Ave. S.]," said Bratina. He added that creating a park on this site could additionally curb the grafitti and loitering happening there. Bratina plans to propose this to the city in anticipation of making his vision a reality.

Apparently the Councillor had already been hoping for a park proposal in Corktown to be approved earlier, but alarmed neighbours killed the deal. "They have this picture of dogs running wild and a big dog fight, but that's not what it is," Bratina proclaimed.

There's an urgency to shed light on the subject, to enable Hamiltonians to discover what people of Toronto stumbled upon long ago - city dog parks provide a place to keep dogs under control, exercised and content, thereby decreasing the number of negative off-leash incidents the city may encounter.

A Need for Leash-Free Parks

Right now there are just not enough parks to accommodate the city's puppy population. Brian McHattie, our Ward 1 Councillor, agrees, claiming, "the leash-free park in Ward 1 has been extensively used and both dogs and their owners appear to be really pleased with the facility. We've found that citizens from across the city are using the park, so this may suggest a need for leash-free parks in other areas."

The park he's speaking of is on Hill Street near Dundurn, and if you visit there in the morning, one of the first things you notice is that more dogs are driven by car here than walked on foot. Shouldn't we be able to walk our pals to a park for a play? And what about the owners who don't have a car?

We need to lobby for more dog spots in the urban areas of this city amass with green space. It doesn't seem like too much to ask that all Hammer-folk can walk to a park and let their dogs off-leash legally. Perhaps with Bratina's potential downtown park, more will emerge, because one still isn't enough.

To propose an off-leash area near you, visit the City of Hamilton website, Public Works Department, and you'll find the means to complete an application form [see links at the bottom of the page]. For questions or concerns regarding the Leash Free Parks Program, the city encourages us to call their office at 905-546-2424 ext. 2045.

Lindsay Soomet is a Hamilton-based freelance writer who enjoys dog-walking, latté-sipping, magazine-flipping and more. She holds a joint B.A. in Cultural Anthropology/Philosophy as well as a Certificate in Magazine Publishing.

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By Brioski8 (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 10:18:17

You must also have a active organisation of at leat 10 volunteer members before sending in the application. I phoned the City last year to talk to someone about a dog park for Gage Park and got passed to about 3 or 4 different people, so this is obviously not a prioity issue.

I'd be willing to join a volunteer group if someone is willing to lead. Alas, I found out that I don't have the driven personality that is required to keep a volunteer organisation together, nor do I have the time.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 11:08:46

For the life of me I've never been able to figure out why they don't just have leash-free hours in most neighbourhood parks like they do in Toronto and many other cities. Yet another example of Hamilton exceptionalism.

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By Ty (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 13:42:25

"Dogs are abundant here, and most are on-leash or backyard-bound when it's time to play fetch."

This may well be, but as a father of two young children I know from experience that in fact many, many dog owners just ignore the leash laws and let their dogs roam loose in city parks and play areas.

That said, I fully support the ideas here - more off-leash parks, and I think clearly posted (and sensible - not during prime hours for children's use please) off-leash hours at regular city parks are a great way to go.

And a word to dog owners - it's so much easier on everyone if you help police other dog owners. A friendly word about leash laws from fellow dog owners accomplishes so much more than one from those of us who love dogs but won't keep one in the city!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 13:59:02

The off-leash hours at my sister's local park in TO are before 8am and after 8pm. Pretty sensible IMO.

Just curious, Ty. Why won't you keep a dog in the city? Cities are great places for most breeds, particularly this one, where you're rarely more than a few minutes away from natural areas, trails, etc.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 15:24:43

There are zero day time hour dog parks in urban Hamilton and I've talked with other dog owners that have issues with shift work that can't make the scheduled off-hours. There is also an issue with over crowding at the beginning of the off leash hours.

Here is a map I made for dog parks in Toronto, blue being all hours, pink being off hours.

http://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?hl=en&...

What kills me about the Hill Street park is the city's flat out refusal to consider fencing it in completely, considering there is a superior park for kids on the other side of the train track. There has been a series of excuses rolled out with the most recent being a lack of parking, for a dog park. It isn't an issue for me, but I know people that have dogs that will follow scents. Dogs have run out in the past, particularly after the ass that drives by at 5km/h with his four dogs yipping out the window.

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By daveer (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 16:30:01

The author's ignorance of the issue on Toronto shows in this passage:

"There's an urgency to shed light on the subject, to enable Hamiltonians to discover what people of Toronto stumbled upon long ago - city dog parks provide a place to keep dogs under control, exercised and content, thereby decreasing the number of negative off-leash incidents the city may encounter".

This is untrue and part of the propaganda being spread by Sandy Straw our parks manager (who is also a professional dog breeder). The fact is there is no proof whatsoever that there is a decrease in illegal off leash activity when more parks are made offleash. THe simple fact of the matter is that she has directed by-law enforecement (which, conveniently, she also manages) to refrain from issuing fines. THAT is why there are very few fines handed out.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 16:44:57

There are very few fines handed out because the behaviour has to be reported and then caught in the act. They aren't just roaming around the city. Most people that engage in illegal off leash activity aren't harming anyone and most people don't care if ridiculous laws are broken. If someone had their dog off leash and the dog was a nuisance, action would be taken.

As for your proof, if all dogs are allowed off leash in all areas at all times, then there is zero incidents of illegal off leash behaviour, reducing the time and/or area can not reduce the previous rate (0) and can only lead to an increase or sustained rate. Math.

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By daveer (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 17:12:38

So the math man (JonC) says, in writing, that if he thinks the law is ridiculous then its okay to be broken. I can assure you that the dozens of calls I have made regarding the dozen dogs that hang out off leash in my local park have gone unanswered - and these dogs are there like clockwork every day. It's evident you know nothing about this, JonC.

JonC is a perfect example of the lazy, selfish dog-owner attitude that has resulted in many well-used parks being turned over to a special interest group so they can socialize and exercise their dogs - the rest of us be damned.

What an ass, but at least he's honest about it!

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By Bubba (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 18:04:51

Geeez Louise. "lazy, selfish dog-owner attitude that has resulted in many well-used parks being turned over to a special interest group".

So many parks? 2? 2 is "so many"? There are hundreds upon hundreds of parks in Hamilton. One of the things I am proud of about my city is the amount of green space. How hard is it to put aside a small percentage for dogs?

Daveer, you are an ass, and a dihonest one as well.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 19:35:27

JonC >> If someone had their dog off leash and the dog was a nuisance, action would be taken.

JonC >> There are very few fines handed out because the behaviour has to be reported and then caught in the act. They aren't just roaming around the city.

According to JonC, if there were problems with off leash dogs, action would be taken. However, because city officials aren't "roaming around the city", they are rarely caught in the act. JonC, if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to here it, does it still make a noise?

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By JonC (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 19:58:14

Laws, both ridiculous or otherwise, are broken by most individuals on a daily basis. I did notice that you didn't argue the math I presented, so I assume you have conceded that an increase in lawful options results in a decrease of illegal behaviour. Your story about calls going unanswered is of course ridiculous. If it were true, you would demand to speak to a manager the next time you called and the lack of attention to your complaints would be dealt with. I can assure that complaints, valid or not, automatically become a managers number one priority. So I call bully on your sob story.

As for my own lawlessness, I do walk my dog off leash along our city's fine system of alley ways as well as non-zoned parks when not in use. My dog is obedient and returns on command, but I wouldn't have him off leash near activity or anyone that appeared uncomfortable. My mother is terrified of dogs, so I can appreciate the variance in comfort levels. And of course, I always bag poo. So do I break the law, sure. Hopefully in a way that doesn't bother anyone. I've never had someone complain, and I've had bike cops smile as they ride down the alley, looking for actual problems.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 20:00:51

Oh, If it fell on my house, someone would hear about it.

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By nutty squirrel (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 21:09:46

All parks should be leash free and not just a selected few.

When you designate certain parks to be leash free you are creating problems for the people who live near these parks. Why should someone who lives near these parks be subjected to strangers who do not live near the area showing up at all times of the day to park their car? Would you want cars driving up and down your streets because someone wants their dog to be off a leash? If all parks were leash free then it would allow people to use their closest park. We as tax-payers would then not have to pay for the upkeep of 'off-leash' parks - new fences, new sod etc.(maintenance that is necessary due to the large concentration of dogs in that park).

It should be up to the dog owner to make the decision if their dog can be off a leash. If your dog is off leash and it bites someone, then they are taking on the liability of the dog being off-leash.

We could also save money by not having to employ by-law officers to ticket people who are breaking the law of having their dog off-leash. I am not sure how much they make but I would bet that they make somewhere in the neighbourhood of parking officers (a little over $30/hr).

Do our local politicians not have anything else to work on during the day other than creating dog parks?

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By Human (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 22:41:54

Off-leash park? How about a dog-free neighbourhood?

I don't mind a bit if there are more off-leash parks, I really don't. But I'd like a compromise. You get your dog parks, I get some city zones that are designated dog-free so I don't have to listen to their incessant barking or evade their crap.

I would not be surprised if there were more dogs in my neighbourhood than children. Many are treated like children, with their special treats, their clothing, their strollers (I know you've seen those!) and now their dedicated off-leash parks. Perhaps the city can also set up some little doggie kindergartens, or perhaps a literacy program for pooches.

That would be wonderful. Meanwhile, in my dog-free zone, I'd doze in my hammock in the blissful quiet. It's win-win.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 01, 2009 at 09:41:47

Based on my experience in Hamilton parks I'd never guess that it was illegal to have dogs off a leash. I've been nipped and bitten on the lower leg/ankle more times than I care to remember, while the dog owners sit on their duffs nearby doing nothing about it. My kids are developing one heck of a fear of dogs due to the countless times they've had one charge them in a city playground. We might as well get someone at city hall to take an eraser to the 'leash bylaw'. Then, every park in the city will be a dog park. They already are.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted September 01, 2009 at 10:04:20

I hope you contacted the appropriate authorities to file a complaint. Even in an off-leash park, owners are required to ensure dogs have a level of control over their dogs. If dogs are biting people, you need to file a report to ensure the dogs are removed from the irresponsible home. Dogs that misbehave are typically not well cared for in general.

I would also encourage you to contact your councilperson and demand a separate/fenced park to keep the dogs separate.

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By Dale (anonymous) | Posted July 14, 2014 at 15:40:35 in reply to Comment 33138

JonC I have read all these comments and only one of yours bugs me. Like you I walk my dogs illegally offleash in the park, I am fully engaged with them playing and running around, not once is my attention taken off them so I can always recall them if needed or if I see others walking dogs. But to say a dog that bites is in an irresponsible home it just false, what if it was a rescue? What if the situation the dog was cornered by other dogs and had to protect itself. MY dog has been in many tuffels in the dog park, but I have control of her I once had her in a dog while another dog bit at her. Is that dog in a bad home? no it was telling my dog off. I care for my dog very well and we have done endless obedience training to this day and we do agility, has she bit another dog, hell yes, has she bit a person no. But I have seen it personally where a dog accidentally bit someone because they had a ball in their hand and were running with it. Is this a bad dog? I don't think so.

Also not to JonC, but people with kids with fear of dogs, EDUCATE YOU DAMN KIDS! I have had 'fearful' kids come up to my 80lb Malmute and ask to pet them, but parents come and grab their kid away. Some have even said sorry he can't he is afraid... Really kids only know fear from what their parents tell them or what their parents fear.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 01, 2009 at 10:46:01

Jason, many of the problems you describe would be solved with posted leash-free hours at off-peak times. The problem now is that people are reacting to the unreasonable restrictions on dogs by allowing them to run loose at all times and in all areas. If the restrictions are perceived as reasonable (certain times of the day, away from the playground) there will be far more compliance.

Healthy public spaces are inclusive, and having more leash-free areas recognizes that dogs and their owners are an important part of the community fabric. I mean, who doesn't know at least a few of the neighbourhood dogs? They are characters who add to the local 'colour', and offer their owners the opportunity to bond with others informally in our shared public spaces. Healthy communities should recognize and encourage the positive social benefits of dogs, and not simply seek to control the negatives.

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By kfas (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2009 at 11:15:35

Well, I sure as hell won't drive to a park to exercise my dog. Ridiculous.

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By Mutt (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2009 at 19:14:38

Dogs suck.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted September 05, 2009 at 01:50:27

Good Luck on getting that Leash Free Area, Lindsay! You may need it.

'Human's comment about sums it up: "Off-leash park? How about a dog-free neighbourhood?" (why do I suspect 'Human', or a few like him live in my neighbourhood? ) :P A barking dog is a bored dog. Maybe it needs a walk, or a dog park. :)

There have been about 6 or 7 letters recently in the local paper about 'dog residue' as a serious health threat. Even if you scoop, some fecal material may be left behind, it's true. However. does this mean your dog should never be allowed off your property? Maybe dogs should just be banned? Who knows where this opinion is going to take us? Maybe it's a decent argument for dog parks -60 miles out of town?

There are an abundance of dog haters in the GHA, just as there are in many places, however some of them seem to have some friends in high places. If you live in one of these areas, you won't likely ever get a decent leash free area. You may even find that you get followed, & harrassed for walking your dog on leash & pooper scooping. (not because you are breaking any laws, but because you have the nerve to ask for something 'different', & 'How Dare You!'.

We had 2 heavy coated, large dogs & somehow we 'must be up to something' since we walked them after dark in the Summer. Nevermind that shift work was involved. It's pretty hard to walk a dog when you are at work. We would be routinely followed, & have the local unofficial 'park wardens' suggest that we 'move along' if we stopped to rest & talk. The dog were leashed, & we had flashlights & pooper scooper kits, which needless to say we used.

Somebody was actually threaten with a gun & physical violence to himself & his dog in a park near here. (& people who simply want a dog park are supposed to be the 'weird-os'?)

You may even be told that, "Parks are for people only." (? because God deemed humans to be superior to animals?) My person fav. is the fellow who wrote a thoroughly nasty letter about me to the Ed. of the local paper asking, "How would I like a bunch of dogs tearing around My back yard?" This man clearly feels that a public park is his personal property & the rest of the neighbourhood uses it with his (grudging?) permission. If the owners pooper scooped & brought well behaved dogs to my yard, I would not have a problem with that.

Parks & green spaces are at a premium in some areas & only 'paying guests' are welcome. Individual activities within a park may be looked on as wasteful, counter productive, or worse.

In some ways, Hamilton/GHA is light years behind Toronto, New York, Mississauga, Ottawa & other major cities. All you have to do is read this board to see that. Public transit is looked at as unnecessary by many, just as bike lanes, Rapid Rail, & skate parks may cause Society to crumble.

Some see driving for 1/2 an hour to get to a dog park as appropriate, since it's "such a freaky concept". Some see dog owners getting together as some kind of threat. Some see dogs as a threat. Even the Health Canada commercials state that walking a dog is wonderful physical exercise, having a dog provides companionship, & the social interaction between dog owners is great for the soul. Night dog walkers also provide a good measure of security to a park & prevent vandalism & other crime.

Me? I'd like to live in a neighbourhood without dog haters, & dog owner haters. (Maybe I'd just like to live in a place without Haters at all.)

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By sonas (registered) | Posted September 08, 2009 at 12:27:55

There is some virtually unused space in the north end (MacNab & Burlington) that just happens to be the right size for a small dog park. I'm working on forming a volunteer committee to do the required fundraising (dog park construction requires a 50% input from the committee) and planning to create a leash free park.

If anyone is interested in participating, shoot me an email @ NEdogpark@gmail.com.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 08, 2009 at 13:43:01

Hi sonas,

I think RTH readers would really appreciate a report on how the campaign goes: your luck at drawing volunteers, what works and doesn't work, what obstacles you face, and so on. That would be a great resource for other would-be dog park advocates.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted September 08, 2009 at 16:54:08

I'll let you know, the parks department is being stubborn about having adequate parking at the Hill Street park (to get it fully fenced in). The next time you're there, take a look at how much is available along the park. You'll need to convince them that using the Harbour parking is acceptable.

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By sonas (registered) | Posted September 08, 2009 at 18:23:30

Hi Ryan, I'll definitely keep you posted on the progress. There's a lot of theoretical support... we'll see how much actual support there is :)

Jon: the Bay View site would require either parking on the street (quite limited), or down at Pier 8 (less limited). Of course, if we actually get the city to make good on their policies about getting dog parks and free-run areas in every ward, parking would presumably be less of an issue, as the locations would allow people to walk to their local park.

The bigger problem with the Bay View park idea is going to be that in the Waterfront ReDev plans, it's going to become a parking lot. So, we're keeping an open mind, and open eyes...

cheers, kerry

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By lovesdogs (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 14:05:05

There is nothing wrong with strollers for dogs. Dog owners have many reasons for using these nifty devices. Aging dogs who cannot walk fast or far; recovering from surgery for foot, knee and leg/hip problems; small dogs afraid of other dogs or small children who don't understand meeting and greeting manners, and the list goes on. We once left humans to languish in beds or cots before wheelchairs were invented. The human-animal bond is a historically long and strong link. Please be less critical of how others choose to share the planet.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 16, 2009 at 10:33:59

This just came in from the Public Works Committee Report going to Council tonight:


Notices of Motion

Councillor Merulla introduced the following Notice of Motion:

Revision to Hours of Leash-Free Park - Hill Street Park (Ward 1)

Whereas there is a growing interest in using the Hill Street (Ward1) leash-free park in the day time hours; and

Whereas spreading out use of the leash-free park over more hours will avoid the current concentration of users in the evenings only; and,

Whereas Hill Street Park is under-utilized by area residents; and

Whereas the use by off-leash dogs is in the west end of the park, partially fenced off from the playground.

Therefore, be it resolved:

That the hours of the Ward 1 Leash-free Park at Hill Street Park be changed to 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for a six-month pilot test period, from April 1, 2010 to September 30, 2010.


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By stoccato (registered) | Posted October 28, 2009 at 22:42:23

There are many trails offered by the Hamilton Conservation Area and the Royal Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, there seems to be no reasoning with the folks that run these trails. Recently we suggested that HCA designate a few trails as leash free for part of the day (e.g. morning hours) and even assess a higher fee for use of these trails to help support any monitoring or maintenance costs. One HCA employee seemed to like the idea. The head of HCA, however, completely dismissed the idea -- although he admitted that the biggest issue he faces are dogs being off leash. Unfortunately, instead of becoming a part of the solution, he seems to want to see the problem to continue.

It is also sad that Hamilton cannot follow the lead of Mississauga (see http://www.leashfreemississauga.com/) which established many years ago a nonprofit that works in cooperation with the city to establish quality leash free areas.

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By Sheila (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2014 at 10:40:44 in reply to Comment 35032

Are you kidding?? Loose dogs in areas where fawns, young rabbits etc find refuge. No way !! Need more off leash areas for sure but NOT in conservation lands!

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By larry ross (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2013 at 16:24:45

agree totally. dogs are getting more rights than people who live there. think of it - would you want cars, barking dogs and noise beside you all day?? delottinville area people freaked out thwen they heard a dog park was going there!

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By tiger (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2013 at 09:59:46

Hope there are still people reading this page... could anyone please tell me where folks take their dogs to swim near hamilton? and by that i mean actually swim, not just splash in a creek... are there any good dog-friendly, or at least not dog-unfriendly, beaches along lake ontario near hamilton? i called the valens and christie conservation area folks, and they told me that dogs have to be on-leash even in the water (wha?). i also googled "warren park" from the article but it looks like that's no longer dog swim friendly... just wondering - i have a senior dog who has some arthritis so for her, decent swims a couple of times a week in the summer are pretty essential. thanks in advance for any help :)

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By Larry (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2014 at 10:38:39 in reply to Comment 90243

In states some entrepreneurs have got together and made a splash pond for dogs ( like at dundas driving park for kids). Great idea ! Many 130$ dollar tickets being issued in HCA etc for loose dogs. Running dogs and baby deer aren't a good mix I must say. Need more parks, away from residential, with a buffer zone for barking, and plenty of parking.

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By mother goose (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2013 at 18:31:31 in reply to Comment 90243

What about the roped off beach by the tugboat park - it's perpetually listed as unsafe for human swimming (due to goose poo) so I don't think anyone would give you trouble if you had an obedient dog off-leash there.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2013 at 11:50:15

Are dogs not allowed on the beach strip? I've taken my dogs into the water off the waterfront trail down near Hutches many times.

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By V (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 00:08:36

Fifty Point Conservation Area has a beach specified for dogs. It did last summer, at least. Dogs are not allowed on the beach strip. Also, we recently went to Wild Waterworks on the beachfront, and they have a day (I think in September?) where it is a dog-only swimming pool, with the gradual entrance just like a beach.

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By Dale (anonymous) | Posted July 14, 2014 at 15:14:21

There is actually an area of the water designated for the dogs, this is down by wildwater works along the path. if you park in the parking lot of wildwater works and walk along the path headed towards the park it will be on your left just past the park boundaries. I hope to see more of you out there!

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