Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Great Dog Debate

Today, I read a piece by The Toronto Star's Joe Fiorito discussing a potential solution to the problem of man's best friend doing their business on Toronto's lawns (see: Dogs have Toronto yards going to waste).  In his article, Fiorito recommends that dog owners in Toronto be required to walk their dogs alongside the curb to prevent them from urinating or defecating on the city's lawns.  For those of you who live in Toronto or any other big city where there are both a lot of people and a lot of dogs, you've probably had the misfortune of stepping in dog feces at least once or twice.  And if you're one of the folks in Toronto who is lucky enough to own a home with a lawn despite this city's crazy home prices, then chances are you've probably caught a dog owner, or two, or more using your delicately manicured grass for Fido to relieve himself.  Oh the frustration!  But of course, this frustration also exists amongst dog owners.

I am a dog owner myself and I too am frustrated by the behaviour of some of my fellow dog owners.  In fact, whenever I happen to step in dog poop, it's usually when I'm walking my own dog.  Believe me, I and many other dog owners who are responsible and pick up after their pets do not like seeing our beautiful lawns and parks fouled by dog waste any more than people who don't have dogs do.  So for those of you dog owners who think you don't have to pick up after your four-legged friends, my message to you is either wise up or don't own a dog because you're giving all of us dog owners a bad name.

Still, I believe that dog owners like myself have legitimate grievances that people who don't own dogs fail to consider.  For example, like a growing number of dog owners, I do not live in a single family home with a fenced yard.  Instead, I live in a condo on the 8th floor of a 20-story building.  And although my dog lives a happy life with me, not having my own personal, private lawn often means that my dog has to do her business outside on someone else's lawn.  This is a fact of life for many dog owners who happen to live in multi-unit buildings.  And it just isn't practical to expect everyone who owns a dog to have a home with a fenced yard, especially in Toronto where housing prices are through the roof.  Now of course, when my dog defecates, I pick it up, but there's nothing I can do when my dog needs to urinate.  Yes, I understand that dog urine can ruin a lawn and leave yellow stains on the grass, especially since my dog is a female and the urine of the female is more acidic and hence more harmful to grass.  But what else am I or any other dog owner in my situation supposed to do?  Should I train my dog to go on the concrete instead?  I don't think so.  People in Toronto or any other big city don't appreciate dogs fouling the streets and sidewalks any more than they enjoy them doing their business on public or private lawns. 

Unfortunately, however, many dog owners are in a worse situation than I am in that they may not even have any lawns nearby where their dogs can do their business.  Let's face it, green space is an increasingly rare luxury in big cities like Toronto, which is why there are frequent conflicts in public parks where dog owners illegally let their dogs off-leash to play because legal, off-leash parks are very hard to come by and creating new ones is a prospect that is often fiercely opposed by members of the public who don't understand or respect the needs of dogs and their owners.  In fact, even when new, off-leash parks are created, the results aren't always positive.  I still remember when an off-leash area was created in the park I used to go to with my dog.  It ended up turning into a mud pit and the soil became contaminated, so I stopped going there.

The fact of the matter is that both dog owners and people who don't own dogs feel increasingly under siege.  Dog owners like myself feel that there simply isn't enough space for our canine buddies and that our dogs are increasingly unwelcome in the city.  On the other side of the coin, people who don't own dogs are tired of unruly pooches running loose, making noise and even causing harm to people, not to mention the growing nuisance of dog waste left behind by irresponsible pet owners.

I think what is needed is for both dog owners and people without dogs to take a deep breath, step back a little bit, and take some small, easy steps that will help cool the tension a little bit.  For dog owners, the simple step of picking up after your pet will go a long way to lessening the frustrations of your fellow citizens.  For those of you who don't own dogs, please try to have some patience whenever Fido leaves his mark on your lawn.  Try to understand that sometimes, dog owners have no choice but to allow their canine friends to relieve themselves in the closest place possible.  Hey, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go.  And if your lawn does end up with a yellow spot, or two, don't make such a fuss.  It's just grass, and there are plenty of inexpensive products out there that can repair the damage done by pet waste.  Finally, both dog owners and folks without dogs need to chill out and climb down from their high horses.  If someone asks you not to let your dog do his business on their lawn, don't immediately flip them off and start shouting obscenities.  The same goes for when you see a dog defecate on your lawn.  Don't just scream at the owner using various four-letter words.  Instead, kindly tell him to pick up after his dog.  You can even offer him a bag.  Basically, if we all just mellow out and take some simple, tiny steps towards being more neighbourly, we will all feel a lot better at the end of the day. 

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