Private dog parks get a boost as Edmonton closes fenced off-leash parks

Some pet boarders are turning to private dog parks to supplement their income as COVID-19 grinds business to a halt and the City of Edmonton shutters fenced off-leash parks.

Every reservation at Shanin Neff’s pet boarding business was cancelled, including during the lucrative spring break, after the novel coronavirus arrived in Alberta. She currently has no reservations on the books. 

As business dried up, she expedited plans to turn a three-acre enclosure on her ranch south of Spruce Grove into a private dog park. Even before the pandemic, Neff says she intended to have the off-leash area open by summer. 

But she decided to open to the public when the city announced on Thursday that 38 off-leash areas would be switched to on-leash during the pandemic. As of Saturday morning, fenced off-leash parks at Lauderdale, Alex Decoteau, Manning Village and Paisley were closed altogether. 

“We opened it about four months early, but we know there’s a need for it, so we did it,” Neff said in an interview on Sunday.

She said the response has been overwhelming.

Park booked weeks in advance

A dog handler pays $10 to have the space to themselves for an hour, with discounts for booking multiple sessions. 

The park at Neff’s Awesome Pawsome Ranch has been booked solid for the past four days, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The next two weeks are nearly full, she said, with other clients booking nearly a month in advance.

Neff said she would consider subdividing the space into more fenced areas to accommodate the surging demand. 

“This has been a whirlwind for the past week,” she said. “We knew there would be a small need for it locally, but we didn’t think it would be this big.” 

City administration said the closures to public parks were necessary to prevent overcrowding, even as some councillors raised concerns about public blow back.

Lindsay Miyagishima agrees the decision was in the best interest of public health, but at the time she wondered how to accommodate Gunner, her three-year old pup. 

“I thought, my gym is closed and I can work out at home,” she said. “Now my dog’s gym, essentially, is closed and how am I going to exercise him?” 

Then she heard about Neff’s ranch. 

Lindsay Miyagishima booked her next eight sessions at the private off-leash park at Awesome Pawsome Ranch after her first visit on Sunday. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

A sign hangs on the fence outside the private park: “the luxury get away your pet deserves,” it reads. 

“It feels safe, it feels clean, it feels appropriate for the time we’re living in right now,” Miyagishima said after her first visit on Sunday.

The $10 admission and half-hour drive from the city was worth seeing Gunner run free, she said. Miyagishima booked eight upcoming sessions before making the drive back to Edmonton.

Plus, she said, “I need this time outside just as much as my dog does.” 

Gunner awaits the next ball toss during a game of fetch with owner Lindsay Miyagishima at a private dog park south of Spruce Grove. The park abides by physical distancing rules while giving dogs the space to run loose while public parks become on-leash during the pandemic. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Southeast of the city, another private dog park is preparing for increased demand.

Retired elementary school teacher Esther Eckert owns DogLandia, a dog boarding and training company in Leduc County. Business has taken a hit during the outbreak, with all boarding reservations cancelled in March and April.

Eckert opened her three-acre private off-leash park back in October, mostly for clients with dogs who don’t fare well at busy public parks.

The $15 hour-long bookings are spaced by 15 minutes to abide by physical distancing measures. Eckert sprays down the park gate with disinfectant between guests. 

She has yet to see an uptick in business since the city made its decision, but expects that will change. 

“That wasn’t my motivation for opening the park,” she said. “I would much rather people have easy access to what’s close to them and what is going to be helpful to them.” 

But in the absence of a public off-leash park, she is pleased to offer dog handlers the option.

“People trapped in their houses struggle and dogs trapped in their houses struggle too.”