When I was an adolescent, I just couldn’t wrap my head around cats; aloof, independent, unwalkable and sometimes ornery, they seemed a silly pet. I was allergic to them anyhow, so no big deal. I was also allergic to dogs … and that broke my heart.
Finally, when I was 12, my dog allergies cleared and the family got a collie-mix named Midget from the Toronto Humane Society. While I’d love to recount endearing boy-and-his-dog stories, the reality is I only interacted with poor Midget for three or four years since, by the time I was a teenager, Midget had become more of my older brother’s dog. Throughout my twenties, I was pet-less and I wouldn’t gain another four-legged friend until my mid-30s, when I met the woman who would become my wife, Shauntelle, who brought Gigi, a six-year-old, white creampuff of a cat, to live with us at 169 St. George St.
There will be an architectural point to this, I promise.
Since Gigi entered my life around the same time I became an architecture-obsessed Globe real estate columnist, things worked out well. Gigi not only taught me that cats are sweet, needy (in their own way) and silly, they’re great company for reclusive writers, since, as Ernest Hemingway said, they display “absolute emotional honesty.” In our seven years together, I became a cat person – I’ve enjoyed Gigi’s follow up Isaac, a brown tabby, for a decade now – and began to reconsider dogs as the silly pet, what with with all of their slobbery maintenance.
The thing is, dogs are the perfect companions for Architourists and urbanists. They force a long, hard think about how neighbourhoods function, or how buildings can be inviting or oppressive, since they put their owners on the street twice a day, minimum, walking at a slow pace and stopping often, during different lighting and weather conditions and with different traffic patterns. Dogs change the lens, in other words.
How do I know? Three weeks ago, my wife and I adopted Bella Ray, a bouncing, one-year-old, Chihuahua/Jack Russell bundle of energy from the Texas Chihuahua Rescue – Canada organization. While the first few walks were all about ensuring there was no broken glass or unidentifiable consumables in our path, after a week or so, your humble Dogitourist started to take notice of the little things that make the East Danforth neighbourhood so special.
For instance, during our short, before-breakfast “utility” walks, Bella showed me that some of my neighbours have decorated the areas around their back-alley parking pads with foliage and flowers, transforming what could’ve been barren, utilitarian space into something beautiful; during longer walks along Strathmore and Wolverleigh boulevards north of the Danforth, I’ve spotted bee hotels, signs in windows and on lawns with the welcoming message “Everyone Belongs” from East Enders Against Racism, little libraries, a homeowner obsessed with providing ample built-in seating in the front yard and a few dark-brick, brooding Craftsman homes that stand out amongst all the semis and barn-shaped detached homes of the area.
From other dog owners, I’ve learned that Monarch Park, a 15-minute walk to the west, has a massive off-leash area that, once enough trust has been established, I’m sure Bella will love (a full list of all off-leash areas can be found by searching the City of Toronto’s website or clicking https://bit.ly/30ZL5dc) and which businesses offer doggie treats.
And that’s the other thing: Dogs are the ultimate icebreakers. While the quadrupeds are engaged in butt-sniffing, I’ve introduced myself to bipeds I wouldn’t have met otherwise and rambled on about how much I’m enjoying my new, family-friendly neighbourhood (for those of you who don’t read this space regularly, I moved to the Danforth in November, 2018) after seven years in a no-dogs-allowed, downtown condominium in a touristy area.
Which got me to thinking: How is the city handling dog ownership in our ever-rising vertical city? Where does Fido go to burn off some energy (or relieve himself) when he’s holed up on the 49th floor with a commanding view of Rogers Centre? With our shortage of downtown parks, the answer could be the rooftop dog run, which has appeared in many U.S. cities – Washington’s City Market at O, Manhattan’s MiMa (which has a bone-shaped pool) and Chicago’s Circa 922 come to mind – but has failed to catch on here. While it’s common to see pet spas listed in Toronto condominium advertisements and sales brochures, it’s dog gone difficult to find “dog run.” A quick Internet search isn’t much better: only Avro Condominiums at Allen Road and Sheppard Avenue and, much further afield, Edmonton’s Mayfair on Jasper Avenue pop up.
With planning staff estimating that there are as many as three to five dogs on each floor of the average condominium building, it’s not surprising that efforts are being made to encourage developers to include more pet-friendly amenities in the future (including poo-disposal, covered in these pages last week) so that, eventually, dog runs will be just as common as eco-friendly green roofs or bird-friendly window-dots (which prevent collisions), both unheard of a decade or so ago.
So, while it’s clear I’ve “gone to the dogs” and alienated our poor kitty during these dog days of summer, our future city will be pooch paradise for little Bella Ray.
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