Musings on responsible pet ownership

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For a number of years, pet owners in Winnipeg have argued with the City of Winnipeg’s responsible pet ownership bylaw. I have written about the bylaw many times in my column, and for the most part, it seems that pet ownership in our city has been protected by concerned pet owners. The bylaw was raised again last summer, when the city began a public consultaton on possible changes.

The result has been many online discussions, plenty of letters to the editor in the Winnipeg Free Press and many discussions at city hall committees.

Attempts to restrict exotic pets further than they already are have been shelved for the moment by the city, and for good reason. The present system is working, and while it may be overly restrictive in some areas, pet owners have found they can live with it. It is often said that any agreement between two parties that leaves neither happy is usually a fair deal. This seems to be the case here.

A proposed pilot program to introduce a limited number of permits for backyard chicken coops was not approved by city council, owing to the emergence of avian flu.

Two other proposed changes to the RPO bylaw were ultimately not approved by city council.

The first was an urban chicken pilot project. It had been recommended that 100 permits be issued as a pilot program for limited-size backyard flocks. But then the avian flu began spreading in North America, which meant the possibility of those flocks being infected and spreading this dangerous virus, and council rightfully did not pass this change to the bylaw, continuing the prohibition of urban chicken farming

The second change that was not made was the proposed removal of the breed specific provision of the RPO. As it presently stands, even though the RPO has provisions for banning dogs that are actually dangerous dogs, it also bans “a dog which has the appearance and physical characteristics…” of a pit bull terrier, American pit bull Terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier or American Staffordshire terrier. It has been shown in numerous studies that these bans do not work, and almost every municipality that had one has reversed it. The city’s executive policy committee, the Winnipeg Humane Society and even animal services had agreed that it was time to remove this provision from the bylaw but somehow city • voted 9-7 to keep the ban in place.

Yes, you read that right. The council, led by the mayor, voted against the recommendations of everyone consulted.

The bylaw is supposed to encourage responsible pet ownership.

“All animals have the potential to be dangerous — large and small — and many animals mimic the behaviour of their owners,” said Jessica Miller, CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society.

Karen Mitchell, a lawyer working on the case, said “Winnipeg is regulating the wrong end of the leash.”

The bylaw contains harsh penalties for owners of dangerous dogs, and these are more than sufficient to protect citizens. We do not need an anachronistic bylaw on the books, a fear based solely on how something looks, or the prior actions of individual animals that were abused and trained to be aggressive.

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Just a side note, on avian flu, because there have been a lot of questions about feeding wild birds.

Yes, wild birds can carry the virus, but songbirds rarely do. The threat to humans from songbirds is statistically insignificant.

While there have been recommendations to improve sanitation of wild bird feeders, there have been no formal recommendations that people need to get rid of their bird feeders, with the exception of those with commercial flocks or those involved in the rehabilitation of birds. Out of caution for potential infection, in these specific cases, it is best to remove feeders.

It also makes sense to me that if you are safely attracting birds to your feeders, you are helping to keep them away from commercial flocks or other potential problem spots.

Jeff McFarlane

Jeff McFarlane
Pets Are People, Too

Jeff McFarlane is the owner of Thrive Pet Food Market. Contact him with your questions or ideas thrivepetfoodmarket@shaw.ca or visit www.thrivepetfoodmarket.com

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