The City of Mississauga will be reviewing the policy on leash free dog parks following last week’s vicious attack on a 3-year-old girl, with at least one councillor believing kids shouldn’t be allowed in the parks.
Georgia Lund is continuing to recover at home from puncture wounds and lacerations she sustained when a large dog, a husky, attacked her on Sept. 23 while she was in the Parkway Belt dog park with her grandfather and brother.
“As many dogs are not socialized with small children, parents should not be bringing their small children with them to a leash-free area,” said Shane McNeil, former director of Leash Free Mississauga, a volunteer group that pays for and oversees the parks.
Last year, there were 15 reported dog biting incidents at the city’s eight leash-free zones. This year, to date, there have been eight, according to the City of Mississauga.
Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito, who chaired the Animal Standards Committee when the city was changing bylaws around dog walking and leash free parks, said during discussions on the new Leash Free policy there was serious debate on whether or not children under a certain age should be banned from the off leash parks.
“I personally do not think that leash free parks are suitable for children, especially very young ones,” she said. “These parks are for dogs of all sizes that may be fine with other dogs or with adults but that may not get along with small children. That is why most rescues specify if the dog should be in a home with children of a certain age. The dog may be fine otherwise. To ban these dogs from a ‘dog park’ because there may be small children there is taking away that access to the very people the parks are there to serve — dog owners.”
The City of Brampton doesn’t allow children under 10 into its leash free parks, whereas other municipalities beside and around Mississauga, including Hamilton and Milton, allow children but require them to be supervised and strongly urge parents and adults to be mindful of child safety.
Gayle Laws, president of Leash Free Mississauga, said the organization passed a code of conduct regarding children in leash free parks in the city and the new code was posted at the parks, but over time, they seem to have come down, she said.
“There was some discussion at the time between suggesting that children not be allowed in the leash-free parks at all versus communicating this code to all park users. The board ultimately decided on this code,” she said, adding the “key factors” in the document are that children should not run around in the park nor have food with them.
Saito, who owns two dogs, said she intends to raise the issue when city council resumes and will be asking the Animal Services Manager as well as parks staff who oversee the Leash Free parks to review the policy on allowing children in the parks.
“We do not allow dogs in playgrounds and if we did then I am sure we would, and quite rightly, have complaints from parents of children.
“Not everyone can have access to every facility and in this case, I did support not allowing small children in the dog parks specifically for safety concerns,” she said. “Having a small child running around in a park filled with dogs is just not safe. They could be knocked over by a large dog that may be very friendly but that could, by its size, injure a child.”
Saito said “it’s a tough issue but we always have to make decisions on the side of safety even if it upsets some people.”
Both Saito and Laws however, said there is “great responsibility” on both dog owners and the parents of children in the parks.
“Parents who take children into the park must keep them close at all times and not allow them to run around and the dog owners have to be alert and take steps to protect both the children and their dog,” Saito said.
Laws said the dog owner’s actions in the Sept. 23 incident were upsetting.
“As you can imagine we are very upset about this incident. Most times when there is interaction between dogs, or dogs and humans, the dog owners are responsible,” said Laws. “This incident of the dog owner leaving the scene is inexcusable and irresponsible.”
Daniel Bryant, who was in Parkway Belt park Wednesday, Oct. 3 with Freddo, his 5 year old Beagle, said he understands why the recent news has some pushing for banning children from the parks.
But, he added, it’s an unnecessary step if everyone is responsible.
“If you keep an eye on your kids and use good judgment as a parent, and the dog owners use common sense and watch their dogs closely when kids are around, there won’t be any issues,” said Bryant, also a father of two. “Things can happen, I get it. But it all comes back to thinking about safety on both sides.”
City spokesperson, Jamal Robinson, said although incidents like last week’s are rare, the city’s Parks and Forestry Division “continues to prioritize safety and review the policies and operations of our leash-free zones to identify any improvements to prevent incidents like this from occurring again.”