Parks Canada urgently not dump unwanted pets at Rouge Park

Parks Canada is raising concerns about a “three-fold increase” in instances of unwanted animals being dumped at Rouge Park.

Late last week, Rouge National Urban Park posted a tweet urging people to not dump unwanted dogs and cats at the 80-square kilometer green space, which runs from Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine along the Scarborough-Pickering border.

“Releasing pets into nature seldom has a happy ending. Domestic animals struggle in the harsh natural environment and can spread diseases to native species. Please don’t abandon animals in Rouge National Urban Park,” they wrote.

Partnering and Engagement Officer Lorraine Chung, of Parks Canada, said this public appeal comes after staff located the remains of what is believed to be an abandoned pet on a trail near Lower Reesor Pond in November.

That animal, Chung said, “is believed to have been abandoned there and succumbed to starving and exposure to freezing temperatures.”

She also pointed to another case, also in mid-November, when a husky was abandoned and on the loose on Woodland Trail.

Chung said that dog stayed there for almost a month before traveling northwest and outside of the park’s boundaries. It was eventually trapped near Markham Green Golf Club at 9th Line and 14th Avenue.

She urged people to “surrender unwanted pets through humane channels and not release them into the park or natural areas.”

“The release of pets and exotic animals into park lands is not a new trend in Rouge National Urban Park, but there has been a three-fold increase in recent years,” Chung noted.

“Despite what the movies might convey, this seldom has a happy ending — not only does the animal suffer, but its release also poses real risks and consequences for the ecological integrity of the park.”

At least four dogs found abandoned in Rouge Park over last year

Stu Johnson is a long-time member of Team Chelsea, a volunteer group that provides assistance to upwards of 200 lost and found pets in the Durham Region each month.

He said in the last year or so he’s helped locate at least four dogs that have been abandoned by their owners in and around Rouge Park.

His most recent rescue of this kind happened just a few days before Christmas and involved the husky that was eventually found in Markham, weeks after first being spotted in Rouge Park.

“Pets aren’t wild animals. … They’ll survive, but they aren’t meant to be out there in the elements fending for themselves. It’s just not a good situation,” Johnson said.

“People need to do the right thing. … If you suspect something, speak up.”

A photo of a husky that was abandoned at Rouge Park and rescued shortly before Christmas in Markham. (Team Chelsea photo)

Chung said that in addition to domestic dogs, park staff are also seeing cats, rabbits, reptiles and other exotic wildlife released within the park’s boundaries both on land and in waterways.

She said that the prevalence of animals being abandoned in Rouge Park posed a significant problem for Parks Canada because of federal laws preventing it from transporting a trapped wild animal more than one kilometer from the site of capture.

That, in some cases, means that it is impossible to remove an animal from Rouge Park once it has been dumped there.

“Once an animal is outside its home range it is at increased risk, having no familiar place to hibernate during the winter months. It will also run into the established territory of other animals of the same species and be forced to compete for food sources,” Chung said.

Hannah Sotropa is a spokesperson with the Toronto Humane Society (THS). She said pet owners have several affordable and accessible options if they need some extra assistance.

Anyone who cannot keep their pet can reach out for help with re-homing it, she said.

Sotropa said THS has a program that helps pet owners pay for animal care and also operates a pet food bank and an urgent foster care program.

“Pet owners who need assistance and support have options,” she said.

“People don’t have to dump their pets.”

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