When it’s time for Firas Arafat and Jennifer Reynolds to go to bed in their two-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot condo, it’s also time for their 11-week old Bernedoodle, Ernie, to prepare for a good night’s sleep.
That means take care of Ernie’s “business.”
But, instead of going to a nearby park, Arafat or Reynolds take Ernie up to the roof of The Merchandise Lofts, located at 155 Dalhousie St. in Toronto.
Waiting for them is a pair of turf surfaces with four fire hydrants, to go along with disposable plastic bags for their use.
“When he’s up there, he knows it’s time for him to do his business,” says Reynolds. “When he first started [potty] training, we’d have to go every two to three hours.”
The five-minute trip to the dog relief and walking area on top of the condo building saves the couple from having to walk 10 minutes each way in the middle of the night to their nearest park, Allan Gardens. Using the relief area also minimizes the chances that Ernie go along the city streets, or even inside the building, because he couldn’t wait.
With close to 250 dogs living at 155 Dalhousie St., the relief area is a much needed amenity. It’s also not the only building with a lot of dogs, which is why the City of Toronto is looking to make pet facilities more common in new multi-unit developments.
Developers have noticed that providing pet amenities is a big selling point
Set to be released by early 2020, the Pet Friendly Guidelines are based on the principle that new developments should support pets with amenities to meet their needs, which will reduce the burden on public spaces.
“Developers have noticed that providing pet amenities is a big selling point,” says Ran Chen, the senior urban designer in charge of the guidelines. “Not having these amenities, creates conflict between pet owners and non-pet owners because they’re sharing these spaces … Future tenants want to know that these problems have been addressed.”
A draft summary of the guidelines — which are set to become the first of their kind in Canada, Chen says, — were sent to the National Post. They indicate that building developers should consider implementing spaces such as off-leash areas, relief zones and pet washing stations.
The guidelines apply city-wide to all new multi-unit residential buildings that are required to provide amenity space as part of their development approval. According to Toronto’s bylaws, “an apartment building with 20 or more dwelling units must provide amenity space at a minimum rate of 4.0 square metres for each dwelling unit.”
As guidelines, they’re intended to provide direction and guidance, but because they’re not bylaws, they’ll be afforded some flexibility in application.
The process for developing the Pet Friendly Guidelines started in the spring of 2018. Since then, the city of Toronto has consulted with various groups such as resident associations, developers, pet waste management companies and dog owner associations to understand what problems need to be addressed.
At The Merchandise Lofts, pets have two dog walk/relief areas (totaling around 1,300 square feet), but they’re not allowed elsewhere on the roof. Finding areas where the pets are not in the way of other tenants is a point of emphasis in the Pet Friendly Guidelines.
Sharing and preserving Toronto’s public parks is also a point of concern. Dogs use them for exercise or for relief, which can contaminate the soil. But these spaces are also used by humans, some of whom would rather not be surrounded by active dogs.
“People use pets for a variety of reasons, like to help with a disability, or for empathy and companionship,” says Gary Pieters, the president of CityPlace Residents’ Association. “Even though they’re family to some, others aren’t as accepting of dogs, sometimes for reasons relating to trauma.… The guidelines allow (developers) to understand their roles and responsibilities.”
In a condo complex where there are more dogs than children among its residents, Pieters realized in 2008 the need to create a space for pets. He helped create an off-leash dog run that’s about 4,050 square feet, and five dog relief areas (around 1,000 square feet), which are shared by five of the buildings in CityPlace’s Harbour View Estates.
Despite the implementation of the pet areas, two of those five buildings (5 Mariner Terrace and 3 Navy Wharf Court) had to stop allowing new pets into their residences. It’s a problem that perhaps could have been alleviate if the complex had understood, during their consultation process, how their planning would have to better accommodate pets.
Other residential complexes have also noticed the trend, such as the Livmore, located at 55 Gerrard St. W, which opened in August 2018. On the fifth floor’s balcony is the “Bark Park”. With artificial turf and its own set of fire hydrants, it’s an area for dogs to relieve themselves and exercise. There’s also a “dog spa” that features a grooming table, blow dryer and two washing stations.
In an email exchange, Todd Nishimura, the senior director, marketing, leasing and communications of GWLRA Residential (the Livmore’s developer), explained how trips to major U.S. cities informed their decision; high quality rental buildings in Seattle, Chicago and Washington all offered pet amenities.
The amenities, such as dog washing stations, are especially beneficial during the winter, when the mess is harder for owners to control.
The winter months were heavily considered by Chen while forming the guidelines. In order to alleviate some of the mess, the guidelines recommend that buildings install pet washing stations, which can even be accessible by a separate entrance to the building.
The guidelines also make suggestions for pet friendly units. For example, by implementing vinyl flooring, which is soft on paws and sound absorbing, or by creating showers with a built-in bench to wash a pet. In terms of relief areas, there’s advice on usual materials and how to implement a drain. In the case of The Merchandise Lofts, the hydrants act as a disguise for the pipes in its drainage system.
Aside from cleaning duties, the winter months also force owners to go into the cold, but even worse for a dog, they risk the chance of being aggravated by downtown traffic while having to walk on salt, a potential hazard for paws. The Merchandise Lofts make an effort to not salt the roof’s dog areas, but to instead clean the surfaces once a day.
You shouldn’t have to choose between owning a dog and living in a condo in downtown Toronto
Realtor Craig Ferrie, who also lives in The Merchandise Lofts, cites the area as a reason why many clients decided to move to the complex. For Arafat and Reynolds, they wouldn’t have adopted Ernie without the amenities. They allow them to operate their business, Page One cafe, in the same building.
“You shouldn’t have to choose between owning a dog and living in a condo in downtown Toronto,” says Reynolds.
When one of them comes back from work, around 4 p.m., they’re able to take Ernie to a park, a process that will become even more crucial when he outgrows his current 20-pound stature, to his full-grown size of 90 pounds.
But in the morning before heading to work and at night before going to bed, their condo’s pet amenities are crucial, especially since they’re located in a safe and accessible area of the building that includes surveillance cameras.
Using these dog areas, Reynolds and Arafat have also been able to meet other pet owners and create friendships. When walking through the complex, Ernie is waved at by neighbours who know him by name, while his best friends include Kimchi, a French bulldog, and Mabel, a Boston Terrier.
“It’s very hard to get a sense of community in a Toronto condo building,” says Arafat. “Everyone who owns a dog knows everyone else who owns a dog. Sometimes, you just know the dog’s name and not the owner’s. It happens, but we’re all part of this community, the dogs included.”