Monday, May 16, 2011

Yarmouth Residents say no to breed specific legislation

May 9th the resident's of Yarmouth Nova Scotia had the opportunity to have a public meeting with the town Council to talk about what they wanted for a dog bylaw, and the overwhelming majority wanted nothing to do with breed specific legislation. They all understood that it's the owner who needs to be punished and not the dog when something bad happens - and it's so interesting - why is it that people we've elected, and lawyers who are supposed to be so smart - just can't get it through their heads that this is always the correct way to go.

At the meeting a lawyer spoke and said -

"Greg Barro, the town’s solicitor, said if you don’t define a dog as fierce or dangerous by it’s breed, your options to label a dog as such are limited, and therefore so are a town’s options to act on a situation.

“If you don’t want to define it by breed, you can only define a dog as fierce or dangerous in relation to some incident. How else can you say it’s fierce or dangerous unless there’s an attack or it’s threatening in some manner,” he said. “So how do you devise a bylaw, when you’re limited that a fierce or dangerous dog can’t be fierce or dangerous until it attacks?”

The next question, he said, is once you settle on how to define a fierce or dangerous dog, what do you do about that dog? If part of the criteria is to put it down because it bites someone, you would see a lot of dogs being put down, he said."

Duh - exactly. A dog being deemed fierce and dangerous WOULD be based on it's behaviour - NOT on it's breed - what is so bad about that? He seemed to be saying that like it was a bad thing. Solicitors seem to think really backwards sometimes it seems.

It was really heartening to see so many people show up at the Town Council meeting - it really shows that in every part of this province that I personally love so much - everybody loves their dogs enough that they're willing to show up and be counted when it comes to having their say when it comes to dog politics - the people of Nova Scotia do NOT want to go the way of Ontario and are definitely not going to let it happen here.

And that is fabulous. Even if the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities would like to see it happen everywhere - it's not going to happen. The people of Nova Scotia love their dogs too much. People like me who are "crazy dog people" are the not minority - we are not some fringe party who's ideas don't matter - we actually have the same thoughts as the majority of dog owners in this province

Which is awesome to have seen come to fruition down in Yarmouth last week.

I hope that this is the death knell for any talk of bsl in Nova Scotia - now that the politicians have seen how fervent the public was in their wish to not have it in Yarmouth - they'll see that if it comes up at any council meeting in any other jurisdiction - they're going to have to give it up in their own area.

Power to the people!

No breed specific legislation, council told

Public meeting held to solicit input on draft dog bylaw
By Tina Comeau


The letters, the emails and the public presentations all carried a similar theme and it is one that the Town of Yarmouth says it has heard loud and clear – do not include breed specific legislation (BSL) in any new town dog bylaw.

At a May 9 public meeting held to solicit input on a draft dog bylaw, Yarmouth Mayor Phil Mooney said on this point everyone seems to be in agreement.

A draft dog bylaw – referred to as a working document – before the town defines fierce and dangerous dogs according to specific breeds of dogs. The bylaw states that a “fierce and dangerous dog” is any dog that is a Pit Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier; Pit Bull, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Rottweiler or any dog of mixed breeding which includes any of the aforementioned breeds.

The first presentation made at the public meeting was by Kristin Williams, executive director of the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). She said from the outset the SPCA has been clear about its concerns regarding the adoption of breed specific legislation and that they were surprised to see the inclusion of this legislation in the draft document.

“BSL aims to punish breeds without addressing the specific issues that may contribute to animal aggression,” she said. “The Society believes that inappropriate behavior is more a product of lack of proper training and socialization, which are the responsibility of the owner and not necessarily breed characteristics.”

Williams also said that the most significant pitfall of BSL is that determining breed-type is based on appearance, when in reality a majority of dogs are mixes of unknown origin.

“The only accurate way to determine breed type is DNA testing,” she said.

“BSL offers the community no protection,” she added. “Proper dangerous dog bylaws, coupled with properly resourced enforcement, incentivized compliance with owners is the only humane option. If the aim of this bylaw is to reduce biting incidents, then BSL will ignore the root of the problem and result in an irresponsible and short-sighted approach to protecting its citizens.”

On the subject of breed specific legislation the town received letters from across Canada, and even from parts of the United States. Several letters came from Ontario residents who wrote to the town to say that breed specific legislation in that province has not served to better protect the public. Instead it’s punished dog breeds and their owners.

At the public meeting, Yarmouth resident Robert Mercier said as a dog owner, breed specific legislation scares him. He described his own dog as a big, strong dog. He said his dog is nurtured, loved and treated with the respect he deserves.

“She is one of the friendliest dogs you’ll ever see . . . a great, wonderful, big dog, but if it were off leash you would be afraid of it,” he said. “If my dog gets out of my house and is on the street by itself, I am afraid that some overzealous cowboy will put a bullet in his head, just because it’s a big dog.

“You cannot have a breed specific bylaw,” he said. “You have to keep the pet owners accountable for their actions.”

Indeed, if there is another common theme to come out of this dog bylaw debate it is that pet owners have to be responsible for their dogs and how they raise and train them.

“It’s not about the dogs, it’s about the owners,” said one woman. “All these new dog bylaws…what about the owner bylaws?”

Like the discussion has been at previous meetings at Yarmouth Town Hall, this one was dominated by public concern over dog owner Gary Woods.

Woods is the owner of pit bulls, one of which was shot dead by a Mountie as it savagely attacked Yarmouth resident Noella McIntosh on March 26. Last Friday the RCMP charged Woods with criminal negligence causing bodily harm in connection with that incident.

The town has also charged Woods with violating their dog bylaw, alleging he owned vicious and fierce dogs on March 26.

Many people who live in the same community as Woods were present at Monday night’s meeting. They continue to demand that Woods’ not be allowed to own dogs.

“We need this town safe again and we want these dogs gone,” said Lorraine Hamilton. “His dogs need to be taken away from him.”

Ann Crosby said people in the town, as a whole, should not be punished through a bylaw because of one person’s actions.

“He’s the one that needs to be accountable, not all of us,” she said.

Many people in the audience said it was wrong that Woods had his dogs returned to him a few years ago after Yarmouth resident Charles Blades had been badly mauled.

“Noella, she wasn’t the first, she was the worst,” one person said. “But she won’t be the last.”

At times the tone of the meeting turned very emotional, and also very heated.

The town said it does not have the authority, because of provincial legislation, to go onto private property and take away a person’s dogs.

And Greg Barro, the town’s solicitor, said if you don’t define a dog as fierce or dangerous by it’s breed, your options to label a dog as such are limited, and therefore so are a town’s options to act on a situation.

“If you don’t want to define it by breed, you can only define a dog as fierce or dangerous in relation to some incident. How else can you say it’s fierce or dangerous unless there’s an attack or it’s threatening in some manner,” he said. “So how do you devise a bylaw, when you’re limited that a fierce or dangerous dog can’t be fierce or dangerous until it attacks?”

The next question, he said, is once you settle on how to define a fierce or dangerous dog, what do you do about that dog? If part of the criteria is to put it down because it bites someone, you would see a lot of dogs being put down, he said.

On the subject of how many chances a dog should have, there were mixed opinions in the room with some people saying any dog that bites a person should be put down, with others saying it should be on a case-by-case basis.

And many people said there is a difference between a dog who bites someone and one who has been trained to tear someone apart.

Those dogs should not be given repeated chances, and their owner shouldn’t either, they said.

Councillor Esther Dares referred to a bylaw model from Calgary that was raised by several people in correspondence to the town. A responsible pet ownership bylaw there places an emphasis on targeting irresponsible owners.

While breed specific legislation and dog ownership accounted for most of the discussion at the nearly two-hour public meeting, there were opinions shared on other things included in the draft bylaw.

The issue of muzzling dogs got a thumbs down.

The issue of bylaw enforcement was raised by several people, saying more needs to be done on that front. Many people commented on how people aren’t even responsible enough to pick up their dog’s poop from town sidewalks.

Another part of the proposed bylaw that people spoke out against was a section that limited the number of dogs a person could have in their household to two.

People were assured this will not be in any finalized bylaw. It was stated at Monday’s meeting by the mayor and the town’s solicitor that the town has no authority to enforce such a regulation and it won’t be included in a dog bylaw.

Mooney went on to tell the public that the town had thrown everything on the table in this draft, but it never expected that everything in the bylaw would remain.

But, he said, it’s easier to take things out, than to put things in.

Meanwhile after hearing from the public in person at the meeting, and receiving 63 letters and correspondence– not to mention many emails sent to individual councillors and the mayor – Mooney said at the conclusion of the May 9 meeting that the town is off to a good start towards strengthening its dog bylaw, but he said there is still a lot of work to do and more consultation to take place, including consultation with the SPCA and taking into account the input they’ve received from the public.

During the meeting Mayor Mooney also stated that 99.9 per cent of dog owners are responsible owners.

The following is excerpts from some of the correspondence the Town of Yarmouth received in relation to a draft dog bylaw it has sought input on from the public. You can read the correspondence on the Town of Yarmouth's website. It is attached to the May 9 public meeting agenda.

“I know the pitbull is not born a vicious beast. They are a domesticated pet and companion, capable of giving and receiving love and are the utmost loyal beings in this world. Please do not punish the entire breed. What you consider a dangerous/fierce pit bull is the result of neglectful ownership and abuse. It is not the breed, it’s what certain irresponsible humans have bred these obliging dogs to be. Putting a BSL in efflect will not solve the problem…Targeting the irresponsible pet owners and educating people is the answer. - Chantal Burry, Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland and Labrador

“Calgary has had much success for 20+ years with its Responsible Pet Ownership bylaw. It targets irresponsible owners. We have been living a nightmare of the dog ban here in Ontario for the past six years. Family pets have been taken from good homes based on how their dog looks. Innocent people have been stripped of their family pet and life savings trying to save their dog's life. The heartache is vast and the results are grim. People continue to be bitten and sometimes severely injured by all breeds of dogs. Breed bans have nothing to do with behavior and everything to do with how a dog looks. Breed bans are a draconian, barbaric legislation that target innocent people and innocent dogs.” -Lori Gray, Alliston, Ontario

“We also affirm much of your proposed provisions for “Fierce or Dangerous Dogs,” believing that owners of such dogs should be subject to strict guidelines in registration and control. Our organization’s main concern in reviewing your proposed by-law lies with the definition of “Fierce or Dangerous Dog.” We believe that breed-specific legislation is not the answer to any dog issue a community faces, and does a disservice not only to these breeds, but to the responsible pet owners who understand their dog’s breed, have invested time and money in training, and have raised or rescued well-mannered, stable canines who are good citizens in their community...We encourage you to move forward with the conditions you wish to place on “fierce or dangerous dogs,” but to remove the breed-specific legislation.” -The Board of Directors of the Beulah Burman Memorial Animal Shelter Society

"I am also an active participant in the long fought battle to keep breed specific legislation out of Nova Scotia because I passionately believe that there are many other much more viable alternatives that will keep our province so much more safer if only we will follow the lead of other areas who have already "invented the wheel" for us. I noticed as well that you have used parts of another town's dog bylaw - Parrsboro Nova Scotia - a bylaw that I consider to be one of the best dog bylaws in all of Canada - and they have chosen to go with a "dangerous dog" bylaw instead of a "breed specific" section....It's my belief that Nova Scotia is as close to shangri-la as you can find - and it's also my belief that every dog should be treated as an individual - just like humans. Breed specific legislation takes that option completely away. In this age when tourism is so vital to our province - we should be looking to make our areas more inclusive - not archaic and ugly - judging our most loved companions on looks alone." - Joan Sinden, Halifax

“The Canadian Kennel Club does not tolerate dangerous dogs of any kind. But as breed specific legislation has been proven in other jurisdictions to be ineffective, we instead support dangerous dog legislation, encouraging the enforcement of leash bylaws and running at large bylaws, as well as responsible dog ownership. This will not only protect the public from all dangerous dogs, whether or not they are purebred, but will also heavily penalize the source of the problem - irresponsible dog owners.” -The Canadian Kennel Club

“I write this to plead with you to do your research thoroughly and properly. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is not a dangerous dog by any standards. It is a magnificent family pet. Your duty is to protect the people of your community in the most effective way possible. Breed specific legislation is not the way to accomplish this. However, enforcement of existing laws, licensing, and education will go a long way to stopping dog bites in Yarmouth. - Clive Wilkinson, President, Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Canada.

“All around the world it has been proven that BSL does not work to protect the public. It is a costly, ineffective solution. It is impossible for untrained animal control officers to identify breeds so many innocent dogs of similar appearance are seized. This often leads to lengthy, expensive court cases. Taxpayers want their dollars spent on solutions that work, not a “placebo.” We urge you to consider bylaws that target irresponsible owners, rather than specific breeds. Strict enforcement of your current bylaws and a program of public education would be far more effective than just blanketing a ban across a number of breeds. It is irresponsible to believe that if a town bans a breed its government has done its due diligence in protecting its citizens. No breed is inherently more dangerous than another. – Coleen Wilkinson, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

“A well-bred pit bull is not naturally human aggressive, and to include all dogs of this breed in your legislation is discriminatory towards responsible dog owners, and well-bred examples of these dogs. Instead of singling out these breeds of dogs, you should single out the irresponsible owners who don't properly care for their dogs and allow them to run at large, or who train their dogs to be human aggressive. -Sheryl Stever

“I urge you to reject any legislative change that focus solely on the breed of dog in your bylaw. I believe strongly in public safety and certainly in light of the vicious attack that happened in your town, the public expects action to prevent future attacks, but the draft bylaw I have seen would not address that issue. Aggressive dogs are for the most part, are created. Lack of socialization, poor living conditions, cruelty and punishment are what truly cause dog attacks. In all vicious dog attacks you can usually find one common factor, and its not breed. It's that the dog did not have a high standard of care in the home...I believe the best solution to this issue is to improve our level of animal education and animal care through-out Yarmouth, but also in all of Nova Scotia. One of the best groups to deliver this message is the Nova Scotia SPCA, who are mandated to investigate cruelty to animals. – Tristan Flynn, Golden Rule Training

“As an owner of an American Pit Bull Terrier I would like to offer my input on the proposed bylaw. Many countries have implemented breed specific legislation (BSL) throughout the world in an effort to reduce dog-bites. Unfortunately it has been shown after many years of implementation that this does not work. The dogs cannot be held accountable for their actions. It is an owner's responsibility to train the dog to have a good temperament, and to take the time to care for the animal. Neglected/abused animals can do things (like bite) out of fear....Our dog Chip is well-mannered, and just wants to spread love. Some of his favorite things are cuddling, going for walks, and swimming. We had to "rescue" him from Ontario due to their BSL laws, otherwise he would have been euthanized. – Evan Doiron

“Most importantly, BSL does not work! Other countries and areas that have tried this type of legislation are now admitting that it doesn’t work. Their incidents of dog bites are not reducing, and they are being forced to acknowledge the error of their ways. They are now adopting more reasonable legislation i.e. putting the onus on the dog owner regarding leash laws, cruelty penalties, etc. and labeling only those dogs who have actually exhibited vicious behaviour as dangerous. The government would never get away with discriminating against humans in this way, so why do you think it is okay to do it to dogs?

The suffering I have seen innocent families go through, here in Ontario, by having their family pet taken from their arms, not because it had done anything wrong, but simply because it was a pit bull type dog under the legal age! Please learn from those who have tried this before you and discovered that it, plainly and simply, does not work to reduce dog-related injuries, and only causes innocent animals and families to suffer unimaginable emotional pain. To lose a beloved family pet is akin to losing a child. It might just be an animal to you, but it isn’t to those who love him/her. Bottom line is, BSL has been proven not to work. Responsible owner legislation does. – Karen Kicksee, Ontario

“All due respect, but your proposed BSL bill is a really bad idea. We've had something similar here in Ontario for over 5 years. It has done NOTHING but destroy families, kill innocent dogs and made caring people scramble to get other dogs to safety. Dogs are not bad, nor are they vicious, it's bad owners that make them that way. Any dog, even a little cute poodle (just a random example) can be vicious if badly cared for.

What you need to do is make owners responsible for their dogs. Follow Calgary's example. It works. BSL in Ontario has NOT reduced the number of dog attacks or bites. It was a bad decision on the part of a group of people that did not listen to any experts, and made a snap, knee jerk decision.”- Brenda MacDougall, Toronto

1 comment:

  1. great post--very heartening. thank you, thank you!!