TORONTO – Bandit is a miniature Eskimo-Pomeranian cross who snuggles under blankets in a tent, lies close to the campfire and begs for toasted marshmallows at every chance he gets.
For his owner, Kelly Bennett, camping with a dog is fun, and perhaps more importantly, practical – there’s no need to worry about leaving Bandit at home.
“He loves going camping, he loves being outside and snuggling with us at night,” Bennett said. “He’s a great little furnace for us, too.”
All of Ontario’s provincial parks are pet-friendly, with a few guidelines for owners to follow, although some may be more attractive to those bringing their furry friends along than others.
Twelve provincial parks have both a pet exercise area and a pet-friendly beach, while seventeen have one or the other.
A few favourites include Bon Echo Provincial Park in southeastern Ontario, Sharbot Lake east of Toronto, Rock Point on the north shore of Lake Erie, and Wasaga Beach on the shores of Georgian Bay.
“For lots of people a pet is part of the family,” said Anne Craig, a spokeswoman for Ontario Parks.
There are certain rules those with pets need to adhere to when bringing their four-legged friends on a camping trip, Craig noted.
Pets should not be left unattended on a site and should not make excessive noise. Dogs should remain on a two-metre leash whenever they aren’t using an off-leash exercise area or beach, she said.
Public health regulations also don’t allow pets inside roofed accommodations, showers or comfort stations, she said.
They can, however, roam freely at designated off-leash areas which are clearly marked at all parks, she said.
There are also limitations on pet access to certain trails, said Craig.
“Environmental conservation is one of our top priorities,” she said, noting that pets may not be permitted in certain areas with vulnerable vegetation, which would be clearly marked.
Owners must also clean up after their pets, Craig added, noting that its a provincial offence not to.
Park wardens are authorized to mete out penalties for non-compliance if posted signs are disobeyed.
Jeanette Arminio, who camps annually with her three poodles at Bon Echo, said those hoping to bring their pets along on a camping trip just need to ensure the animals are well trained.
“You can’t have a wild and crazy dog at home and expect it not to be wild and crazy when you go camping,” she said.
Arminio suggested raising a dog to be comfortable with camping from a young age.
“From the time we got our dogs as puppies at eight weeks we’ve travelled with them,” she said.
If a dog hasn’t been exposed to wildlife before, she said, the sight of a chipmunk could set its predatory instinct into high gear.
Chasing wildlife, making too much noise, leaving a mess behind – these could all get your dog kicked out of the park, she said, but as long as the pups are “good canine citizens,” they make excellent travel companions.
Even so, there are pet-free campgrounds in designated sections of some parks for those who don’t want to deal with fellow campers’ furry companions, Craig said.
Achray, Canisbay, Mew Lake and Pog Lake campgrounds in Algonquin Park are a few options for those who want a pet-free camping experience.