Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City adding officers for canine crackdown

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DOG catchers will soon be prowling city neighbourhoods looking for unlicensed pooches, part of a get-tough approach that includes stiffer fines.

The city's animal services department is now hiring four new officers on a temporary basis to blitz the city's southeast quadrant, while the 13 officers already on duty turn their attention to the rest of town.

The officers will go street by street looking for untagged dogs wandering loose or on walks with their owners. They will visit owners who have not renewed their licences and follow up on warning cards previously left in mailboxes. And, they will look for pooch evidence, such as "Beware of Dog" signs or barking, and then remind owners to be sure the pup has its tags.

Two years ago, the city sent tersely worded letters to suspected dog-owners -- including one man who had a stuffed dog in his window -- demanding they get a licence. The pound took some heat for the campaign, but it did net 1,000 new licences.

The crackdown is in addition to a plan to boost fines for unlicensed dogs from $75 to $250. The fine hike, one of 34, is expected to be passed by council later this month.

The stiff punishment has Bertram Schneider, artistic director of the Manitoba Theatre Company, scurrying to tag his new fluffy white Samoan named Bear.

Schneider adopted Bear in July from a rescue project but hasn't yet bought a $20 dog licence.

"He will be licensed before the month is out, I swear!" laughed Schneider yesterday. "We would have done it last month, but we were on vacation."

The city hardline against unlicensed pups is designed to encourage pet owners to identify their pooches so city staff can send strays home instead of putting them down.

The city has a "shamefully low" number of licensed dogs -- just one in five, said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who is championing the fines hikes.

About 500 pups nabbed by dog catchers last year were put down because their owners could not be found.

Kim Esopenko, flanked by her cute cocker spaniel named Casey, said the new fines would prompt her to buy a licence for her dog, who already has a microchip and a little bone-shaped tag inscribed with his phone number and address.

"We just haven't gotten around to it, but that fine does make it a little more urgent," said Esopenko, who was walking Casey in West Kildonan yesterday.

Around the corner lives the Bassett family's Doberman cross, who is also not licensed.

"I didn't think it was worth it," said Reena Bassett, who was not sure the hefty fine would propel her into the animal services office to buy a licence.

The sleek guard dog, named Copper, was tossed off the back of a truck as a pup and adopted by the Bassetts, who are diligent about keeping him tied up and scooping his poop.

Greg Brodsky, one of the city's best known defence lawyers, is not one to flout the law.

His two senior citizen chow chows have tags though he wouldn't say whether he has always been so bylaw-abiding for fear of incriminating himself.

Vinnie and Ludsee -- Mandarin for "guardian of Justice" -- have been in Brodsky's family for about a decade.

Brodsky said the cost of the city pound service should be born by those who break the rules, so fining irresponsible owners isn't out of line.

If officers come across an untagged dog on a walk with its owner, the owner will very likely get a ticket, said Dack, the city's pound boss.

But, if an unlicensed stray is returned to its owner after a stay at the pound, the owner won't necessarily face a fine, since that acts as a deterrent to reuniting a dog with it master.

The owner will be forced to buy a licence before his pooch is released, though.

"That's our goal, to licence dogs, not to fine people," said Dack.

Asked why a dog who is microchipped or tattooed also needs a licence, Dack said responsible dog owners should contribute to city services they may one day need. And, licence fees are one way the agency is funded.

The revenue from the new fines, roughly $50,000 to $60,000, goes back into the pound's budget.

Lt.- Gov. Peter Liba is devoted to his Shitsu Ki-Wi, who is licensed.

"Licence, rabies shots -- Ki-Wi's got the whole bit," said Liba of his 13-year-old pooch.

The Queen's representative in Manitoba must remain above political matters, so he couldn't comment on the city's plan to hike fines for irresponsible dog-owners.

Leader of the Opposition Stuart Murray spoke lovingly of his 10-year-old golden lab, Maddy, who has a licence. But he said Maddy has her own thoughts on the fine increase.

"When I asked her what she thought about it she said it was 'ruff,' " Murray said.

Murray added his own thoughts to that.

"One always wonders when you see such an incredible increase (in the level of fines), why," Murray said.

Mayor Glen Murray was out of town yesterday, but his mutt Cardiff is licensed.

Dog owner Aaron Sommer was walking his pooch Ivory in Kildonan Park yesterday when asked about the new fines.

His answer would make the city's animal services staff jump for joy.

Sommer doesn't flinch at the thought of steep fines since he makes sure Ivory, a gentle Husky-Lab cross, follows all the rules.

"I think if people want to have the advantage of pets, they need to take responsibility," he said. "Ivory is licensed and fixed and I clean up after her and she's well-loved."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

-- With files from Mia Rabson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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