IN A rare display of political enlightenment, one city in Ontario has steered clear of introducing Breed Specific Legislation when considering tighter laws to tackle ‘dangerous’ dogs.
Timmins City Council has given its nod of approval for a bylaw to help reel in dangerous dogs even as the Ontario government considers a province-wide ban on pit bulls.
Though the bylaw passed at last week’s council meeting does not make any reference to specific breeds, stricter regulations have been designed to identify "dangerous dogs" to reduce potential attacks.
"There’s a section on how we treat dangerous dogs. That’s really the new area within that bylaw," said city clerk Jack Watson. "The new bylaw is similar to the previous dog bylaw except for some minor changes to wording. But the main thrust of (the new) bylaw was to address the dangerous dog issue."
Councillor Gary Scripnick said that he was satisfied with the new bylaw because it considers mitigating factors that make dogs react aggressively – a fact often left out of similar legislation enacted in or considered in many other cities – including London, Ontario which is introducing laws that are an almost complete ‘lift’ of the UK’s 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.
"We’re realising that dogs can bite people if the circumstances are correct and we can’t punish dogs for that," Scripnick said.
The new safeguards recognise that dogs defend themselves from attack from people or other animals and may react aggressively when their young are thought to be threatened. It also says dogs may attack when people or domestic animals trespass on their guardians’ property, and when they are teased, provoked or tormented.
The bylaw, effective from January 1 2005, also sets out rules people who own dangerous dogs must follow, Scripnick said.
The bylaw defines dangerous dogs according to the following criteria:
dogs that without any mitigating factor attack, bite or cause injury to a person or has shown propensity, tendency or disposition to do so
dogs that without any mitigating factor significantly injure a domestic animal
dogs previously designated as potentially dangerous kept or permitted to be kept by their guardians in violation of dangerous dog requirements
dogs that are trained to attack or kept for security or protection
The bylaw says animal control officers or police officers can serve dangerous dog notices to guardians, which means they must comply with certain rules dealing with the pet’s confinement, muzzling and guardian’s (owner’s) insurance.
In addition, animal control officers may ask owners to have a veterinarian microchip their dogs with information that allegedly provides them with information on a dog’s behaviour.
Councillor Denis Saudino applauded the bylaw’s changes saying they allow for easier identification of dangerous dogs to make sure their owners properly look them after. "It’s not the dogs," Saudino said, "it’s mostly the owners, but we have to identify the dangerous dogs."
Impounding fees and fines will be levied if owners of dogs flout the bylaws.
Scripnick made the point that he was very glad that the new regulations apply to all types of dogs and that the city hasn’t decided to target one specific breed, saying that he was fully against banning any type of dog, including pit bulls.
"If you start banning one breed because it bites, I mean you can always qualify another breed," he said. Scripnick added that even Golden Retrievers, known to be very friendly, could be subject to such a ban.
"You may have a few that bite someone in one community and then the province will ban them," he said. "I don’t think that’s right."
Saudino agreed, saying there are many dangerous dogs besides pit bulls and that BSL was not the way to proceed. "This is why we chose to go this way with our bylaw rather than naming a specific breed," he said.
But if the Ontario government passes a province-wide ban on pit bulls, the municipality will have to comply by adding a clause to the bylaw, Scripnick said.
"Even though I disagree with it, if we’re mandated something as elected officials, we have to follow what we’re told," he said.
Anti-BSL campaigner LeeAnn O’Reilly of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada welcomed Timmons’ stance against BSL and their tougher laws that punish the deed, not breed. "The DLCC has been heavily involved in targeting Timmins Ontario to move against the use of BSL. It’s good news is that they have listened to our representatives and followed up with dangerous dog bylaws. If one city can do this, then surely others can too, rather than go for the ‘quick fix’ of BSL."
ANOTHER CITY in the province of Ontario has rejected plans to introduce breed specific bylaws of its own in the light of representations by anti-BSL campaigners in the Province.
Liberal MPP Kelly Lamrock took up the concerns of dog owners in the Province and urged New Brunswick city council to vote against breed specific laws but instead to toughen up existing dog control laws which place emphasis on the owner of a dangerous dog, rather than penalise a whole breed or type.
The tougher laws will be drawn up in consultation with the Dog Legislation Council of Canada.
The fact that Mr Lamrock, as a Liberal MPP, has publicly opposed BSL – and indeed is openly critical of it - will be deeply embarrassing to Liberal Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant in his increasingly difficult quest to introduce BSL throughout the province.