New signage in Nose Hill Park aims to diminish disobedient dog owners

It's a response driven by several complaints, said area city councillor, Sean Chu

A pet owner walks their dog just beyond a on leash sign at Nose Hill Park. SEAN FEAGAN. / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Additional signage at Nose Hill Park is being installed to remind dog owners the requirements of bringing their precious pooches to the park.

Nose Hill Park, Canada’s fourth-largest municipal park, contains rare fescue grassland habitats that have disappeared across much of the province and supports populations of wildlife like deer and coyotes. While off-leash dogs are permitted throughout much of its centre, they’re required to be on leash over the slopes that edge the park.

The move comes in response to numerous complaints about the behaviour of unrestrained dogs throughout the busy park, said Calgary city Councillor Sean Chu.

“Personally, I’ve received many complaints about dogs in Nose Hill Park running amok and chasing wild animals — they are jumping on people, and there was even once instance of a dog biting a cyclist,” he said.

“We have no choice. We have to do something.”

Additional signage will ensure dog-walkers understand which areas they can have their pets off-leash, explained Chu.

“Part of the problem at Nose Hill Park was the signage wasn’t good enough,” he said.

“Before you can write a ticket, you need to make sure that there is signage so people understand what they cannot do.”

A map depicting the extent of off leash areas throughout Nose Hill Park. While much of the interior of the park is off leash, the slopes on the outside of the park are not. Data sources: City of Calgary Open Data Portal, Google Imagery.

Better signage will also prevent ticketed owners from pleading ignorance in court, explained Chu.

“In Canada, most actions and reactions are driven by court decisions — over past years in court, people have avoided fines by arguing signage was not apparent.”

Despite the city’s challenging budgetary climate, the money spent on the additional signage is a “necessary evil,” said Chu.

“I don’t want to spend a dime, but it’s something we have to do,” he said

“You have to spend the money and put the proper signage for the rules to be enforced.”

Impacts to people and wildlife

A sign at one of the entrances to Nose Hill Park informing pet owners of the requirements of bringing their dogs to the park. SEAN FEAGAN / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Off-leash dogs in prohibited areas are having a significant environmental impact to Nose Hill Park, said John McFaul, naturalist and the former president of the organization Friends of Nose Hill.

“When the dogs are off-leash, I have seen them chasing animals like deer and coyotes. That does have a stressful impact on the native wildlife,” said McFaul.

While McFaul said that empirical data is lacking on how these impacts are affecting wildlife, it’s likely there’s an effect on their populations throughout the park.

“Animals need a secure habitat of some sort where they feel to some degree secure and unthreatened, whether they are resting, feeding, having young — they need some sort of security to increase their health in that sense,” he said.

Off-leash dogs also negatively affect other human users of the park, said McFaul.

“Whether the dogs are scaring people — some dogs run up to people who are afraid of dogs,” he said.

Another impact of dog-owners ignoring park regulations is a reduction of the visual aesthetics of the park, through the dropping of “poop bags,” McFaul added.

“People aren’t picking up after their dogs or leaving poop bags on the ground, which has a large visual impact to the other users of the park,” he said.

“It’s basically an eyesore, if not a health concern.”

McFaul cites a 2012 study led by Alessandro Massolo at the University of Calgary that suggested that improper disposal of dog feces may be helping spread a species of parasitic tapeworm that can also infect humans.

While the additional signage might help education, resolving the issue comes down to enforcement, said McFaul.

“Unless the city is willing to really clamp down on the rule-breakers, nothing is going to change.”

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