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Animal Responsibility Bylaw gets first readings

Bylaw adds new fines, new fees and a two-tiered system for dangerous dogs

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Pet lovers take note: the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is updating its animal control bylaw.

The updated bylaw—now known as the Animal Responsibility Bylaw—received first three readings at the Sept. 3 council meeting.

"Animal ownership is something that affects most people in the municipality. If you are not an animal owner then you are likely to have interactions with animals in one way or another," said bylaw supervisor Chris Reiss, in a presentation to council.

"The proposed animal responsibility bylaw will provide updated regulations that foster responsible animal ownership. This will support animal owners and the general public by preventing dog bites and reducing the risks associated with aggressive and vicious dogs."

The updated bylaw adds a host of new fines for pet owners, including for chasing, threatening or biting ($250); leaving a dog in a hot car ($200) or tied unattended ($100); failure to control a dog in an off-leash area ($75); failure to provide food and water, vet care, or protection from the heat or cold ($150); causing or permitting animal suffering ($250); and causing or permitting animal fighting ($400).

"Many regulations from the current animal control bylaw have been carried over, including that dogs must be leashed, except in off-leash areas," Reiss said.

"In the future, the parks bylaw will also be updated, and this will provide additional regulations specific to parks."

Further, the bylaw adds a tiered system for poor dog behaviour. Where currently there is only one designation for dogs that cause injuries (which are deemed "dangerous") and no process to apply for relief, the update proposes two: aggressive and vicious.

"Aggressive is a dog that's displayed aggressive behaviour or caused minor injury. If deemed aggressive, the dog owner must muzzle while the dog is in off-leash areas, spay or neuter the dog, and get the dog permanent ID such as a microchip or a tattoo," Reiss said.

Owners of aggressive dogs can apply for relief after one year if no further aggressive behaviour occurs and the dog completes a behavioural course.

"A vicious designation means a dog has caused serious injury, is known to attack, has caused minor injury on more than one occasion, or has aggressively pursued a person while at large," Reiss said.

"If deemed vicious, the dog owner must not allow the dog in off-leash areas, spay or neuter the dog, get the dog permanent ID, muzzle the dog when the dog is off the owner's property, post vicious dog signs at the property where the dog is being kept, keep the dog securely confined indoors or in an enclosure while on the private property, provide a colour photo of the dog, [and] provide proof of liability insurance of $500,000 dollars, which covers the year that the dog is licensed."

There is no appeal process once a dog is deemed vicious, though owners can apply to the supervisor of bylaw services to have it reconsidered before a final decision is made.

The bylaw also changes the rules around impounds, offering the first impound of a licensed dog for free, while charging $80 for the first impound of an unlicensed dog. Second and subsequent impounds will cost $100, while impound charges for aggressive dogs ($300) and vicious dogs ($500) are also being introduced.

"This new fee structure encourages owners to license dogs by rewarding responsible dog ownership; it also simplifies the impound fee structure," Reiss said, adding that the boarding fee is also being increased from $20 to $40 per day.

In building the updated bylaw (the first update since 2001), RMOW staff referenced similar bylaws in other municipalities like the District of Squamish and City of Surrey. Whistler Animals Galore was also consulted and approves of the bylaw, Reiss said.

Councillor Ralph Forsyth said he agrees with the ideas in the bylaw, but one aspect still stinks.

"The one irritant that sticks in my craw, and most people's, is the dog feces—in our parks, in our playgrounds, on the Valley Trail where we provide plastic bags for people, free of charge ... and they leave it," he said.

"So what can we do about that?"

The fine for not picking up dog feces is $150 under the new bylaw, Reiss said, but it can be hard to catch people in the act.

The RMOW expanded its bylaw park and trail ambassador program this year, dedicating two employees on e-bikes to Whistler's parks and Valley Trail system.

"It essentially has become a six-month position for two people; as time goes on perhaps we could even expand on that," Reiss said, adding that the RMOW has also done advertising campaigns to encourage people to pick up after their dogs.

"Generally, if we're around, people are picking up. If we're not around, or nobody else is around, there is certain people who won't pick up, or they'll bag it and pile it up, or bag it and flick it into the bush," he said.

"So, unfortunately, if nobody is watching it's very difficult to enforce."

The updated bylaw also includes a comprehensive list of prohibited animals, which includes everything from mongooses and hyenas to anteaters, elephants and seals.

While it's unlikely any Whistlerites are harbouring whales or walruses, prohibited animals such as chickens—a big concern for the Conservation Officer Service, as they are an attractant for bears—do pop up on the radar from time to time.

But the local bylaw department "rarely" gets calls about prohibited animals, Reiss said.

"We did have a snake call," he said. "But it ended up being a snake that wasn't prohibited."

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