Toronto aims to make future condo buildings more pet-friendly

Published On August 1, 2017 | By Beatriz Baleeiro | News


City planners are looking at ways to make Toronto more pet-friendly. But while many owners would like more off-leash areas, the focus will likely be on improving condo designs. (John Rieti/CBC)

By: Hiba Traboulsi and Meaghan Wray

Although pet licensing is mandatory for all pet owners, only about 40 per cent of cats and dogs in Toronto are actually registered. Pet registration can provide benefits to pet owners, including the ability for city officials to plan urban development in ways that consider quality of life for both pets and their owners.

According to a CBC article, it’s estimated an average of four to eight pets live on every high-rise floor in Toronto and city planners are being forced to rethink urban design. Dog registries at a pet store near CityPlace suggest an average of 7 dogs per floor at Spire, a condominium building near the St. Lawrence Market. This means there are about 280 dogs in the entire 40 story building.

Considering the amount of new condominiums being built in Toronto every year, this can’t be a one-off circumstance. In 2014, Toronto had the highest number of condominium buildings under construction in all of North America.

Maggi Burtt, owner of TailSpin PetWorx, is a Toronto-based dog owner and trainer. Toronto, she said, is a fairly pet-friendly city but there should be more off-leash parks downtown.

This lack of green space means owners have to drive their pets to a park nearby to defecate.

“I’m lucky enough to live a relatively old part of town with lots of green space but many people do not have that,” Burtt said. “The limited access for dog space is an issue and encourages people to walk their dogs off-leash in areas they should not be. We need more, decent-sized, safely fenced dog runs, including ones that are rentable by hour.”

Breed-specific legislation is also problematic to the public and one of the few reasons Torontonians have unlicensed pets, Burtt added. This year, Burtt spoke at the municipal bylaw meetings. Her suggestion was to ignore breed-specific legislation and instead monitor behaviour and give free licenses when owners receive their new dog. There would, therefore, be an accurate record of the dog to contact when it’s due.

“The law regulates a dog’s ‘looks’ and not it’s behaviour,” Burtt said. “It only gives the appearance of giving safety to the public and it punishes, and often kills, dogs and their owners that have done nothing to cause a problem.”

But nonetheless, licensing is a responsible act on the side of the owner, as it ensures the collection of data bites, fines, bylaws and health reports along with the ability to control and enforce safety. It also helps inform urban development, which could lead to more parks and green space for pets to enjoy. According to Burtt, education on licensing is ultimately the responsibility of the City.

“The City has been lax in educating the public on what benefits go with registration. It pays for the shelter and animal control services. It ensures your animal gets home safely when picked up or turned in when found,” Burtt said.

“If they get enough registrations, [licensing] can help pay for dog safety and education programs that got cut when their budget did.”

The power rests in the hands of the city to make concrete design decisions to increase the amount of green space available to pet owners in Toronto.

James Parakh is an urban design manager for the City of Toronto. In a Toronto Star article, Parakh said the city is hiring consultants to develop “pet-friendly design guidelines.” A review will include looking into better ventilation practices for homes with cats who do their business in litter boxes, resulting in strong odors.

A survey of 1,000 people was recently commissioned by Concord Adex that found 23 per cent of its residents had a pet at home. Of those participants, 53 per cent have a dog, 40 per cent have a cat and three per cent have both.

The amount of pets in a small space means another issue arising is pet waste. Many residents are left wondering where the pet waste goes, and how it affects the quality of the park.

Many parkettes located around condo buildings are either too small or too dirty to bring pets to. Furthermore, the amount of pet urine concentrated in the parks affects pet and human health.

Toronto Animal Services is currently in charge of the registration program. Mary Lou Leiher, program manager, acknowledged the decrease in pet licensing.

“The compliance rate is very low as it stands on 30 percent for dogs and 10 percent for cats in comparison to 2008, when they had a multi-pronged strategy with a follow up team which boosted the rate of licensing,” Leiher said.

Leiher also said that there are many add-ons to registration. The fee goes to animal services, pet adoption and finding lost pets, but none goes towards the contribution of off-leash areas. This is an area operated by the parks and recreation divisions.

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