Put a muz­zle on it

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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