OPINION: Baseballers gives council paws

George Mathewson

A quiet turf war is underway pitting poodles against pitchers, and shortstops against shih tzus.

In April, Sarnia approved a south-end dog park to provide dog owners with the city’s second leash-free zone.

It seemed ideal. City staff liked the concept and foresaw no problems. A group called the Clearwater Dog Park Committee raised $5,718 to buy the fencing, and its members offered on-going assistance for the one-year pilot project.

Everyone was happy.

But over the summer resentment started to brew among players who use the Clearwater baseball diamonds from March through October.

It spilled over last month when a petition to nix the dog park was signed by more than 350 people.

The size of the backlash was most surprising.

Pets, of course, are always an emotional topic, as municipal politicians and talk-show hosts well know. But slo-pitch players aren’t generally perceived as an excitable lot.

Nevertheless, at least nine people from various baseball teams – competitive and otherwise – wrote letters urging city hall to rethink the plan, using words like “annoyed” and “astounded” and “unacceptable” to express their displeasure.

The ball players insist they want the dog owners to get another dog park. They just don’t want it at Clearwater, especially at the fenced and floodlit Diamond 2, which is one of the city’s better playing fields.

Their objections range from the risk of stepping in dog feces to the loss of a playing field should this winter’s trial run become permanent.

An undercurrent of resentment also flows from the hefty fees baseball teams pay to use both the diamonds and the lights at night, both of which dog owners will use for free.

For their part, the pooch owners were stunned by the outcry that played out on social media this summer.

“Contrary to the belief of some, we are not out to abolish the game of baseball in the city of Sarnia,” dog park committee chair Analia Davis dryly noted in a recent letter to city council.

The committee did, in fact, do everything asked of it. It raised the money and worked with city staff, which held two public meetings in January and the previous September.

The $180,000 collected in dog registrations last year alone warrants a leash-free zone somewhere, the committee says.

But every dog must have his day.

City council is preparing to revisit the issue on Sept. 29, and staff’s revised recommendation is to nix Clearwater and look for an alternative leash-free area.

There’s an old saw about old dogs and new tricks. We might learn then if it applies to people as well.