A review and some suggestions
Anthony E. Harckham
The proposed bylaw is intended to replace the existing bylaw which has had a history of amendments, mainly relating to changes in penalties and in the recognition of vicious dogs.
It is not known that there is a specific problem that Council faces with respect to animals, but it has seen fit to bring forward a bylaw which introduces 39 distinct penalties. Its predecessor (32-98) had 16 separate penalties, which number was the same as the 1989 version. It was amended to add penalties relating to baiting and trapping, which made the total 18. For comparison the City of Edmonton has 22 distinct penalties.
The new penalties are
The out of town provision would be extremely hard to monitor, expensive to administer and of very limited benefit. It is an unnecessary provision. If pet-owner want the benefit of registration, then they will register in the regular fashion.
These new penalties appear to include elements that are either poorly defined, redundant or unnecessary.
For example a penalty for threatening an individual: if a cat hisses it is threatening. Guard dogs are meant to threaten when an intruder comes onto private property. This is too loosely written.
Similarly harassing other animals is hard to assess: when is it harassment and when is it just playfulness. Clearly if injury occurs there is a problem, but harassment would be better omitted.
The issue of damage to public property, which includes urination, means that pets cannot urinate anywhere except on private property. Is this the intention?
For the vicious dog provisions it would seem necessary to have a separate category of registration so that it is known at the outset whether a dog is vicious or not. This may invoke serious problems of definition and clause 2.35.1 is probably nebulous to apply. Who knows this propensity to attack? As a simplification one could note that penalties for vicious dogs are doubled.
The various provisions for chasing can only be invoked if the animal is at large. Is it the intention to invoke fines for both types of violation?
Similarly dogs not adequately supervised seems to be a catch-all and the provisions for dogs outside audible range, etc. are probably undeterminable. We know if a dog does not come when called, but we donít know whether it hears the call or not.
The number limits are irrelevant: what happens if an animal has a litter. The issue is whether the animals are a nuisance either from their behaviour or from sanitary considerations. It would be best to stick to the real issues.
If the purpose of the Motor Vehicle regulation is to prevent untended animals in trucks then this is what it should say. As worded it may imply the need for a cage within a car.
Required licensing information is an open-ended list: it should not be. The issue is simply to recognize the dog, with or without a tag, and to be able to contact its owner.
It would be a positive step to provide pro rata registration fees through the year. To have the same fee on December the first for 1 month as on January 1st for 12 months is inequitable.
The bylaw seems to have a confrontational basis: everything is restricted, nothing is encouraged. The new bylaw seems heavy and in some cases, as suggested previously, unworkable.
The issue is that pets have an impact on others, as do children, motor vehicles, radios and barbecues. The onus should be on the pet owner to ensure that negative impacts are avoided. The key issue is perhaps the collection of animal faeces. In my observation most owners seem to do this, though there is evidence left behind that not all owners do. To exert penalties on whole classes of individuals and classes of activities to limit the offenders is overkill. The only class of pet owner who consistently does not remove faeces are horse riders.
The bylaw accepts no responsibility by the Town with respect to the pet-owner. If a pet is registered the Town has to acknowledge that it has some responsibility. It should undertake to ensure that stray pets are captured and cared for promptly and that all endeavours are made to return them to their owners.
It should also ensure that there are adequate areas for exercising animals: it would be appropriate to require the town to ensure that an off-leash area is within 10 minutes walk of all residences in the town.
There are other pro-active steps that could be taken: a clean-up day to collect what has not been picked up. Encouragement of pet health through regular check-ups would also be beneficial. Reminder notices when the licence fee becomes due.
The owners of vicious dogs might be required to maintain a policy of liability insurance.
Pets are a positive factor in the life expectancy of pet-owners. Discouragement of pets is equivalent to shortening life.
Pets are a social benefit: they help in social interactions of individuals and in the development of children.
Pets are a pleasure: their grace of movement and their unconditional friendship are two aspects of this.
Pets actually save money. A 1998 German study showed that dog and cat owners made 16% fewer doctor visits and 21% fewer days in hospital. They have also been shown to be associated with reduced blood pressure and lower triglyceride levels. An Australian study suggested that savings of at least $750 million on a healthcare budget of $33 billion were realized because of the pet-owning part of the population.
Insurance companies are considering lowering the life insurance premiums for pet-owners.
Animals need exercise: a healthy animal, including humans, needs regular exercise. A leashed animal is always constrained by its owners capacity. It cannot move with its natural speed and agility.
Bad laws and unnecessarily restrictive laws create criminals, and disrespect for law. Council should consider this bylaw carefully: it affects a large part of the population. It should not bring the Town into conflict with its citizens, nor into their disrespect.