British Columbia

Breed-specific legislation not working for dog control says Prince George's top bylaw officer

City to draft new rules focused on responsible pet ownership for dog, cats and other animals

Andrew Kurjata - CBC News

January 24, 2017

It is difficult to tell which dogs are 'restricted breeds' simply by looking at them says Fred Crittenden, Prince George's manager of bylaw services. (istock)

Prince George's top bylaw officer says rules automatically classifying pit bulls and other dog breeds as "dangerous" is ineffective and driving the animals underground.

"What they thought they were going to do ... didn't really work," said city bylaw manager Fred Critterden of a 2005 rule requiring owners of certain dog breeds to pay higher licensing fees and muzzle their pets in public.

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He wants to follow the lead of other cities such as Calgary and draft new rules focused on good ownership and individual animals.

In Prince George owners of pure or crossbreed pit bulls, pit bull terriers, American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terriers or American Staffordshire terriers must have their dogs leashed and muzzled in all public places, including off-leash dog parks. (CBC)

"It's making people responsible for their dogs no matter what," he said. "Deal with those behaviours and not just the breed."

Councillor Jillian Merrick was supportive of the change, calling the city's animal control bylaws "woefully inadequate."

Current rules 'woefully inadequate': councillor

She pointed out current rules don't limit the number of cats allowed in a single household, don't set limits on how long animals can be tied up outside and don't require business licences for dog or cat breeding — features common in other communities.

Councillor Brian Skakun supported an updated bylaw but said he still wants certain breeds classified as dangerous.

"I was here in 2005 when we came up with this bylaw and there was a need back then to muzzle pit bulls and there is a need today," he said. 

Prince George councillor Brian Skakun was one of the politicians involved in the creation of the restricted breeds bylaw in 2005 and says he continues to support it. (City of Prince George)

He told the story of a "vicious" incident that occurred in the Ginter's off-leash dog park in 2014, when an elderly woman was attacked by an animal she identified as a pit bull.

"She said the dog ripped her apart like a rag doll," Skakun said.

"If the dog had been muzzled and not been roaming free he would not have done the damage that he did to her. To go after the owners after a vicious attack is, I think, reactive and we need to be proactive."

Councillor Terri McConnachie said she doesn't want anyone to be attacked by a dog but argued targeting specific breeds is short-sighted.

"All dogs can bite. All dogs have teeth," she said.

Less than 1/4 of attacks involve restricted dogs

Critterden said the city does track bites and on average less then of a quarter of annual attacks come from restricted breeds, both before and after the bylaw was put in place.

He also said current bylaws make it harder for officials to investigate an incident after it occurs because people aren't registering their pets in order to avoid fees.

Pit bull advocates say the dogs are loving and affectionate, if trained properly, and that bad owners are to blame for any attacks.

Unrestricted dogs cost $34 to register, if they are spayed or neutered and $77 if they aren't.

Restricted dog owners pay $129 for spayed or neutered pets and $324 for those that aren't.

"People are going to say 'maybe I'll take my chances and get a ticket for not licensing my dog rather than pay that high fee," Critterden said.

"We can't just search our system and say we need to know where all the pit bulls are because people are licensing them."

Breed-specific legislation is opposed by a number of organizations including the SPCA, which stopped providing dog control services for Montreal after it passed a pit bull ban.

The City of Fort St. John has been pushing for responsible ownership rules following a dog attack in December 2015.

There will be public consultations on what Prince George's new rules should look like.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and journalist in northern British Columbia. He helps create the program CBC Daybreak North from Prince George, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh. He can be reached on Twitter @akurjata, email andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca or securely at keybase.io/akurjata.

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