A very brave lady by the name of Linda had contacted Mayor Peter Kelly a few weeks ago because she'd been so upset by Brindi's story, and somehow she was able to set up a meeting with him to talk about the badly written A300 bylaw. She was told she wasn't allowed to talk about Brindi's case though - only about bylaw A300, and she knew she didn't want to go alone - so she contacted a couple people to go with her, and I was one of them. She also contacted Marc Boutilier, and Francesca Rogier - and we all went yesterday and talked to Mayor Peter Kelly about why we think bylaw A300 is bad and what we think should be changed.
Marc did most of the talking - and we were all thankful for that! He did an awesome job, that's for sure - he said he's got a lot of politician's in his family, and I'd say that there must be something in their blood - because he should follow in his "family business".
I had put together a whole paper package to give to the mayor, and made extra copies for him to pass along to Robin McNeil - the staff sargeant who actually wrote the bylaw, and Andrea MacDonald, the manager of Animal Control - and it was basically what our proposal was - and model bylaws from other places in Canada that we thought had sections that Halifax could use instead of the section that's currently in the bylaw.
We don't want to change the whole thing - just 2 sections - one part about how a dog can have attacked you simply because it "appeared threatening" to you, and also the part where animal control officers have the power to seize your dog and destroy it without even notifying you. That gives animal control officers way too much power we think. Don't you think it does?
Here are some of the things we put forward:
The bylaw currently says:
2 (1) In this By-Law,
(d) “attack” means to injure or bite, or to threaten or give the impression of threatening;
(g) “dangerous dog” means any dog which:
(iii) threatens any human being or animal;
(2) Where an Animal Control Officer has reason to believe that a dog has attacked a
person or another animal, and the owner of the dog has been identified, the Animal
Control Officer may do any one or combination of the following enforcement actions:
(a) issue the owner a notice to muzzle the dog;
(b) issue the owner a notice to microchip the dog;
(c) classify the dog as a ‘dangerous dog’ in the municipal registry; or
(d) destroy the dog without permitting the owner to claim it and issue the owner a
notice informing that the dog has been destroyed.
We want everything in red taken out. Animal Control officers can currently cherry pick from any of the above enforcement options - so they can not even charge you with an offence - the first time they come to your house - if they feel like it warrants it - they can just seize your dog and destroy it, and who in their right mind would think that is right? And you can't even appeal the ruling.
We think that only a judge and a court of law should be able to have that power. Period.
Some of the other issues we brought forward were:
• Behavior rankings that define the types of canine behavior that indicate the differences between a less dangerous and a more dangerous dog;
• Bylaws that only allow a Justice to determine whether a dog is a vicious animal – not Animal Control;
• Strict time constraints on pending court cases for vicious or aggressive dog hearing when a dog has been seized and is being impounded – thus less cost to City, less cost to owner – and MUCH LESS trauma to dog;
• Bylaw that uses wording such as “aggressive dog means any dog that has been the subject of an OWNER’S CONVICTION” – puts the complete blame on the owner – not the dog (Central Okanagan bylaw);
• Sliding scale of aggression noting that there are more serious types of aggression ranging from a dog barking at a person, to a dog puncturing the skin in a bite, to a dog killing a person;
Another thing we brought forward was that during the public hearing last September on bylaw A300 - 32 people came and spoke for and against the bylaw, and the "attack" section was talked about by several people - myself included - and that fact was noted in the staff report that came out a couple month's later. What the report said was:
The public commented that:
“Attack” definition states “threatens or gives the impression of threatening” this was an area of concern. One resident also commented that the term without provocation may be hard to prove as a required element.
The staff comments were:
The Municipal Solicitor is recommending that:
i). the definitions of both “bite” and “threatens” be deleted leaving the courts to assess whether within common parlance the animal has bitten or threatened the victim;
ii) the words “without provocation” be removed from “attack” definition consistent with the Calgary Bylaw; and
iii) remove the reference to “chase” leaving the courts to decide whether a threat exist as a result of a chase event.
Option: Amend definition of “attack” means to injure or bite, or to threaten or give the impression of threatening
For some reason though – all of those sections were left in – and Animal Control Services were allowed to determine the level of punishment that dog owners would face – up to and including the destruction of the dog.
When we brought that up to the mayor - he couldn't answer our question why it was left in when the Municipal Solicitor obviously thought it should be taken out.
Overall - we were all really happy with our meeting with Mayor Kelly - now the hard work starts! We have to write him a formal letter stating exactly what it is we want to see done, and then he's going to pass it off to his relevant staff so that they can get an answer back to us - and if our suggestions are good enough - maybe then they'll change the bylaw.
I'm also going to be contacting every HRM councilor with our suggestions to see if one of them will consider bringing it forward at Council. When I sent out my questionnaire to the candidates - 34% of those who responded said that they thought that A300 as it's currently written DOES in fact put dogs in the HRM in danger - and 48% of them said that if they were elected they'd work to have the bylaw rewriten. That says to me that they've been talking to their constituents on front door steps - and their constituents have been telling them that - they're happy that cats are out of the bylaw - but they're worried about their dogs, and something's got to be done.
Marc, Linda and I gave the Mayor an alternative yesterday - I hope someone listens to us.
Do you want to know something funny though? I didn't use the Calgary bylaw though - I've had a really close look at it, and I don't like it. It is SO restrictive, and if you have a dog who's deemed "vicious" - you have got to post a sign of a foaming at the mouth dog at every entrance to your property and your house. I don't like that. And they don't just have one line about dog attacks that "appear threatening" - they have a whole list of "threatening behaviours". So I decided - I don't like the Calgary bylaw. "Bylaw Bill" - as Bill Bruce is now calling himself - can keep his bylaw if you ask me.
I much prefer - the Regional District of Central Okanagan's bylaw, and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Proposed Dangerous Dog Act - those are the ones we submitted yesterday. Those are really good I think.