Winnipeg is being lobbied to add strict new limits to its responsible pet ownership bylaw to reduce what some deem a pet "overpopulation."
A city committee took a step toward studying some of those ideas on Monday.
Jonas Watson, chairman of the Winnipeg Humane Society, told council’s protection and community services committee that too many unwanted or improperly cared-for pets place "a never-ending strain on animal shelters and rescue organizations."
"One of the most tragic consequences of pet overpopulation is the inevitable euthanasia of unadoptable animals," Watson told the committee.
Watson, a veterinarian, said the some shelters can’t find homes for certain animals due to health and behaviour issues.
He urged the city to revamp its responsible pet ownership bylaw to add new rules for pet breeders, such as a licensing program that requires a mandatory reference from a veterinarian and/or imposes a maximum number of litters they can produce per year. Watson also called for the city to add a law that requires dogs and cats older than six months of age to be spayed or neutered (with possible exemptions for registered breeding, working dogs and those with certain health issues), and further restrict the species of animals that can be kept as pets.
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He also expressed concern about animal "hoarding" of many types of pets and owners who may select exotic animals they don’t know how to properly care for. He said 150 Macaws and other large parrots were seized from dirty, cramped cages in one local home back in 2019.
In his practice, he said he’s seen far too many animals that aren’t suited to Winnipeg’s climate and suffer from improper habitats.
"I see animals die because they’re not getting their needs met," said Watson, during a follow-up interview.
He suggested the city determine which exotic pets are most difficult to care for and consider banning such species in the future.
In an email, the Humane Society said it cares for more than 10,000 animals per year, partly because of these issues. Watson said thousands of stray cats also roam Winnipeg streets, though it’s difficult to estimate an exact number.
While he admits that some of the suggestions could trigger backlash from pet owners, Watson stressed some changes are needed.
"Of course, there will be many people that will get up in arms right away, including animal breeders, dog breeders, who won’t like this. But they need to understand we are not talking about limiting dog breeders from breeding heritage breeds of dogs or even (the breeding of) purebred cats. This is about incentivizing people to get their animals fixed," he told the Free Press.
Following the presentation, the committee voted to study new options for spay/neuter and breeding requirements within Winnipeg’s pet ownership bylaw, as well as possible rules to limit pet hoarding and the illegal trade of exotic animals, pending council approval. The committee also voted to explore options to ban guard dogs and asked city staff to determine if some rules should be based on a pet’s characteristics, such as size, instead of its breed.
Following the meeting, Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), the committee’s chairwoman, said she was concerned about animal welfare issues raised during the meeting, such as a lack of city rules on dog breeding.
“I see animals die because they’re not getting their needs met.” – Dr. Jonas Watson
However, Rollins stressed the motion would only commit council to consider possible changes in the future, not immediately put strict new limits in place.
"I’m not sure what the public service is going to (suggest) … But there’s an option they could come back with something that is too far-reaching," said Rollins. "I don’t want to prejudge that."
If council approves, the report would be expected back in about six months.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.