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Four-legged friends will find a place to frolic in Petawawa

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Town of Petawawa Municipal Building

Town of Petawawa Municipal Building

With a successful pilot project wrapping, council supports the establishment of a leash-free park for the town's four-legged friends. The only question now is where will they put it.

For the past six months, staff has monitored a temporary one-and-a-half acre park in the so-called "Back 40" area of the Petawawa Civic Centre.

With the number of dog owners off-leashing their pets on municipal property and in open spaces increasing each year, staff worked on several options to address the problem.

Parks and recreation manager Kelly Williams explained to council that the town has a significant dog population per capita that will likely escalate further with the growth being experienced by the municipality.

Open for 162 days, the pilot project proved to be well-used by the public, Williams reported. Staff noted that the park was mostly used between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. daily with large dogs being the majority breed at the park. There were no formal complaints filed with the recreation department with staff only hearing of a couple minor incidents involving dogs aggressively playing with each other. He added fewer occurrences of off-leashing in municipal parks and ball diamonds were reported during the pilot project.

Staff initially recommended the Indians Ball Diamond off Victoria Street as a suitable location for a permanent park. Williams explained that most town parks are not large enough to accommodate a leash-free facility. He noted the ball diamond provides a bowl configuration, existing fencing and on-site parking. Some councillors were lukewarm to the site.

"It's a prime location right in the middle of town and we should be keeping that for future expansion," Deputy Mayor Tom Mohns adding there will lots of potential for the Indians Ball Diamond park once the old firehall serving as the alternative school is decommissioned and torn down.

Councillors largely favoured vacant lands adjacent to the Pembroke and Area Airport acknowledging that land use would have to be negotiated with the airport commission. Pointing to his research, Councillor James Carmody said costs could be saved if they didn't install fencing noting many leash-free parks across Ontario don't have fences. Should they go with the airport, he called for another pilot period to test the site for suitability.

Councillor Treena Lemay cautioned against another pilot saying they should choose a site and stick with it so residents are not confused as to the location. She said the airport site is used all the time by dog owners adding there is no requirement for fencing out there. However, Mayor Bob Sweet said he would have a problem supporting any park without fencing.

"I don't see that working at all," he said. "There's got to be 40 acres out there. How do you control dogs on 40 acres?"

The mayor asked staff to consider a parcel of land adjacent to a forested area on the grounds of the Civic Centre. Williams said the configuration of the park there will be dependent on what the airport commission will allow. He estimated they would want some level of control if folks are showing up there with their canine friends. Williams reminded council that the leash-free park was first devised as a close, accessible place for people to let their dogs run and reduce the amount of illegal off-leashing in the town's urban parks.

"My only fear of going out to the airport is that we will build something out at the airport and we are going to be back to people unleashing their dogs in the central part of the town," he said.

Staff has estimated fencing will cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 depending on what site is selected. Mohns said council will have to determine how to pay for such a project noting redirecting fees from dog tag sales might be the answer.

"Sooner or later people who don't have dogs are not going to want their taxes to go for a fenced-in area for people to run their dogs," Mohns said.

Other locations on the shortlist for leash-free park were the fish hatchery and evergreen estates park, Jack Pine Park near Carla Street, and Kiddyland Park on Herman Street.

Council has asked staff to speak with the airport commission about the possibility of hosting a park.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist



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