Monday, November 19, 2007

Do you know what your town clerk is doing tonight?

Canine Control Bylaws fall under municipal jurisdiction. Each municipality has its own bylaws. From time to time they are reviewed, usually to address certain problems that arise within a community.
Problems arise within communities that are sometimes not defined properly in existing bylaws. Sometimes there is adequate existing legislation that simply falls behind in the evolution of technology or business. Another common factor surrounding legislation and municipal bylaws is simple and outright politics.  Personal agendas and new-found power are contributing factors in some cases.
Over the past year, I have had the experience in my home municipality of weathering the storm of proposed amendments to the canine control bylaw. My home municipality is New Tecumseth. This includes the amalgamated towns of Alliston, Beeton and Tottenham, Ontario.
Initially there was a committee formed, as requested by the past ACO officer. The issue of puppy mills and noise were two issues the officer wanted to address.
The first and second meetings included a local, well rounded, experienced group of canine experts. There were people on the committee who represented training, boarding/daycare, veterinary services, the municipal pound, the Humane Society, breeders, town staff (town clerk), the animal control officer and me (representing the DLCC).  Within a week after the second meeting, an email was sent out eliminating all but the town staff (ACO officer, municipal pound contract persons, Humane Society secretary and town clerk).
Several meetings which in my opinion resulted in wasted time and taxpayer dollars produced this draft proposal.
On reading the draft, my immediate thought was "This bylaw does nothing to encourage or foster responsible pet ownership. The underlying theme feels more like take your dogs and dog related business and get the hell out of our township!"
My vision of a harmonious community is one where pet owners and non-pet owners live happily together. The more services and resources provided in a community to foster responsible pet ownership, the better.
What is it that aids in fostering responsible pet ownership?
In my opinion, places to take your pets to socialize and train them come to mind. Training facilities, boarding/daycare kennels and places to walk and run your dog provide positive resources for pet owners. Demanding a minimum of five acres of land for any dog-related business is a deterrent no matter how you slice it. Many training facilities, boarding/daycare kennels, groomers and sport clubs operate very successfully in commercial spaces in any city or town. Most of the well known reputable training/boarding/daycare businesses I know do not have any land surrounding their businesses.
Several weeks ago a resident of Erin, Ontario contacted the DLCC about a draft proposalI was alarmed to see the similarity between the draft proposal in Erin and New Tecumseth. This leads me to believe there is a connection between municipal bylaws. Being my suspicious self, I wonder if there is some indirect PETA link? I honestly don't feel there is enough intelligence in small town politics to form a link with animal rights groups, however I do believe these groups are sitting back enjoying a "trickle down effect" of seeds they have planted across the continent.
If we are not careful and vigilant in staying aware of what is actually happening behind closed doors in our communities, amendments to bylaws and new shoddy legislation will pass without our knowledge. AR groups and people in places of power with ulterior motives or a hidden agenda count on complacency and political blindness. When is the last time you checked your town or city's website to investigate what's on the agenda for the next council meeting? When is the last time you checked your local bylaws to see if there have been any recent amendments?
If you find yourself in a position where amendments are being drafted in your town or city you need to inform yourself and others of the proposed changes. A petition is a good place to start in your protest against the proposed legislation.
The New Tecumseth petition is available to download and print here.
Clear and concise written submissions plus speaking to councillors at town meetings are beneficial. If you feel there are flaws with draft legislation you must point out what the flaws are but it is pointless to point out flaws without giving practical alternatives. Good common sense goes a long way.
Unfortunately there seems to be a serious lack of common sense in a growing number of pet-related bylaws.
Anti-dog and anti-pet sentiment seems to be on an upswing. Whether it is due to overpopulation (of humans) or a general lack of tolerance, I'm not to sure. I suspect there are many contributing factors. A few bad apples among pet owners do damage. Let's face it, the percentage of irresponsible pet owners is quite small compared to those who mind their own business and use the golden rule when it comes to their pets. These irresponsible pet owners are the same people who have no regard for others in many ways.
If everyone trained, socialized, picked up their pet's waste and respected people's space and property we wouldn't have problems, would we? Maybe people are just too busy. Life has sped up to the point where we cannot possibly look after all we need to over the course of a day. People are now taught they can have it all. On top of an already busy life they get a pet, or two. Responsible owners know how much time is involved to properly care for pets.
We all make choices and live with those choices in our lives. It doesn't have to be difficult. One city in Canada has figured out what works. Calgary has had a plan in place for over 15 years. The Calgary Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw is a model that can be incorporated into any town or city.
Calgary has a 90 - 95% dog licensing compliance rate. Most cities in Ontario have licensing compliance of 10 - 20%. Calgary has done this by providing benefits to people for licensing their pets. Animal control is a service as opposed to "the enemy".  Every dollar they raise from licensing and fines go into funding animal control - not back into General Revenue.
They strongly encourage microchipping which allows dogs found at large to be scanned right in the animal officers' vehicles and returned home for free on a first offense.  If your dog is found at large more than once a fine will follow. The free ride home service is a perk for people who obey the rules and saves money in animal control costs because the dogs aren't entering the pound. If a dog does make its way to the pound a photo is taken and placed on their web page within 15 minutes. All dogs are treated for basic disease and if injured will be taken to a vet. Vets treat the animals because the high compliance of licensing makes it easy to find the owner! If the owner is not found, ACO will cover the medical costs. Calgary built a new shelter for its animals about 5 years ago that is state of the art and has never been filled to capacity! Calgary also has the most off-leash areas of any city in Canada. They have both dog parks and non-dog parks. Both pet owners and non-pet owners live harmoniously.
Why would other towns and cities not want to adopt a plan that has been in place and proved itself a winner? Why reinvent the wheel? Maybe because they simply don't know about it yet. Present the model to your municipality to show them there is an alternative out there. Towns and cities, if they are smart, like plans that run smoothly and quiet the waters. They really like plans that fund themselves!
I have officially given Calgary the  grand pooh bah award!
Other towns such as Pembroke, Ontario have been recipients of the  Tin Pot award!
New Tecumseth is officially on the PENDING Tin Pot award list. There is an easy way to get off the pending list and on to the Grand Pooh Bah list. The way to Pooh Bah land is through making the right choice for the community. Listen to the community! Trash the draft and call in the experts.
Let's make a difference in our town, city, municipality, province and country. We deserve so much more. Our pets deserve so much more! Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years. Sometimes I can't imagine why they continue the love affair, but that is what a loyal, trusted friend does. We owe it to them to make it right!
If you would like to print off a petition from the above link, please collect and bring your petitions to the town council meeting. Please visit this site after November 30th for notice of date, time and agenda. I will post the details as they are made available. In the meantime pass this along to all your friends in the community. We will collect the petitions at the council meeting.