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Day at the dog park turns tragic for Calgary couple

July 30, 2013:

Picture above of James Larose holds a newly erected snow fence with his common-law partner Celia Sweeney next to a cliff on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 where their dogs Stella and Vinny took a horrific tumble just a week earlier at Edworthy Dog Park in Calgary, Alta.


If Rover goes over, the onus is on the owner.

At least it will be once the City of Calgary covers its buttress with a few carefully worded signs, warning pet owners that a southwest Calgary dog park suddenly ends in a deadly cliff, well hidden by bushes and trees.

Yes, the off-leash portion of Edworthy Park is meant as a place where dogs can run free and frolic — but not too freely or too frolicky, lest the lethal drop ruin the fun.

“We’re assessing the situation, looking at option available to us, including fences and signs — most likely signs,” said Nico Bernard, manager of Parks Operations West for the City of Calgary.

Bernard says signs should be enough.

“According to the bylaw, it’s required even in an off-leash area that you have control of your dog, so the expectation is that people would be able to call their dogs and be in control of their dogs.”

Unfortunately for Celia Sweeney and James Larose, there were no such signs to warn them on their first-ever Edworthy excursion last week.

The couple’s dogs did exactly what you’d expect, charging around and having a grand time sniffing the greenery as their owners strolled along with their newborn baby.

But then Stella and Vinnie, both large dogs capable of covering lots of ground in a matter of seconds, vanished into the bush.

“We were standing at the top of the park, and the dogs were playing and then ran off into the bush — and then we heard this yelping and screaming,” said Sweeney.

Larose ran after the dogs, following them into the woods — but then he saw their trail suddenly ended in a ten-metre high cliff.

“He went into the bushes and discovered they’d fallen down this huge cliff, which you couldn’t see until the very last second,” said Sweeney.

“If James hadn’t seen it, he would have fallen and been badly hurt too.”

At the bottom, whining in pain, were Stella and Vinnie, both battered by their fall down the cliff, a sheer slope marked by jutting rocks.

Larose scrambled down to the dogs, especially concerned because Stella wasn’t even trying to get up.

“He came back carrying Stella. She was immobile, stiff-legged, and just couldn’t move,” said Sweeney.

The golden retriever-cross didn’t make it.

After bringing Vinnie up and seeing he was drooling, his pupils different sizes and his breath laboured, they packed up and rushed the animals to the vet.

But four-year-old Stella proved too badly injured to save, and was euthanized.

Vinnie, a mixed Pyrenees/border collie, was a mess too — but after surgery for a dislocated hip and internal injuries, the dog is now recovering.

It’ll take the young family’s bank account a little longer to bounce back, after $3,700 in bills to end one dog’s life and save the other, but Sweeney says their bigger concern is making sure it doesn’t happen again.

“This is an extremely unsafe park for dogs as well as people — anyone could have fallen there,” said Sweeney.

“Unfortuntely, our dog had to lose its life to find that out.”

Almost immediately after they reported their concerns to the city, workers arrived to erect a temporary fence along the cliff — though it now sounds like “temporary” is the key word.

Instead, the city will lean towards warning signs — because even if words of caution can’t really prevent animals from taking the plunge, they’ll certainly cushion the blow of legal action.

Sweeney likes the idea of permanent fences, saying signs aren’t enough.

“Dogs can’t read,” she said — her point being that by the time an owner realizes the danger and calls for Rover, it might be too late.

Fence or signs, Sweeney says she won’t be heading back to the southwest off-leash park anytime soon.

“That was out first and last visit to Edworthy Park,” she said.

Content Source: Calgary Sun

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