Put a muzzle on it
First it was the chickens. Now this city council is in the weeds again, distracted by dogs and cats. The proposed “responsible animal ownership” bylaw is a new hodgepodge of legal mumbo jumbo to replace the current bylaw boondoggle, both of which do nothing to keep residents safe from attacks by dangerous dogs.
The current bylaw set out dangerous dogs by breed, which begged the obvious question of when exactly is a pit bull a pit bull. The proposed changes remove that designation in favour of definitions for “aggressive” and “dangerous” dogs.
Threatening dogs or ones causing minor injuries to others can be declared aggressive, meaning they have to be sterilized, microchipped, can only go outdoors in an inspective and approved enclosure or leashed and muzzled in public spaces and are banned from off-leash parks. On top of these expenses, the annual licence fee jumps to $300.
Dangerous dogs must have seriously hurt a person or wounded or killed another animal in an attack or stopped in the process of doing so to receive that designation. Along with the aggressive restrictions, the owners of a dangerous dog must pay a $500 annual licence fee and carry $2 million in liability insurance.
There are also significant financial penalties should any of these animals have to be impounded.
Bylaw services manager Fred Crittenden sold the changes as targeting irresponsible owners and making residents safer.
Coun. Brian Skakun wasn’t biting, however, noting how the proposed bylaw’s reactive nature, restricting the city from getting involved until a dog has already committed a crime. He compared it to putting on snow tires after it snows.
Well, based on the number of minor fender benders around the city each year at this time, it seems that’s what many drivers do the same, putting themselves and others at risk on city streets. That doesn’t make it right, of course, but what’s the alternative? At some point, drivers and dog owners have to be trusted to do the right thing, both for themselves and others. Fortunately, the majority already do so.
The reactive animal bylaw is a slight improvement to an already problematic bylaw. At least now the city makes it clear that it won’t act until a problem has surfaced and then it puts the onus on the owner to shoulder additional responsibility (and cost) to address that problem.
Skakun seems to be suggesting a far more invasive, government-heavy animal control bylaw that involves policing of dog behaviour and owner responsibility.
A veteran city councillor should be aware by now that the majority of bylaws on the books are not actively enforced. Except for parking downtown and construction work by professional contractors, bylaw enforcement is complaint driven.
Nobody is supposed to park their RVs and trailers in the driveway but unless someone complains, many homeowners get away with it because there aren’t bylaw officers don’t drive around residential neighbourhoods looking to hand out tickets. Same goes to the nuisance part of the newly improved animal bylaw, which proposes a warning and then a $250 fine for dogs that bark for more than 10 minutes at a time during the day and more than five minutes at night. City staff won’t be sitting in their trucks on the curb with a stopwatch without first receiving a complaint.
Not only is Skakun barking up the wrong tree, both he and the rest of council should ignore Crittenden’s call to play fetch.
The best a city bylaw can do is give the municipal government the tools to rectify problems and hold the people causing them responsible for their actions (or inaction). There is no animal control bylaw outside of the outright ban on owning dogs that will make residents more safe from bites and attacks. Suggesting that this new bylaw – or any other – will do so creates a false expectation.
Furthermore, this new bylaw puts an unfair onus on dogs and owners, particularly in public settings and off-leash parks. People who walk up to a dog they’ve never met before, however friendly it may seem, and start petting it are asking for trouble. Same goes for people who ask a person they don’t know to pet their dog. Anyone who does so has waived their right to redress should that dog suddenly turn fearful and bite the strange hand reaching towards it.
As Citizen columnist Kathi Travers, a lady who knows a thing or three about animals and owners, has said repeatedly that anyone who lets their young child touch any dog, even if it’s the family pet, without close and careful supervision is guilty of endangerment as a parent.
Here’s another way to look at it: dogs are domesticated wolves. Even that lowly Chihuahua is 98 per cent genetically identical to its fierce, wild cousin in the forest. Parents would be more fearful of their children’s safety if that’s how they saw dogs.
The sole purpose of the animal bylaw, as with most other bylaws, is simply to give municipal government the legal recourse to issue fines and, if necessary, seize and destroy property, once a problem has been identified by citizens.
Mayor and council must avoid the temptation to do more than that and then direct city staff to worry more about drafting necessary, enforceable bylaws and less about creating a government-legislated paradise where dogs don’t bite.
— Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout