Trustees at Canada’s largest school board will consider creating fenced-in dog areas on schoolyards in a bid to curb the challenge of pets leaving a mess where children play.
Dogs are not allowed on school property at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Yet, trustee Shelley Laskin said that in a city where green space is at a premium, dog owners often ignore schoolyard signs after school hours and on weekends. It is especially problematic when irresponsible owners don’t pick up their dogs’ feces, forcing school staff to do the dirty work.
Ms. Laskin will present a motion to the TDSB on Wednesday that proposes a pilot project to provide dog runs at schools and have staff evaluate its effectiveness in keeping pets off areas that students use. The motion will be discussed at a committee meeting in October, before trustees vote on it.
“The community looks at our school grounds as theirs, public spaces, public assets,” said Ms. Laskin, who is not a dog owner. “The corollary is, from a board perspective, it has to be kids first, and it is problematic when they go to play on grass and there’s dog feces there.”
She added: "This is an attempt to see if there are parts of the school grounds that aren’t needed for play and can be fenced off, and would that actually help in alleviating some of the other issues if you actually did give dogs a place to go.”
Parents and school staff have reported either children coming home with dog poop on their clothing or having to clean up the mess before the school day starts. Boards such as the Peel District School Board, west of Toronto, allow pets on school grounds as long as they are on a leash. It posts signs that ask owners to remove waste. Others, including the TDSB and Surrey Schools in B.C., don’t allow pets except in circumstances such as assistance dogs.
Some schools have gone as far as locking up their fields after students go home and on weekends, TDSB trustee Michelle Aarts said. She has heard complaints from parents about children with soiled clothing, and one principal in her ward arrived at 6:30 every morning in the last academic year to pick up the dog poop, she said.
Ms. Aarts said that even though she isn’t a dog owner, she understands that school grounds should welcome the community on weekends or when students have left for the day. She supported Ms. Laskin’s motion.
“While I don’t disagree with the TDSB’s policy to exclude dogs for safety reasons and cleanliness reasons, it is a tough balance with trying to encourage the community to come to use our spaces. And I would like to do that. I would like our schools to be more welcoming,” Ms. Aarts said.
The idea of piloting dog runs came about after elementary students moved to a school last year that had been previously been shuttered. A piece of the field had been fenced off, and people would use the grounds to walk dogs, Ms. Laskin said.
When the school moved in, problems arose because some people ignored the sign that said dogs were not permitted, Ms. Laskin said.
A community group worked with the principal and Ms. Laskin to propose a dog run. She said that fencing off a portion of the schoolyard wouldn’t work unless there was adequate space, and that the school, parents and the community were on board.
Bill Worrell, chair of the Oakwood Vaughan Community Organization, which helped develop the idea, said he hasn’t seen anything negative about the proposal on the group’s Facebook page.
Mr. Worrell owns a border collie and said it’s a challenge to find space for her to run. He takes her on long walks on weekdays and to a dog park. Sometimes, he said, he finds little corners in the park when it’s empty and lets his dog catch a ball. He said dogs have been a problem on school grounds because of owners who don’t pick up.
If the TDSB moves ahead with a pilot, it will “break new ground," Mr. Worrell said.
“It allows the school board to think beyond simply let’s keep all those dog owners off the field, and instead, let’s facilitate a way for dog owners to be with their dogs in a way that serves the community and is also amenable to the needs of the school,” he said.