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Paw patrol: Proposed off-leash dog park in Sackville generating enthusiasm

Amherst opened a permanent off-leash dog park in Dickey Park last summer following a pilot project. Sackville could look to towns like Amherst in reviewing the various aspects in establishing a dog park, including looking at specific criteria that should be considered including the need for adequate fencing, benches, signage, waste disposal containers, and, of course, location.
Amherst opened a permanent off-leash dog park in Dickey Park last summer following a pilot project. Sackville could look to towns like Amherst in reviewing the various aspects in establishing a dog park, including looking at specific criteria that should be considered including the need for adequate fencing, benches, signage, waste disposal containers, and, of course, location. - Dave Mathieson

But residents have concerns over how it will be regulated, enforced

SACKVILLE, N.B. —

Sackville is exploring the idea of opening up a dog park in the community – and that has some dog owners pretty excited.

“I think it would be great,” said local resident Nicole Burke.

Burke, who has an eight-year-old golden retriever who loves to go for runs, said her dog does much better off leash because when she took her in as a mature pet she had no prior leash training.

“I often take her to places where she can go off leash but would love to have the option for her to socialize a bit or meet friends who also have dogs for a social outing,” she said. “By having something like this in town, it gives it a lively feel in our community.”

Burke said they regularly frequent trails outside of town for their walks but it can sometimes be inconvenient to drive further off grid and a bit windier in those areas as well.

“They’re not huge issues,” she said, “but to walk her on leash a bit to our destination for her to hang out off leash would be lovely.”

Alyssa Estabrooks agrees with Burke, saying she is in a similar situation having adopted an older dog two months ago that has no prior leash training.

“So I would love a fenced-in area to take him to run,” said Estabrooks. “He likes walks but I feel the park would benefit him so much.”

Burke said having a park specifically designated for dogs would also be an advantage for non-dog lovers.

“Leash or no leash, when taking my own dog out I am aware that not everyone is a fan of dogs. By having a place that you don’t have to be mindful of your dog invading someone’s space who may not appreciate interaction with a furry, four-legged friend would be a perk for everyone.”

Myrna Steeves thinks it would be great for dog owners to have a place for their canine friends to stretch their legs and burn off some energy.

“My granddaughter has dogs and it’s hard to find a place where you can take them.”

Sackville business owner Rose Leonard is also enthusiastic about the potential for an off-leash dog park.

“Our canines are part of our modern family and structure. As long as they are dog licensed with the town and owners pick up the poo . . .it’s a great initiative.”

Concerns raised

And while the idea is generating some excitement around town, off-leash dog parks do come with a number of concerns.

 “I think it would be great as there aren’t many places people can take their dogs to play,” said Trish Wells. “The only concern I would have is dogs may fight and not everyone has their dogs’ needles all up to date.”

Sue Amos-Murphy shares that apprehension.

“I am concerned if our town got a dog park the possibility of injuries and diseases spreading,” she said.

Krista Beal says she lives just outside of town limits so she is not required to register her dogs with the town. But she still faithfully ensures her dogs’ needles are up to date on a regular basis and she is required to carry proof of those immunizations when she takes her dogs to town.

“It should be no different with a dog park,” said Beal. “I would still like to be able to utilize the dog park to help exercise and socialize my dogs.”

Mary Phinney, a local dog owner herself, said she completely understands the appeal and desire for a dog park, but she pointed out it’s important these areas be closely watched, maintained and the regulations reinforced.

“The largest portion of individuals that frequent dog parks don't use them appropriately,” said Phinney.

She said dogs who have frustrated or pent-up energy all day and are released with more dogs of the same state tend to react negatively to each other and have a greater potential for incidents.

Proper regulations will be key

“If regulations are put in place, they need to be strict and enforced for the safety of all owners and canines that would frequent it,” said Phinney. “Most communities don't have the manpower to do this and it doesn't take long before rules are being bent or ignored by individuals.”

With that lack of manpower, she said cleanliness starts to come into question because there is no one monitoring whether people are picking up after their pets.

“It then makes it a breeding ground for parasites and viruses that can spread like wildfire through pets that frequent them, carrying them even to those that don't frequent the park.”

Phinney said if the town does move forward or investigates this idea further, she hopes they take the time to consult vets and trainers who are experienced with canine behaviour.

Across the border, Amherst opened a permanent off-leash dog park in Dickey Park last summer following a pilot project the year before at one of the community’s unused ball fields at the Robb Complex.

Jason MacDonald, deputy-CAO of Amherst, said the pilot showed a clear indication that an off-leash dog park would be well used.

“The town of Amherst’s off-leash dog park, located in Dickey Park, has proven beneficial to the town,” he said. “It receives a great deal of use by dog owners who seem very satisfied with its operation and rules.”

MacDonald said while town staff regularly check on its condition, the park is self-governed by its users. And to date, that has worked well and there have been no major problems. Users are asked to pick up after their dogs, always supervise their dogs and keep their dogs under control with the understanding they will be removed if they are being aggressive, annoy or intimidate other dogs. As well, children entering the park must be accompanied by an adult.

Establishing dog park can be lengthy process

In establishing the dog park, MacDonald explained that the town investigated how other communities established their parks, consulted with citizens and opened the pilot dog park in the Robb Complex in order to gauge the potential use of an off-leash dog park. The process took a number of years.

There are a number of aspects in establishing a dog park, including looking at specific criteria that should be considered including the need for adequate fencing, benches, signage, and waste disposal containers. Location must also be a factor considered.

Jamie Burke, Sackville’s senior manager of corporate projects, said the idea of a dog park has been one that has raised by residents a number of times over the past few years. And it came up again during the recent consultation process for the town’s recreation master plan and the Exit 506 planning study. As a result, it was identified by council as a future project.

The town recently launched a survey to ask for public input on the issue.

“To move forward, we felt it was important to ask potential users what they felt was important with a dog park – in terms of the overall need, potential locations, features and design of a park, concerns people may have, etc., so we could move forward it a strategic way,” said Burke. “The survey has been very popular and we appreciate all the feedback we’re received so far.”
He said the next phase in the process will be to analyze the results from the survey to determine what locations and features were most popular, along with other suggestions that were made. Staff will then provide this information to Council to determine what options and next steps will be required.

Burke said potential locations for a dog park could include Beech Hill Park, the Exit 506 area or downtown, although other suggestions are welcome.

Resident Shawn Mitton believes the town’s existing ball field on Lorne Street would be a great location for a new dog park – and that would provide the perfect opportunity to get a much-needed new field built for Sackville’s youth.

Mitton said the minor ball field doesn’t have proper drainage, leading to regular closures following rainstorms.

“It would be great to see a new dog park,” he said. “It would also be great to finally see new ballfields that are playable and maintained.”

He said the Lorne Street field already has the necessary amenities for a dog park - benches, shade, grass, fences and running water – and is in a central location.

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