Dogs attacking birds in Sam Smith Park
August 12, 2013:
Angry birders call for a dog ban at the designated bird sanctuary, citing a decline in certain species
There are few things dogs in southern Etobicoke love more than running free in Colonel Sam Smith Park. But local bird watchers are suggesting pooches be banished from the nature area, claiming they are destroying nesting habitats and songbirds.
Birders say off-leash dogs attacking birds that nest in the designated bird sanctuary’s wetlands and meadows. As a result, they argue, there are fewer birds to gaze at.
“I’ve noticed a decline of certain species over the years, I’m sure because of the dogs who go galloping through the grass,” said Terry Smith, founding member of Friends of Sam Smith Park.
Although Sam Smith has a designated off-leash zone, many dog owners prefer to let their pets run untethered through the main park, ecologically enhanced by the city to provide an avian habitat. Angry birders say dogs are thwarting the reproductive efforts of songbird species that normally breed on the grass, like Savannah sparrows and killdeer.
“I saw one pair lose three sets of eggs,” he said. “That just broke my heart.”
Dog owners say the park’s leash-free zone — a fenced-in field beside a water treatment plant — is an unfit place to let their hounds run wild.
“It’s like a corral,” said Keith Elliot, 53, who routinely allows his two dogs to roam loose in the park’s habitat areas. “Might as well keep them in my backyard.”
Jennifer Mirrlees, 33, feels the leash-free area is too unsanitary for her Aussiedoodle.
“Dogs pick up germs in those zones because there are so many dogs in a small area,” she said. “I don’t think dogs are creating that much havoc in the park. Everybody lets their dogs off leash here.”
Unleashing one’s dog in a non-leash-free area is illegal, says Toronto Animal Services program manager Mary Lou Leiher, but there aren’t enough bylaw officers to enforce the rules.
“On any given day we may have four or six bylaw officers for the whole city,” she said. “There are about 1,500 parks in Toronto….so their plates are full.”
Birders say Sam Smith has become a no-landing zone for songbirds that once used it as a stopover on their migratory flights. Some argue the park should adopt a similar “no dogs” policy to Tommy Thompson Park, which is considered a significant wildlife area.
“Birds flying across Lake Ontario need a place to stop, eat, rest and mate,” said nature photographer Richard Sigesmund. “So why not make the park dog-free?”
Some dog owners disagree. “Why should they have any more rights than the dog people?” said Martha, who often unleashes her four Norfolk terriers in the park. “We all pay property taxes for Christ’s sake.”
Leiher wouldn’t comment on whether the city would consider banning dogs at Sam Smith, but suggested dog owners police their pets instead.
“We advocate for making sure your dog is a good canine citizen,” she said, “which doesn’t include killing small animals in the park.”
Content Source: Dogs Attacking Birds Alex Nino Gheciu