The Town of Lake Cowichan has no plans to adopt breed-specific legislation that would see the banning of certain dogs (specifically pit bulls) within town limits.
The idea was raised by a community member during the town’s public meeting two weeks ago. She began by sharing the story of how her medical companion dog was attacked and injured by a pit bull last year, whose owner allegedly did nothing to stop the aggressive dog.
“If my son had not been there, my dog would have died,” said the woman, who asked the Gazette not publish her name because she fears retaliation from the dog owners in question. “Because we have no bylaw here, people are coming from everywhere with their pit bulls… I want to see this changed because it’s not only dogs [at risk], it’s little kids, it’s happened to the police even their dogs. And I want to see something changed.”
The woman stopped short of naming specific measures she wants to see implemented, but her concerns generated a discussion amongst attendees. Some other members of the public shared their experiences of encountering off-leash dogs around town — even in the post office — that made them feel intimidated.
“I don’t go for walks around town anymore because there are too many loose dogs and they chase me,” one audience member said.
The initial complainant shared blurry photos of her dog’s injuries.
“I want this to be brought to your attention, and I want this bylaw changed,” she told the council members. “So that we do have some rights. We have no rights. None.”
Presently, the town’s animal control bylaw requires owners keep their dogs on a leash no longer than 2.5 metres when out in public.
Section 9 of the bylaw stipulates that an animal control officer may classify an individual dog as vicious “after careful consideration of the facts,” and this designation can only be reversed if the owner challenges it in court.
“Every owner of a Vicious Dog shall, at all times while the dog is on the premises owned or controlled by such person, keep the dog securely confined either indoors or in an enclosed pen or other structure capable of preventing the entry of young children and adequately constructed to prevent the dog from escaping,” the bylaw states.
A declared vicious dog is not permitted on any street, public or other place not owned and controlled by the dog’s owner unless that dog is muzzled to prevent it from biting another human or animal.
Nowhere in the bylaw is a specific breed mentioned or categorically deemed to be vicious.
At the public meeting. Coun. Tim McGonigle, a pit bull owner himself, objected to breed-specific legislation.
“I think that’s unfair. I think what you have to deal with is inappropriate owners of those dogs,” he said. “I think people that own them that shouldn’t are the ones that should be dealt with, not the dog.”
Mayor Ross Forrest confirmed that the town has never considered such a ban on pit bulls.
“We’ve never had enough issues from one breed of dog that we would want to discriminate against one breed of dog at this point,” he said. “It’s nothing we’ve thought or talked about at all.”
Forrest acknowledged that the town has had to deal with aggressive dogs from time to time. He said in those instances, the bylaw officer investigated and if there is evidence the dog has bitten someone, it could potentially be impounded. The town seeks the services of the BC SPCA in dealing with those dogs.
“The preference is obviously that neighbours can get along and deal with these sorts of issues themselves, but if it does get a little carried away and dog is overly aggressive, we do tend to it,” he said.
In August, Montreal proposed a new animal control bylaw that targeted pit bulls (which the city defined as Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, any mix of these breeds, any dog presenting characteristics of the aforementioned breeds). If a dog kills a person or animal, a euthanasia order would be issued. A euthanasia order might also be issued following the evaluation of a dog that has bitten someone.
Montreal’s bylaw is currently in limbo pending the outcome of a legal challenge filed by the SPCA.