Maple Ridge council looks at new dog bylaw

Owners of pit bulls won
Owners of pit bulls won't have to pay higher fees under new bylaw.
— image credit: News files

Maple Ridge council has backed away from a bylaw penalizing owners of pit bulls and instead slapping higher fees on all dogs with bad attitudes, whatever breed they may be.

After analysis and research, the proposal of a breed-specific clause has been removed from the bylaw, says a staff report.

“Staff have determined that is not the way to go,” said bylaws director Liz Holitzki.

“Instead, we’ll deal with the behaviour of the dog.”

Under the Animal Control Bylaw, people with dogs deemed aggressive will have to pay $200 for a yearly licence, considerably more than that charged for a normal dog. The owner of a spayed or neutered dog only has to pay $25 year if they renew before Jan. 31. Seniors over 65 also will get a 50-per-cent break, bringing it down to $12.50.

The new bylaw, which replaces several older bylaws, defines an aggressive dog as one that bites or harasses a person or another pet, or one that’s known to attack without provocation. The category includes a dog’s first instance involving a minor bite.

Once so labelled by an animal control officer, the owner will have to pay the $200 licence fee annually, whether it’s for a mixed pit bull-German shepherd or a mini-poodle-chihuahua cross.

A second classification, that of a dangerous animal, which includes dogs, defines animals that attack without provocation, injure or even kill people or pets, and threaten public safety.

Once a pooch gets that label, however, its days can be numbered. Under the Community Charter, a dangerous dog will be seized and then evaluated by an animal trainer. If it’s confirmed to be dangerous, the district will seek a court order to allow its destruction. If the court disagrees, the dog can be returned to its owners, Holitzki told council.

The higher fee levied on aggressive dogs covers the extra bylaw enforcement costs for such animals.

The bylaw also requires owners of both aggressive and dangerous dogs to be either kept indoors or in a kennel and to be muzzled when out in the public.

Impound fees for both types of dogs are $500 for the first instance and $1,000 for the second. Dogs are not allowed on playgrounds, sports fields, recreation beaches, inside public buildings or on the Haney Wharf.

Council approved Monday sending the bylaw on to its regular meeting next Tuesday for formal reading and voting.

Holitzki said later that Pitt Meadows is also reviewing its bylaw, although West Vancouver, New Westminster, Richmond and Burnaby do have breed-specific ones.

The suggestion of charging higher licence fees for certain breeds raised a firestorm of protests from pit bull owners this summer, although council never approved such a measure. The SPCA also said it didn’t support such an approach.

Pit bull owners would have been required to pay a $200 “aggressive dog” licensing fee annually.

However, while many communities have chosen to enact similar bylaws singling out a particular breed, they have had little positive effect, according to Lorie Chortyk, with the B.C. SPCA.

Among the breeds most often associated with dog bites, Chortyk said golden retrievers and Chihuahuas are the worst offenders.

The BCSPCA repeated that position in its feedback to the district and instead suggested a law that “encouraged responsible pet ownership,” focusing on both the owner and the dog.

The bylaws department also backed away from banning selling of live animals in pet stores but instead consulted with SPCA and developed standards for stores. All dogs, cats and bunnies must all be spayed or neutered before they’re sold from a pet store.

The bylaw lists several animals that people are prohibited from owning, such as python and anaconda snakes, monitor lizards, alligators and crocodiles, aquatic turtles, “old world” spiders, bullfrogs, anteaters and the African pygmy hedgehog.

Close relatives of the domestic dog are also on the banned list, such as wolves, jackals, foxes or animals, along with mixed variations of those animals. However, there is no mention that keeping a coyote is prohibited because there have been no instances involving coyotes, Holitzki said.

In Maple Ridge, it’s also illegal to keep a killer whale or an elephant.


– with files

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