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Battle brewing in Westmount’s Summit Woods between dog owners and opponents – Global News Toronto

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A battle is brewing in the city of Westmount between dog owners and some residents around the city’s Summit Woods who want to see dogs on leashes at all times in the leafy, treasured space where dogs can often run free.
Currently, Westmount allows dogs off leash at certain times of the year in the Summit Woods, the city’s largest green space and also a designated bird and wildlife sanctuary. Between Nov. 1 and April 15, dogs can run free all day long; during the spring nesting season from April 16 to June 15, dogs must be on a leash at all times. From June 16 to Oct. 31, they can be off leash before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
Dog owner Rick Hoge relishes walking his three greyhounds off leash in the woods, and he’s up there regularly.
“The dogs need a lot of mental stimulation and physical exercise and they get that here. It’s a really special place,” he said. “It’s good for the owners, it’s good for the dogs. In general the owners tend to be respectful of the times when you need to be on leash, and the owners tend to be responsible.”
Residents also say the woods offer a very different experience for dogs and their owners than an enclosed dog park.
“There aren’t many places to go off leash at all and it’s so important for dogs to be able to run,” said Sarah Sedcole, originally from Great Britain.
She said laws are much less restrictive in England than in Montreal.
“In England, we are very much dog people and dogs are allowed almost everywhere. It’s very normal to see a dog off leash in a park. We bring them into pubs,” she said. “It’s much more restrictive here.”
But a group of residents who live in the many large homes surrounding the woods say enough is enough. They claim too many people drive up to the woods, too many cars are parked on the street, often blocking their driveways. They also complain dogs running freely throughout the woods are damaging the environment and scaring away the birds and wildlife that are supposed to call the woods home. They also interpret provincial law as dictating that dogs are only allowed off leash in an area that is enclosed by a fence.
“It’s the only town in the province of Quebec that they don’t respect this law,” Westmount resident Maryam Kamali Nezhad said.
Nezhad says that last Saturday, she missed a doctor’s appointment because a car was blocking her driveway. She says the woods are a mess, and complains many owners don’t collect their dog droppings. She also complains that Westmount public security does not police the woods enough.
“It’s the worst situation in many decades we have seen,” she said.  “The trees, all the vegetation, they are destroyed because the people walk anywhere and the dog goes anywhere.”
Nezhad and fellow residents recently sent a legal demand letter to the City of Westmount, demanding the city require dogs on leashes at all times in Summit Woods.
The city says it isn’t contravening provincial law. Westmount Mayor Christina Smith says staff will review current bylaws and if they need updating, the city will do so.
But she adds that the woods are vital to dog owners and the community at large.
“I think it’s hugely important to those owners. They adore it, it’s a major part of living in this city for a lot of those families,” Smith said. “If we need to update any of our bylaws, we absolutely will.”
Despite that, Smith admitted the city could probably do a better job enforcing dog regulations in the park, including people respecting the times when dogs must be on a leash.
Smith explained that in order to bring a dog up to the Summit, one requires a Westmount dog permit. For non-city residents, the permit costs $50 annually. She said those fees will likely go up, as will fines for scofflaws who don’t obey the rules.
“For the most part, most people are following all the rules up there,” she said. “But we can always work better at improving and enforcing.
Dog owners say it would be devastating to lose the run.
“This is a rare opportunity in Montreal and I think it would really diminish people’s quality of life to take it away,” Janine MacLeod said. “If the parking is often full and if residents are having problems with an overabundance of cars, this just signals there is a large demand for this type of park. Rather than prohibit people coming here, there should be more parks of this kind in the city of Montreal.”
The next Westmount council meeting is April 8. Residents around the woods say if Westmount does not meet their demands by then, they may consider legal action.
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