Mississauga Considering Banning Children From Some Dog Parks

 

While police are still looking for a male dog owner in connection with a serious canine attack at a Mississauga park, the City of Mississauga is considering a potential ban on children under a certain age in leash-free facilities.

On Sunday, Sept. 23, a three-year-old girl was reportedly bitten by a black and white husky at the Parkway Belt leash-free dog park in the Eglinton and 403 area.

The child, who has since been identified as Georgia Lund, was first transported to a local hospital, but later taken to a Toronto hospital, where she was said to be in critical but stable condition.

Now, some city staff members are wondering if Mississauga should follow other municipalities and implement age restrictions in leash-free facilities to help prevent other serious incidents.

"I wanted the ban in place in 2015 when we reviewed the bylaws but council and staff were convinced by Leash Free Mississauga to allow children," said Councillor Pat Saito in an email to insauga.com.

"They felt education would be enough, but clearly it is not. Other cities have a ban on children under 12. I felt then and still do that Mississauga needs to do the same. Children in leash free parks and dogs of all sizes do not always work well together."

Saito, who chaired the city's Animal Standards of Care Committee, emphasizes that the parks are, above all else, for dogs and their owners.

"The parks are for dogs. Kids have playgrounds and open space that dog owners do not have open access to. The key priority is always safety of both humans and animals and sometimes we have to restrict some to protect both."

While dog bites can be serious, they are relatively uncommon in leash-free facilities in Mississauga.

According to city data, five dog bites in leash-free areas were reported in 2017. In 2018, three bites were recorded.

The city says that of the eight bites, four were attacks on people (including Lund); two occurred while people were attempting to break up dog fights; and two were threats rather than actual bites (meaning the dog growled or otherwise "threatened" to bite a human).

Mississauga, if it does implement a ban, will not be the first municipality to do so.

According to Saito, Brampton's leash-free facilities do not permit children under 12 to enter.

"We discussed age 12 which is what other cities including Brampton sets," Saito says. "I think we need to discuss thoroughly again and agree on an age starting there."

Saito also says that residents have expressed support for age restrictions in the past.

"Over the years, I have had requests for no children allowed in the leash free parks from dog owners. They take their dogs there to play with other dogs. Not all dogs get along with children but are fine with other dogs or adults. They feel it is unfair that if a young child comes to the park they are forced to leave to protect their dog and the child," she says.

According to Leash Free Mississauga, there are seven leash-free parks in Mississauga. The seven parks include Etobicoke Valley Dog Park, Garnetwood Dog Park, Jack Darling Dog Park, Lakeside Dog Park, Parkway Belt Dog Park, Quenippenon Dog Park and Totoredaca Dog Park.

As of now, there are no age restrictions on any leash-free facility in Mississauga, something Saito is hoping the city will consider changing.

"I have already asked staff to prepare a report to council and I will be asking for a committee review. That way we will again get various perspectives. But at the end if the day, we as council will make the best decision for the safety of everyone."

But while there are currently no age restrictions in place, the city does have a code of conduct for leash-free parks that specifies that residents who enter the areas are doing so at their own risk.

The code also states that all dogs are the responsibility of their owner/caretaker and that the city assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage that occurs as the result of a sideways interaction between dogs and humans.

As of now, the code states that all children must be supervised by an adult at all times.

In light of the recent high-profile attack on Lund, the City of Mississauga is examining the issue.

"Mississauga 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. As a result, the City will be conducting a review that will include benchmarks and best practices of other municipalities," says Jamal Robinson, senior communications advisor,
City of Mississauga.

"The findings/conclusions of the PRP investigation in this matter will also help to shape our direction. Once the review is concluded, recommendations will be provided to the incoming council."

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