For the dogs: Edmonton neighbourhoods see big demand for animal infrastructure

As Edmonton continues to grow in new directions, so do demands for amenities for pets.

As Edmonton continues to grow in new directions, so do demands for amenities for pets. Some neighbourhoods cater to our canine companions and pet owners in other parts of the city are taking notice.

For the six years she was president of the Summerside community league in south Edmonton, Michelle Gosselin spent countless hours trying to get a dog park built in her area.

From the moment she took on the role, an off-leash park was one of the biggest issues she heard about. Even after leaving the position in 2018, Gosselin continued to advocate for a dog park, and hasn’t stopped doing that.

The city released a map last year showing Summerside as among the top 10 neighbourhoods with the worst access to off-leash parks. The closest park is about a 15-minute drive. 

“Everybody on my block has dogs. So it was one of those community wants and needs that we really strived to to get started,” Gosselin said.

Funny thing is, she doesn’t even have a dog.

“I have two cats,” Gosselin said. “I like dogs, but I’m not one to keep one.”

For decades, the city has had an ad-hoc program for dog parks, though recently it changed the rules so that off-leash areas in new neighbourhoods are established through capital projects or by developers.

As the city grows around the Henday, it’s not just about playgrounds and spray parks anymore — there are also more animal amenities.

“We definitely have been starting to see more interest in dog parks and dog infrastructure,” said Yolanda Lew, an urban planner and practice lead for Stantec’s community development group.

Gina Jarrett and her pup Talia use the Manning Village dog park often, enjoying the company of other dog owners. (David Bajer/CBC)

Manning Village in the northeast was built with a fenced-in off-leash dog park. Gina Jarrett lives about 10 minutes from the park. She and her puppy, a St. Berdoodle named Talia, use the park often.

“I’ve met so many different people and we get to laugh and joke about our dogs,” Jarrett said.

“Especially in the time of COVID it just sort of brightens our days, it’s just a lot of fun to watch your dogs play with other dogs and enjoy themselves.”

The Paisley community in the city’s southwest not only offers a fenced in off-leash park, but home builders also market amenities like built in puppy pantries, doggy doors and dog baths.

When you look at the city’s pet licensing data, it makes sense. There are a lot of dogs in the suburbs. Summerside, with a population of about 16,000, has 985 licensed dogs.

Gosselin thinks the city needs to have a better plan for adding dog parks to existing communities. But she is happy to hear that a new development, just south of her home, is now in the planning stages for a new off-leash park. 

Brookfield Residential, the developer behind Paisley, hopes to open an off-leash park in The Orchards neighbourhood by fall of next year.

Brookfield knew of the call from Summerside and kept hearing it as they built up The Orchards, so the developer decided to do a public consultation.

“We did go to the community … [it was] a resounding, ‘Absolutely.’ ‘Yes, we want it.’ ‘We need it.’ ‘We’d love to have it,'” said Peter Tsoukalas, senior development manager with Brookfield Residential.

Stantec hosted that open house.

“We never get 100-per-cent support on anything,” Lew said, But when it came to that particular subject, everyone was in favour.

“We’ve also heard from other neighbourhoods as well that we work in, that as we go through kind of, ‘What do you want to see in your neighbourhood,’ dog parks are coming up at the top of the list in a lot of areas.”

“I think it’s crucial,” said Summerside resident Megan Chenard. “We don’t have access to an off-leash park unless we take our dog in a car.”

She usually has to take her pup Wicklow to Jackie Parker Park in Mill Woods, which is about 10 kilometres from her home. A trip to the off-leash park ends up being a two-hour time commitment.

“I think we would have to consider it in every community we’re doing,” Tsoukalas said after seeing the success of Paisley and the response to the plans for The Orchards.

Gosselin agrees that dog parks should be part of the plan for any new neighbourhood in Edmonton.

“If you’re planning for a future development, you plan for that just as if you were planning for a playground … I think it’s one of those key community gathering places.”