By Jaclyn Kucey
As temperatures start to drop, where can people go to let their dogs have a safe spot to run around?
The last two years have seen some big changes, COVID-19 being the biggest global disrupter. As the pandemic got worse, working from home became the norm. There was a visible increase in people owning dogs and cats in downtown Edmonton to help with mental and physical health.
In 2016, the City of Edmonton launched a 10-year Dogs in Open Spaces Strategy that plans how off-leash areas are managed, designed and planned.
Beckie Boutilier, Dogs Off Leash coordinator for the City of Edmonton, says this strategy included public engagement. It found that people would be willing to walk to a neighbourhood off-leash area as long as it’s within 20 minutes from their home.
The city opened Alex Decoteau Park in 2017, a brand new fenced off-leash dog park located on 102 Avenue and 105 Street. The design for the park “was new for the city; we hadn’t built an urban fence dog park before. All the other dog parks in the city were big open fields,” says Tom Beck, principal planner for the City of Edmonton urban planning and economy sector.
Beck finds that the idea of an off-leash dog park downtown resembles urbanist writer Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street.”
“Places feel safe when there are eyes on the street and when there are other people around going about their lives. Sort of natural surveillance,” says Beck. “We thought that having the dog park would be a guaranteed user base, that there would be people there throughout the day, all four seasons, bringing activity and life to the park, year-round.”
Beck says the off-leash zone of the park has been very successful and is used all the time by dog walkers.
In June 2020, the city released a Downtown Public Places Plan that outlines potential areas for off-leash dog parks in the west downtown quarter.
According to a recent Vital Signs study executed by the Edmonton Community Foundation, from Sept. 2020 to Aug. 2021, the City of Edmonton issued more than 77,000 pet licenses for dogs and cats in Edmonton. However, “it is estimated that the actual number of cats and dogs in the city is significantly higher as this data only counts the pets that are licensed,” says Vital Signs.
Beckie Boutilier, the Dogs Off Leash coordinator for the City of Edmonton, says that about 50% of dogs are not licensed in Edmonton, “which creates a lot of issues when trying to do planning.”
The city tracks how to meet the needs of dog populated zones through licences.
Apartment living options for pet owners
Fortunately for downtown Edmonton, most rental properties require pets to have license and vaccination records. This means that it’s easier to track the demand for off-leash zones and apartment building amenities.
“I’ve noticed with some of the apartment building proposals, more of them are coming in with their private dog areas. People are definitely recognizing that there is a market,” says Beck.
Augustana is a brand-new apartment building in downtown Edmonton that made it a requirement in their plan to include an indoor dog relief area and to be pet friendly. Ashlee Agrey, a project coordinator at Augustana, says this decision is based on safety and the idea that residents “don’t have to go out really late at night or when it’s really cold, especially with the expectation that the majority of the building was going to be single individuals.”
Windsor Park Plaza & Lofts is a well-known apartment building previously not pet friendly but, 18 months ago, they changed to welcoming pets because of increased demand. “Right away, we saw an introduction of about 50 pets to the building. As the pandemic has moved on, we’ve seen all walks of different puppies, to adoptions, to even just some short-term stays,” says Ewan Meyer, leasing manager for West Corp.
Natalie LaBuick, a student at MacEwan University, made a conscious housing decision to live in a pet-friendly apartment to accommodate her roommate, who has a seven-month-old Great Dane. LaBuick also recently adopted a kitten to have as a companion.
Her building doesn’t have a specific off-leash area, but she has a ground-level apartment with some available downtown green space outside.
“You see people walking their dogs, coming inside; it’s totally normal because it’s a pet-friendly apartment, and you’re okay with seeing animals. Everyone is usually pretty well attuned to them, and there’s not a lot of fear around a dog,” says LaBuick.
LaBuick hopes that with all the downtown construction, accessibility and safety for pet owners will increase.
“Edmonton has room because we’re in Alberta. If we have the space, let’s utilize it to the best of our abilities and like make it a beautiful city that people can have their dogs and people can walk and bike and do all these things.”