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Big Dogs, Small Condos

Dogs are a growing part of downtown condo living. Builders and city planners are providing paws-itive input

By Alex Newman

Special to the Star

Fri., April 12, 2019​

Until three years ago, Maggi Burtt lived happily in a 450-square-foot bachelor suite with her 70-plus-pound, shepherd/malinois mix Shebang, two cats and the occasional boarding dog.

Now she lives in a 750-sq.-ft. space in the same downtown Toronto building, with the same menagerie. “I rarely see a conflict with having a big dog in a small apartment, because people in apartments tend to take their large dogs out more.”

Breed is a factor in energy levels and exercise needs, adds Burtt, a certified dog trainer with her own company, Tailspin Networx. “Pointers are all go-go. And so are border collies. Whereas greyhounds, everyone thinks they run like crazy, and they do — for 20 minutes. And then they’re done.”

Like Burtt, Rachel Siegel and her husband didn’t let a smaller living space stop them from sharing their lives with a dog. Even when the pound puppy they fell for — a sweet 60-pound bulldog — grew to 110 pounds, thanks to his great Dane DNA.

Their 690-sq.-ft. CityPlace condo in Toronto’s Fort York neighbourhood, says Siegel, “never really was a problem. We lived near several parks, and knew we’d be able to make sure he got lots of exercise. We also trained him to run alongside the bike, which meant even more exercise.”

Siegel says, “there was minor concern in the beginning about keeping him from barking inside, but with training, he learned to be quiet.”

The CityPlace condo neighbourhood, and its dogs, was the focus of Waterloo architecture student Sarah Gertler’s thesis in 2017. The paper concluded that more public space was needed to create a better outdoor balance between people and canines. “ ... blame is often given to the dogs which are perceived as the problem. Considering the estimated number of 2,900 dogs within CityPlace and adjacent areas, this problem is a very large one.”

A growing dog population — there’s an estimated 230,000 canines in the 2.8-million-person GTA — has the attention of both condo developers and city planners. Newer condos, where it’s estimated there are three to four dogs per floor, have swapped pools and party rooms for dog runs, pet spas and washing stations. Many condo corporations have restrictions on pets relating to size, or number, while some ban pets altogether except for special needs requirements (the Ontario Human Rights Code trumps condominium rules). Ironically, renters are protected since Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act does not permit landlords to include “no pet” clauses in rental agreements.

Off-leash areas in the city are on the rise, with 66 now compared to 37 off-leash zones in 2010. But some neighbourhoods, like the downtown Financial District, have no available green space while other areas have limited resources. A recent divide in Liberty Village pitted parents of young children against dog owners for the use of local parks and led to the city being petitioned for a new, dog-only area in Lamport Park West, beside the stadium.

Lyne Kyle, policy and program adviser with the City of Toronto, says the “focus is to encourage safe, enjoyable communities for both people and pets by promoting responsible pet ownership under the animals bylaw. For information about owning a pet in the city, including regulations for dogs and the location of dog off leash areas, go to

For instance, each dog is to have a licence — $25 — with the tag worn at all times. Leashes are also mandatory and fines are a stiff $365. Owners are responsible for collecting droppings; get caught in flagrante, and you face a $240 fine.

When it comes to condos, new pet-friendly guidelines are expected to be released this summer. The goal, says James Parakh of the city’s planning division, “is to recommend how new, multi-unit developments can better accommodate pets in their building. This is a trend we are seeing already with new developments offering dog runs, pet spas and other facilities.”

Sherry Garcia, owner of Hounds of York daycare and dog social club in the King and Bathurst Sts. area, would also like the city “rethink the bylaw that states dogs aren’t allowed where food and beverage is served. It’s not like they’d jump on tables licking plates, and as long as they’re leashed and by your side, what difference would it make?”

Garcia says her business sees a lot of working-breed dogs — huskies, vizslas, Samoyeds and Australian shepherds. Their owners appreciate her shop’s 2,500 sq-ft. of interior space, because “dogs like that need flat-out running, and they need brain stimulation games, like herding, and stalk the ball.”

As well as being a great reason to get out for a walk, or a run, or visit a park, Garcia points out that dogs mean “you meet people in your building and neighbourhood.

“When people have kids, they meet in the park and find things in common. It’s similar with dogs; the dogs play, the owners congregate, and discover they live in the same condo, like the same restaurants. I can personally attest to this, a good 90 per cent of my friend base is directly related to having a dog.

“I even own this business because of my dog. I used to be an accountant,” adds Garcia.

Alex Newman is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at

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