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Canine companions critical during pandemic

Canine companions have been a life-saver during the pandemic: Just check out a dog park or two; they're busier than ever.

The canine effect has been crucial during COVID-19.

Just ask Edmonton's Jeff Cummings who says his two dogs help him take much-needed breaks from the lingering pandemic.

"People can be grouchy, but my dogs never change their attitude,” he said. “They're always happy and they always want to be by my side."

Cummings says his black lab crosses, Hunter and Wilson, lounge around while he works from his home office and are always ready for a short leash walk on bitterly cold days. Most of the time though, he takes his furry friends to one of 40-plus dog parks in the metro area.

"We usually go to the Deermound off-leash area near Sherwood Park," said Cummings, who noticed dog parks have been busier since the start of the pandemic.

The owner of an Edmonton dog-walking business that started shortly after the pandemic landed has also seen an increase in activity at city dog parks.

"I think a lot of people got new dogs when we went into lock down,” said Dan Meyer, owner of The Leash Team, who believes Edmonton has some of the largest and best off-leash parks in Canada. "Some parks are smaller and fenced like Lacombe and Lauderdale. Some are large and quite diverse, like Laurier and Terwillegar.”

Meyer, who launched The Leash Team in May, 2020, now has six full-time employees and is grateful for his pandemic success. "This is a pretty special business built in a very crazy time." Meyer says his wife, Bea Bohm-Meyer recently commented, "Out of the COVID darkness comes canine light and love."

Steph Law, co-owner of Dog Jogs, says her business was hit hard in the early months of COVID-19 but has since bounced back. "Edmonton and surrounding areas generally do offer great off-leash facilities for dogs," she said. "We feel like dog parks have definitely increased in popularity over the past couple of years."

A City of Edmonton official says dog park usage has increased to the point where the winter 'off-season" is now as busy as summer. Dog off-leash coordinator Beckie Boutilier says the City has received the most positive feedback about the small-dogs-only areas at Lauderdale and Paisley parks.

"Owners of small dogs enjoy being able to have their dogs interact with others of the same size without worrying about larger dogs," she said.

In the cold of late December at Edmonton’s Jackie Parker off-leash park, Tony Blais stopped to chat while playing fetch with his five-year-old German shepherd, Strider.

 “Dog parks are very important to me," he said to Alberta Prime Times. "They provide an opportunity to exercise Strider and have him socialize with other dogs.”

In Calgary, the owner of one dog-walking service says there are about 30 parks she uses regularly.

“We have some awesome parks in Calgary, but about 100 of them are too sloped or too close to busy traffic areas,” said Trish Way, owner /operator of Pooches in the Park.

A City of Calgary spokesperson says there has been an increased demand at the 157 off-leash parks (eight parks are fenced) since the start of the pandemic.

“The majority of feedback we receive is positive with the biggest compliment being that Calgarians are grateful to have so much space where their four-legged friends can be active and socialize with other dogs," said the City's Kaila Lagran.

For more information on dog parks in Edmonton and Calgary, see edmonton.ca/offleash and calgary.ca/offleash.