Gatineau approves pilot project allowing leashed dogs in Boucher Forest
The city of Gatineau has officially approved a pilot project allowing leashed dogs on trails in municipally owned parts of the Boucher Forest. A press release issued by the city on April 14 said the pilot project will be effective from May 1, 2021, to March 1, 2022. In a press conference on April 14, Boucher Forest Foundation’s (FFB) President Christina Richard said the pilot project will focus on raising dog owners’ awareness regarding the new regulation and gathering data.
The data will serve to evaluate the feasibility of authorizing leashed dogs in the soon-to-be-developed Boucher Forest park’s future trails. With the data, the FFB will evaluate the proportion of dog owners who respect the regulation, the number of incidents involving dogs acting aggressively or menacing park users, and dog owners’ receptivity regarding the regulation, Richard said.
Information gathered will be used to make a recommendation to municipal council regarding the regulation relating to the presence of dogs in the future Boucher Forest park. “The key to success is a very strong adhesion to the regulation,” Richard said. In the coming months, the FFB and the city will install signs to help raise people’s awareness about the pilot project. The city will also conduct surveillance operations at the forest’s access points to “facilitate the transition” for dog owners. FFB employees and volunteers will collect data and try to communicate the rules with people.
Starting the park’s development this year, Richard said the presence of unleashed dogs in the Boucher Forest is a growing safety concern for the organization’s employees and volunteers. She hopes the pilot project will be a proper solution to ensure people’s safety, without completely banning dogs from the forest. Currently deploying the park’s business plan, Richard said the FFB recently launched a call for tendering to hire a contractor to begin developing the park this summer. If all goes well, the park should open by the spring of 2022. Many more activities would come during the summer. The park plans to include various accommodations for different outdoor activities, including universal walking trails, hide-outs and, eventually, installations for mountain biking. The FFB also plans to provide unique educational programming for kids of all ages, including summer camps.
Deploying the project in five phases, Richard said the FFB is currently able to accomplish the first three. Calling on the community’s support, she said the foundation is seeking additional funds from the private sector to finance the last two phases. The inability to ensure people’s safety due to the presence of unleashed dogs in the forest has considerably halted the project’s progress. “Our plans were paralyzed for a period of time,” Richard said. FFB Secretary Lyne-Marie Tremblay said the presence of unleashed dogs in the forest presents potentially negative effects on fauna on flora, creates safety hazards for people, and must stop immediately. Numerous incidents where unleashed dogs harassed people occurred in the forest in the last few years, resulting in complaints to the city and the FFB. “Most incidents were severe enough that people, adults and children, were unsettled,” Tremblay said. “A great number of citizens confided to us that they are wary of going in the forest,” she added. “A lot of them said they completely stopped visiting the Boucher Forest for fear that they or a member of their family get attacked by a dog.” Before the city approved the pilot project, no one was allowed to roam in the Boucher Forest – with or without dogs.
She explained that only FFB employees and volunteers, and municipal employees were allowed access, clarifying that access to residents was always prohibited but tolerated.
Contrary to popular belief, portions of the Boucher Forest where people typically roam, with or without dogs, included private land and not municipally-owned property, Tremblay continued. The provincial law regarding the protection of people by regulating dogs states that, in public spaces, dogs must always be on a leash with a maximum length of 1.85 metres, except in a canine exercise area or while performing a canine activity. Dogs weighing 20 kg or more must always be tied to a leash, a harness, or a halter. Since dogs have always been prohibited in the Boucher Forest, implementing the pilot project required the city to adjust Règlement 183-2005 regarding the guard, care, and safety of animals in Gatineau, to effectively allow dogs on leashes in the Boucher Forest.
Once in effect, people will be able to legally roam trails in municipally-owned parts of the Boucher Forest, and dog owners will be able to bring leashed dogs on those trails. Tremblay believes people should be able to roam in the forest without fear of being involuntarily approached by a dog, and that dog owners should also be able to roam in the forest with pets, as long as they’re leashed. Hoping to have found the best solution, Tremblay said the goal is ensuring harmony and maximizing access to the forest.
Finally allowing the Boucher Forest park’s development plan to kick into gear, Lucerne district councillor Gilles Chagnon said the pilot project was a good compromise for everyone. “We need to preserve the forest,” Chagnon said. “It’s a good step in the right direction. We’re hoping it will work.” Emphasizing the park’s focus on ecological education and preservation, Deschênes district councillor Mike Duggan said protecting people from dogs is more important than letting dogs run free in the forest. “There is no administrative obligation to provide any off-leash dog spaces,” Duggan said. “It’s not a municipal responsibility.” Desiring to cooperate with dog owners as constructively as possible, Richard encouraged dog owners to be part of the solution to make the park as inclusive as it can be.
Aylmer Canine Club (CCA) President André Lemay told the Aylmer Bulletin that he doesn’t support the pilot project since it doesn’t meet dog owners’ initial demands. Discussing the pilot project with the FFB several months ago, before it deposited the park’s development plan to municipal council, Lemay said the CCA objected to the foundation’s initial propositions since they didn’t include plans for trails or specific areas dedicated to off-leash dog activities. “The [FFB] never followed up on our request,” Lemay said, stating that off-leash activities in the Boucher Forest’s municipally-owned trails should be maintained. “If they’re not going to do that, we’re not going to endorse their project. We’re not going to collaborate with them because their plan goes against our wishes.” He clarified that the CCA won’t encourage dog owners to ignore the regulation or to avoid the forest. “We’re just going to inform our members that we won’t get mixed up in all this,” Lemay said. “We’re going to leave it to the FFB and the city to assume their responsibilities. It’s them who decided to do this.”
In 2019, the FFB established a partnership with the city to create the Boucher Forest park, an urban park on municipally-owned land accessible to everyone, to be developed and managed by the FFB. Last September, the FFB presented the park’s development and management plan for the park.