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Pet projects

Halifax now has its first 24-hour veterinarian clinic, part of a wave of businesses and municipal services focusing more on pet owners

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Twiggy the dachshund with her human life partner Jessy Lacourciere. Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire.

Twiggy the dachshund with her human life partner Jessy Lacourciere. Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire.

Halifax now has its first 24-hour veterinarian clinic, part of a wave of businesses and municipal services focusing more on the city’s pet owners.

But what about the shortage of public garbage cans to dump your dog’s poop in? And, even worse, what about those few trashcans we have overflowing with neatly tied stink bombs sweltering on hot summer days?

Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

First, to the new round-the-clock clinic. It’s called 4 Paws 24-Hour Veterinary Hospital and it’s located on Lady Hammond Road in Halifax’s North End. As owner Dr. Emma Slater points out, it’s actually the first and only such clinic in all of Nova Scotia.

“I’ve been a vet in the city for about 10 years and I’ve dealt with client frustrations over the limited options for overnight care for pets that we had before we opened,” she says. “I’ve dealt with being the one who did the surgery at nine o’clock at night, and then the pet has to be moved right after the surgery practice over to the emergency hospital in Burnside.”

That would be the Metro Animal Emergency Clinic, which opened in 1997. It improved options for pet owners, as they didn’t have to take their pets home overnight. It’s run by a group of vets and offers round-the-clock emergency pet care when your regular vet is closed. The downside is that pets get shuttled back and forth from their regular vet clinic to the emergency facility.

Slater’s 4 Paws treats the hurting animals and keeps them in the same facility during recovery. “It’s a service that’s available in most of the other major cities in Canada,” she says. “We just didn’t have one here. I thought there was a real need for it.”

Slater also does house calls, like many other vets. She delivers home care daily in a customized minivan stocked with equipment.   
“I think frustrations with the existing system have been there the whole 10 years I’ve been practicing in the city,” she says. After 10 years, she’d built up a client base and reputation that she hopes will sustain the new venture. 

Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire.

Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire.

Slater owns three dogs, one cat, five chickens, a gecko and a well-populated fish tank. An animal lover herself, she’s seen a cultural change from her professional and personal perspective.

“There’s definitely been a shift in the last 15, 20 years in how we perceive pets,” she says. “A lot of us consider pets to be family members now and so the demand is there for better and more accessible pet care. We put a lot more thought into how our pets are feeling and how their lives could be improved compared to what was normal 30 years ago.”

If you’ve searched online for pet-friendly places in Halifax over the last decade, you’ve probably landed on the treasure chest of resources that is CharlieLovesHalifax.ca. It shared information on what shops catered to what pets, connected you to pet groups in your part of the city, and listed pet-friendly parks.

The website has drawn more than one million hits since its 2002 launch, but then it went dark this spring. Joan Sinden ran the whole thing for fun. In the disclaimer at the bottom of pages, she notes that it’s “the opinion and beliefs of one person. If you believe them to be anything more than that, you have been misinformed and given me an importance anyone would lust after, but I certainly do not covet.”

It’s a reflection of how big the site became; people assumed it was created by an official organization of some kind. But it was the work of one woman, dedicated to her dog, Charlie, and their mutual love of Halifax.

Charlie died in 2011. Sinden’s five new dogs are all rescues and aren’t friendly with other dogs. “I can’t really go on adventures with them,” she says. “It made it difficult to keep the site up to date.”

Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

So after 12 years, she let it go. Sort of. The old site still lives online, offering many resources for searching pet owners.

She’s seen the city become more pet friendly over the years. “We have legislation in place now that helps dogs a lot more and people in general are more pet friendly,” she says. “There’s really a niche community that caters to dogs. There are a lot more doggy daycares and groomers, things like that.”

More stores invite dogs inside and leave bowls of water out for passing pets. Sinden says that’s smart for business, because pets bring owners eager to spend. Many storeowners sought her out to spread the word that they were pet friendly.

She’s seen Facebook pages take on some of the work of sharing pet-friendly tips in the city, but they tend to be fragmented communities. Plus, Facebook doesn’t turn up much in online searches, so you have to know which groups to join. She’s seen other websites start up, try to make a profit, and then flop. Her hobby outlasted them all.

Sinden still runs Dogkisser.blogspot.ca, updating people on legal changes, plans for pet-friendly parks, and warning people about bad pet dealers selling animals online.

Halifax looked headed for a classic Dog People vs. The Others showdown in late 2014, as the decades-long battle over Seaview Park (now Africville Park) snarled to a conclusion. The park got a replica Africville church, and school groups and visitors were often heading into one of the city’s best-loved off-leash dog parks. The site’s dual identity as an important cultural location clashed with its identity as a beautiful and popular off-leash park.

Get Haligonians talking about race and dogs, and conflict seems inevitable.

“There was a lot of concern about the impact of the potential closure on the part of dog owners,” says Jennifer Watts, the Councillor whose District 8 includes the park. “The motion [to close it] that came forward at Council clearly signalled that this was important for the African Nova Scotian community.”

Instead of conflict, most people were reasonable and Halifax found a solution that improved life for most people concerned about the park’s future. Watts says the dog owner community and the Africville community got together, explained their concerns to each other, and sought a common way forward. Council voted to make Africville a leashed park, but to first open a new park in a more suitable location.

On January 1, Africville became a leashed park, and a spiffy new off-leash space opened at the Halifax Mainland Common in Clayton Park. The city plans to add wooded trails to the new site.

Watts thinks she knows how we avoided a painful confrontation over the park. “One, there was clear affirmation and direction from Council about the decommissioning [of Africville Park],” she says. “Two, people spoke with one another and talked about what they wanted and what they hoped would happen. I think that really helped the communities. It wasn’t us versus them. We can understand one another’s positions.”

Watts says Halifax hasn’t historically supported off-leash dog parks, but plans to now. First up is finding a new home for the small fenced-in park used by service dogs for visually impaired people. The North Park-Cogswell Street dog run must move to make way for the roundabout, and the city is looking for a new location.

Anyone who’s tried to figure out when and where they can walk their dog off leash at Point Pleasant Park will be familiar with the tangled array of rules about park usage. Council knows this can be confusing, Watts says, and is seeking better sharing arrangements. 

In general, the city is looking at having more “pocket parks” in the downtown area, complemented by bigger parks further out where land is available.

Oh, and about that shortage of public garbage cans for dumping dogs’ dumps? Watts says it’s about money. “For every can that goes up, it has to be serviced on a regular basis,” she says. “If people are using them to constantly drop off dog feces in the summer, they begin to smell.”

One of her constituents runs a convenience store, and people stuff the trashcan out front full of dog poop. “It’s been overflowing with dog feces on hot days, and we just cannot service that every day,” she says.  “Take your dog feces home with you and dispose of it. That may not be popular, but I think people need to.”

If Halifax navigated dog lovers versus Africville, surely we can handle trashcans. 

Pet Resources

Lacking a central website or Facebook group, pet lovers in Halifax tend to congregate around pet businesses. Planetpaws.ca focuses on healthy pet food, and their Facebook group (Planet Paws Pet Essentials) regularly posts pet news.

The Canine Agility Association of Nova Scotia (CAANS.ca) deals in dog obedience, and connects its 80-plus members to the wider dog owner community.

Sublime Canine Services offers obedience, life skills and private training. Jollytails dog daycare (Jollytails.ca) runs a pet store, daycare, training, grooming and more, and regularly posts to its Facebook page.

The Greyhound Pets of Atlantic Canada boasts 1,400 members on its Facebook page and while obviously focusing on greyhounds, its members also update pet owners on local sales and events.

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