Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Critter bylaw to tame city

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Winnipeg's proposed new animal bylaw might tame the city by expanding the list of animals prohibited within city limits. A tarantula or viper might be the perfect companion for some people, but city bylaws have to respect community standards and aim to keep both animals and people safe. Cats would have to be licensed, a move designed to cut the growing feral population and the number being euthanized each year.

Responsible cat owners may squawk -- a fixed cat can't add to the kitty-overpopulation problem. But that is equally true of dogs, and pet owners should pay more toward the costs of Winnipeg's animal services department. The protection and community services committee, which approved the move Thursday, wants half the revenue of new licence fees to boost its subsidization of groups that spay and neuter cats.

The committee has also recommended that the animal bylaw expressly prohibit exotic or farm animals that are potentially dangerous or ill-suited to the urban environment where residents must respect a neighbour's right to some peace. Hens attract nuisance wildlife, such as racoons and foxes, and fences do a poor job at keeping the odours of a coop at bay. The committee heeded the advice of veterinarians that keeping big reptiles as pets was not just a public risk, but inhumane to animals not designed for domestic life.

No one who now owns an animal on the to-be-banned list would be forced to get rid of their pet. Many of them will protest that their pets are well-mannered, lovingly cared for and no threat to anyone. That may well be the case, but an animal bylaw cannot be written for individuals.

Nor should it protect just human interest. That is why the committee voted to add Winnipeg to a list of municipalities prohibiting circuses that train wild, exotic animals (lions and tigers and bears) to turn tricks at the end of a whip for the entertainment of people. This reflects growing recognition that protecting animal welfare extends beyond ensuring the provision of adequate nutrition and freedom from physical pain.

The broad principle underlying the proposed bylaw, to go before city council next month, is that some animals and people make good roommates, but most need ample space and liberty to easily co-exist, much more than a city can provide. There is lots of open land left to accommodate people who need to commune with beasts that are better left to farms, forest and savanna.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A14

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