City hoping dogs on beach won’t become bone of contention

Plans are afoot that could see a dog-friendly beach open in Sarnia early next year. Jenilyn Sheppard Photo

Tara Jeffrey

Analia Davis is hoping a dog-friendly beach will be a reality in Sarnia by next year.

“One of the biggest complaints we hear from dog owners is, ‘we’re surrounded by water but we have nowhere to take our dogs,’” said the chair of the Sarnia Off-Leash Dog Parks and Zones committee, which has been lobbying for more municipal dog-friendly spaces for years.

“Ideally, we’d like to see it in place so we can use the beach by the spring and summer.”

Sarnia had planned to launch a one-year pilot project for a designated dog-friendly beach space last year, but the public consultation process was disrupted by COVID-19.

Council is revisiting the issue on Dec. 13, when staff is expected to provide plans to re-engage the community on both the proposed dog beach and additional dog parks.

“An off-leash dog space does require quite a bit of community consultation to ensure we’re not affecting any of the various neighbourhoods,” said Sarnia recreation coordinator, Krissy Glavin.

“We are going to return to council with some details around site selection criteria… as well as come back with a bit of a timeline for the public consultation.”

Gathering feedback would most likely begin in mid-January, she said.

Glavin said staff will consult with the off-leash volunteer group, which pushed to open the first city-run dog park at Germain Park in 2017. If all goes well, the beach could be in place for the spring or summer 2022, she said.

A 2020 online survey drew about 100 responses, with 81% in support of a dog-friendly beach, and 58% in support of an off-leash dog-friendly beach in a non-fenced area.

As for location, 29% supported the west end of Canatara Beach; 22% liked Mike Weir Park Beach, 21% favoured Baxter Beach, and 19% preferred The Cove on Lake Huron.

“It has to be neighbour-sensitive, have plenty of parking, and be large enough to allow people to spread out,” said Davis.

She’s recommending the west Canatara Beach option, although staff have noted the beach could lose its coveted “Blue Flag” status — which demands high water quality and prohibits domestic animals on the sand.

“If the section of beach that we’re looking at can be separated… we can still maintain that Blue Flag status,” Davis argued.

Ontario’s popular Wasaga Beach — the first provincial park in Canada to be awarded the Blue Flag designation — has a designated dog-friendly area, marked between two wooden fences.

Davis does not expect many complaints from beachgoers.

“People will clean up because they want to keep it — they all have a vested interest — and we know this is going to be a pilot project,” said Davis. “Nobody wants to go to a beach that hasn’t been maintained.

“This is not a beach for dogs,” she stressed. “This is a beach for families and individuals who want to bring their dogs with them to enjoy their day at the beach.”