First off leash dog park opens in downtown Whitehorse

It's a good time to be a dog owner in downtown Whitehorse. It's a fantastic time to be a dog. The first-ever off-leash dog park is now open in downtown Whitehorse.

It’s a good time to be a dog owner in downtown Whitehorse. It’s a fantastic time to be a dog.

The first-ever off-leash dog park is now open in downtown Whitehorse.

The Canine Bluffs Off Leash Park opened its gate at the end of September.

Erika Rozsa-Atkinson, who runs Canines & Company Dog Obedience School, has been pushing for the creation of an off-leash park downtown for more than two decades.

“It took over two decades to get it across to the city that it’s something that would really benefit people,” said Rozsa-Atkinson. “The dogs need an open space, a safe place to run and sprint, and get rid of that initial burst of energy dogs have. So their nerves can calm down and they can start to interact with other dogs.

“In North America dogs’ lives are very similar to human lives and dogs are not people. Dogs need to be dogs and behave like dogs and this is the place that they can do that.”

The park is located at the west end of Main Street on the south part of the Teegatha’ Oh Zheh Park. It covers approximately 2,000 square metres and cost the City of Whitehorse $55,000.

“It came out of an idea the Downtown Residents Association brought forward along with dog-handling groups in Whitehorse for an off-leash dog park area in the downtown core,” said Douglas Hnatiuk, supervisor of outreach and events with the City of Whitehorse. “It was recognized that a large number of downtown residents do own a dog and they wanted a green space available to go off-leash. Current bylaws don’t allow that in the downtown area.”

“We canvassed other municipalities that have similar types of dog parks and spoke to practitioners there about what works well, what doesn’t work – if you were to build it again, what would you do?” he added. “The dog park we built here is definitely first class and certainly one we’re extremely proud of.”

It is the first park of its kind in downtown and is completely fenced in. It includes a hilly forest area as well as a segregated “puppy play pen” for dogs four months old or younger. It has a separate fenced-in area at the entrance specifically for putting dogs on and off their leashes.

The park is a great place for both dogs and owners to socialize, says Rozsa-Atkinson.

“It’s not only for dogs to socialize, it’s for people to socialize. They can exchange dog-training information, they can get to know each other, create friendships. It’s somewhere they can find help, support for questions they might have.

“It’s part of having a healthy community and it promotes for people to have responsible ownership.

“It’s about safety. You don’t want anything to get in and you don’t want anything to get out,” she added. “There’s danger about wildlife, like porcupines, that can cause a lot of trouble for pet owners.”

The Teegatha’ Oh Zheh Park has developed a bad reputation over the years. It has been a hotspot for drinking and drug use and has often been littered with beer cans and broken glass. Some trees in the dog area still bear spray-paint tattoos.

“It’s a beautiful park, they put a lot of money in it, it has a nice design, it’s gorgeous, yet it was used for drinking and doing drugs and partying and littering,” said Rozsa-Atkinson. “I would come here to teach some of my classes and that’s what we saw. The dogs were walking on broken glass.”

The Teegatha’ Oh Zheh Park’s dubious past actually helped convince city council to vote in favour of the dog park. The idea was people and their dogs could keep shady characters from frequenting the grounds.

“The Teegatha’ Oh Zheh Park had some instances where it was misused or misrepresented over the years,” said Hnatiuk. “It’s unfortunate because it’s such a beautiful park … There have been some nefarious activities that have occurred in that park over the years that have given it a little bit of a bad name.

“We were hoping with the implementation of the dog park it would breathe a new life into the park and provide a space for legitimate users.”

“The topography was such that it would provide the dogs with a fairly rigorous workout and provide an opportunity for residents to access that area fairly easily, coupled with the newly paved trail that goes along the lower escarpment from Black Street all the way down to Hanson.”

The new park also includes picnic tables and a kiosk near the entrance with brochures on the handling of dogs. There also is a plastic bag dispenser to aid in the clean up of droppings.

A large sign introduces patrons to the rules of the park, which include: no dog toys, no food or drink, all dogs must have the proper licence and vaccination tags, and no more than three dogs per handler.

There is also a new lamppost to help illuminate the year-round park.

“We wanted to insure that whatever we did was going to be safe for the public,” said Hnatiuk. “So we put a yard light in to enable us to have lighting in the dark periods because obviously for five months a year we have quite a bit of darkness in the North.

“So we wanted something that would provide illumination so people feel safe when they go to the park.

“We still encourage people to go in groups. But … we’ve cleared some of the underbrush to make visibility a little bit better in that area so there aren’t blind spots.”

An official grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park has been scheduled for Nov. 2 at 2 p.m., said Rozsa-Atkinson.

“I think it’s great. The Yukon and Whitehorse has never had one before and I think people will get a ton of use out of it,” said dog-owner Laura Priestley, who takes her three-year-old German Sheppard Ally to the park. “I’ll bring my dogs here all the time.

“This is our third visit, actually, and it hasn’t even officially opened yet.”

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