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Dogs behaving in dog park. Some owners, not so much

Troy Shantz Sarnia’s new off-leash dog park is a hit among dogs and dog owners alike, although the pilot project in Germain Park hasn’t been without problems.
Rosco, a six-month-old boxer owned by Jen Croteau, keeps an eye on a trio of pint-size pups in the small dog field. Glenn Ogilvie

Troy Shantz

Sarnia’s new off-leash dog park is a hit among dogs and dog owners alike, although the pilot project in Germain Park hasn’t been without problems.

A recent city hall report noted the one-acre facility has been well used, and staff aren’t hearing complaints from neighbours or others using Germain, as feared.

In fact, the operating hours were recently extended from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., from the old 7:30 a.m. to “dusk.”

But the report also notes the biggest issue since the park opened in May has been the “etiquette” of some dog owners.

“If it’s run by the community - which is a good thing - why would I be finding 15 bags of dog poop on a daily basis?” asked Johnathan Thompson, who resigned in August from the committee that oversees the park.

Thompson said he got tired of picking up after others and began to fear for the safety of his own trained service dog, which he keeps for a hearing impairment.

Presto, his black lab, was attacked several times by dogs whose owners either sat idly or were nowhere to be found, he said.

“If you know your dog is rough, and you know your dog is going to attack … then you shouldn’t bring your dog there. It’s common sense.”

He resigned from the operating committee after a particularly bad confrontation with several park users on Aug. 10, he said.

“It’s discouraging, it’s disappointing, because a lot of people put a lot of hard work into getting that park,” he said.

Thompson added committee members were reluctant to document rule infractions for fear the park will be closed if too many problems come to light.

Sarnia’s parks and recreation director acknowledged there has been a problem with some users not accepting the posted rules, or the authority of committee members to enforce them.

To address that, the city is looking at an etiquette program and training several volunteers to oversee the rules and report back to bylaw enforcement, Rob Harwood said.

“We’d be more interested in knowing what those problems are so we can formulate solutions and work along with a dog park ambassador program to try and solve those.”

The volunteer position will be discussed at the one-year review next May, he said.

Harwood added the vast majority are responsible dog owners who pick up after their pets.

“I’ve probably been by the park 50 times, and the times that I’ve been by, it always seemed to be amicable,” he said.

A survey will be posted at to collect feedback for the remainder of the pilot project, he added.

According to Sarnia’s bylaws, failing to poop-and-scoop is a $200 fine and running a dog off-leash outside a designated area is a $100 fine.

When things got a little too active for Luna a nine-month-old Havanese owned by Shelley Jackson, she uses a large stone as a vantage point and resting place.Glenn Ogilvie

Watching the antics in the small dog field are, from left, Kathy Lanteigne, Brenda Barton, Cathy Zuidervliet and Stella Zuidervliet with dogs Loulou, Romeo, Hector and Finn. Glenn Ogilvie

While visiting Sarnia’s new off-leash dog park Taylor Rice can't resist giving a big hug to Otis, a five-year-old St. Bernard owned by Chris McRae. Glenn Ogilvie

Lola a beagle owned byJason Kouri's beagle Lola greets some new entries to the small dog field.Glenn Ogilvie

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