As the pilot project begins, dogs are laying paws on the Montreal subway

Zora got the chance to ride the Montreal metro with the human Jay Ritchie for the first time on Saturday and was thrilled.

“He was very relaxed, very relaxed, he took it all in,” Ritchie said. “Now he can visit other dog parks and go for walks in other neighborhoods.”

The Montreal Transportation Society (STM) this Saturday launched a nine-month pilot project to allow dogs on the subway in hopes of making transit more accessible — though it comes with strict rules.

Dogs will only be allowed on the subway between 10:00 and 15:00 and after 19:00 on weekdays to avoid rush hour, with no restrictions on weekends and holidays. There is no charge for pets.

Owners may only have one dog with them at a time and must keep them leashed and muzzled.

Dogs are not allowed in the reserved bicycle seats or in the front car, and owners will be responsible for any messes caused by puppies. STM states that owners who do not follow the rules may lose the privilege of riding with their best friends.

While STM already allows caged pets and service animals on all public transit, dogs will not be allowed on buses or paratransit vehicles, at least for now.

“I’m happy to see dogs everywhere, I just love animals,” said passenger Don MacFarlane. “If the dogs are under control … I’m happy to be with them.”

City Councilman Eric Alan Caldwell, who sits on the STM’s board, said the pilot comes after requests from the public and the SPCA to allow animals on public transit.

The STM will use the pilot to see what adjustments might be needed to make transit accessible to dog owners while keeping everyone comfortable and safe, said City Councilman Eric Alan Caldwell, who also sits on the STM’s board. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

The STM said it will use the pilot to see what adjustments might be needed to keep transit accessible to dog owners while ensuring everyone is comfortable and safe.

“We hope it’s successful,” Caldwell said.

The oral rule is controversial

While owners like Ritchie are excited to take their four-legged friends on public transit, they feel the muzzle rule goes too far. Ritchie took Zora to the subway in Toronto – where no mouth is required – and said it went well.

“I think he’d be more comfortable without it… I’d rather it wasn’t a rule,” Ritchie said. “If the dogs aren’t used to it, sometimes they’re worse at it.”

The Montreal SPCA, which was consulted for the pilot project, also opposed the noise.

“Many cities around the world allow dogs on public transport without imposing mandatory muzzles,” said Sophie Gaillard, director of animal welfare and legal affairs there.

“This is especially the case in Toronto, and there haven’t been any public safety incidents since this was implemented. So we really don’t understand why it’s necessary to muzzle dogs in Montreal.”

The SPCA has published an FAQ that goes in-depth into the rules of STM, as well as a guide on how to best muzzle your dog.

But for those who aren’t used to being around dogs, muzzles are a way to help them feel safe.

“I’m afraid of dogs and I don’t like the smell,” said passenger Nicole Frégeau.

“I wish they had special cars for dogs so I could avoid them, but I understand it might be more practical for dog owners. I think it’s safe to use a leash and muzzle, but this is a pilot project, so we that’s what we’re going to do. See you in nine months when the results come out.”

Training dogs for walking

Martin Levac, who runs the AAA Canine Interventions dog training operation, says STM’s initiative is great because the dogs will now be able to expand their horizons — although they may need training to adapt to a new environment like the Metro.

For puppies that have never been on public transport, it’s best to take them on trial trips before trying to go anywhere on purpose and make sure the dog can leave if they get excited.

“If your dog is not used to crowded environments, noise, it can be stressful. If the dog has never been exposed to it, it can be as simple as metal stairs,” Levac said.

“The important thing is that people know their dog’s limits, can read when their dog is stressed and can remove the dog if necessary.”

She says muzzles are something to gradually add to a dog’s routine, especially for those who have never worn one before. Dogs rarely take to them right away, and it’s important not to push them too hard, as they may struggle the next time they try again.

But Levac says she also understands that STM is trying to make the public feel safe sharing space with dogs.

“We have to keep in mind that this is a pilot project to evaluate all of this. We’re asking our customers to give us feedback,” Caldwell said.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable in the subway and to keep it clean.”

Gaillard says he still hopes the STM will consider expanding the program to buses, something else the Montreal SPCA recommends.

“Not everyone lives near a subway, so everyone with a dog won’t be able to access public transit for the next nine months.”

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