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  • Cheryl Cole

Heartbroken dog owner launches petition for separate play areas for small dogs in Vancouver parks

A woman whose beloved dog died in her arms after being attacked by a larger dog at a Vancouver off-leash park is petitioning the Park Board.


A heartbroken Vancouver woman is petitioning the Park Board to create a safe space for smaller breeds in all off-leash parks, after her beloved dog was attacked and killed by a larger breed.


Vanessa Tom started an online petition after her dog Zooey, an eight-pound Yorkie Mix, was attacked by a 'much larger dog' at New Brighton Park on July 12.


After her beloved two-year old pup died in her arms, Tom launched the petition to get fenced-off play areas for small dogs in all dog off-leash parks in Vancouver.

Photo of Zooey courtesy of Vanessa Tom

Speaking to PawSwap, Tom recalled the moment a larger dog approached Zooey while she was playing with another small dog, and began biting her.

"My reaction was to immediately grab the dog’s harness to refrain it from hurting her more. Unfortunately, the harness unclasped in my hand causing me to stumble backwards. The dog was then able to grab Zooey and kill her," Tom said.


"During the attack, I grabbed the dog by the collar and shoved my hand into it’s mouth trying to get it to release Zooey. The other dog owner ran over and was yelling at her dog to let go. Zooey was still alive when the other dog finally unlatched, but she died in my arms before leaving the park," she added.


After the attack, Tom started an online petition, which has already gathered support from thousands of dogs owners, that calls for the Park Board to recognize the need for more small dog play areas.


Currently, Hinge Park in Olympic Village is the only gated off-leash park with a separate section for smaller breeds in the city, but Tom hopes that this petition will force the City to make a change.

"With so many small dogs in Vancouver I was shocked to learn the City of Vancouver only had one. If other municipalities like Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Langley, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge can have Large and Small dog areas, then the City of Vancouver should have them too. " explains Tom.


Although Tom believes that most big dogs don't want to hurt smaller dogs, she thinks it's important to take the size difference into account when it comes to play areas.

“Small dogs need protection. It’s like small children playing football against teenagers. The teens won’t get hurt. Most big dogs don’t want to hurt the small dogs, but I’ve seen big dogs play and trample the little dogs in their wake,” she adds.

Photo of Zooey courtesy of Vanessa Tom
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In a recent poll in our Vancouver Dog Owners Facebook group, 77% percent of voters agreed that there should be sectioned off area for different sized dogs as they have different play styles.

"I’ve made sure I’ve done my part in training my little dog proper play styles, which is actually different depending on the kind of dog she’s playing with. As owners we also need to take responsibility and monitor our dogs, knowing what the warning signs are when things are getting too much so we can prevent accidents."


Animal lawyer Rebeka Breder, who often defends dogs labelled as aggressive, told CBC News that most often the attacker is labelled as an aggressive dog, which she doesn't think deals with the root of the problem. 

"All it does is that you have to keep the dog leashed and muzzled without requiring the dog guardian to take more training lessons or to really look into what the cause of the problem was," she said. A month after the death of her dog, Tom admits that she is still struggling to come to terms with what happened. "Some days are better than others. Some days I don’t cry and other days I can’t stop crying. I keep reliving the attack in my head, hearing her screams and hearing myself scream “my dog is dead”. "When I first started the petition I wanted to make a change for Zooey, I didn’t want her life to be for nothing. Small dogs hey deserve to live and play without fear of being attacked and killed," Tom said.

At the time of writing, 3,953 people have signed the petition.