District of Maple Ridge staff are recommending a new dog bylaw that singles out pit bulls as “aggressive” and would charge their owners a licensing fee four times that of other breeds.
The fee would apply to pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers, or a cross of any of the breeds.
Pit bull owners would be required to pay a $200 “aggressive dog” licensing fee annually, and require their dog to be muzzled when off the owner’s property. Pit bulls would also be subject to higher impound fees.
The proposed animal control bylaw was brought to council for discussion Monday morning, and is meant to replace the District’s outdated one, which dates back to 1977.
Maple Ridge bylaws director Liz Holitzki said the singling out of pit bulls is designed to encourage responsible pet ownership. While both the district and the SPCA receive complaints about problem dogs of all breeds, there is significant public concern about pit bulls in particular.
“It’s not unusual to have a total ban, but that’s not the way to go,” Holitzki told council.
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, spokesperson for the B.C. SPCA.
“The issue isn’t the breed of dogs, it’s the dog owners who aren’t being responsible,” she said.
The SPCA doesn’t support breed-specific bans or bylaws, because such legislation punishes responsible dog owners instead of encouraging them, and provides a false sense of security for residents.
Among the breeds most often associated with dog bites, Chortyk said golden retrievers and Chihuahuas are the worst offenders.
“Pit bulls are actually way down the list,” she said.
Other breeds are often mistaken for pit bulls, which has unfairly given the breed a bad reputation.
“Any time there’s a stocky short-haired dog that’s involved in a dog bite and runs off, its automatically a pit bull,” said Chortyk. “But that’s not always the case.”
In some jurisdictions in the U.S., dozens of breeds have been banned over the past decades as problem owners move on to different types of dogs.
“But they are still having problems, because their laws don’t deal with the dog owners.”
Any dog with strong jaws and a prey drive needs to be well-managed, but pit bulls aren’t the only breed to fall into that category. Chortyk suggested offering a discount on licenses to dog owners who can prove their dog has successfully passed obedience school would be more effective.
“That way it’s not punitive to responsible dog owners,” she said.
Requiring all male dogs to be neutered would also help to prevent dog bites, as well as keep the dog population under control.
However, Holitzki noted that the SPCA has a different mandate than Maple Ridge bylaws enforcement, and that it was important for the district to act first to protect residents from aggressive dogs to prevent dog attacks.
“We look to protect the residents as opposed to the animal,” Holitzki said. “But certainly we can wait and react when someone gets bit.”
Councillors also expressed trepidation at including breed-specific language in the bylaw.
“It’s a bit discriminatory,” said Coun. Mike Morden. “I’d like to see these dogs dealt with on an individual basis.”
He added that if the licensing fee is made to be exorbitant, owners of aggressive dogs simply won’t register their dogs with the district.
Mayor Ernie Daykin noted it wasn’t large breeds that posed a threat, in his experience.
“As a paperboy, it wasn’t the big dogs that bit me, it was the little ones,” Daykin said. “But they don’t do as much damage.”