Prince George city council has voted to stop classifying pit bulls and other bully breeds as "dangerous" and instead focus on the behaviour of individual dogs, as part of new rules around animal ownership in the city.

The new rules also mean cats need to have identification, and their owners could face fines if the animals wander off their property. 

The new "Responsible Animal Ownership Bylaw" comes as cities across B.C. and across Canada try to update animal ownership rules, with pit bulls even becoming an election issue in Montreal.

Prince George bylaw manager Fred Crittenden said the bylaw is based on best practices from across North America, as well as survey responses from 2,982 city residents. 

Dangerous dogs

Under the old rules, certain dog breeds, including pit bulls, were automatically classified as dangerous. Now, dogs will only be considered dangerous if the individual animal has killed or seriously injured a person or domestic animal, or if animal control officers have "reasonable grounds to believe [the dog] is likely to kill or cause serious injury." 

Crittenden said it was challenging for staff to monitor all the dogs classified as dangerous under breed-specific legislation.

pitbull

Under existing rules, 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. The new rules will remove breed-specific requirements. (CBC)

"It's much easier to identify the dogs that have aggressive issues and manage those than try to deal with perhaps hundreds of a specific breed," he said. 

He also said some owners were not licensing their dogs in order to avoid paying the higher fees associated with specific breeds.

Dogs can be classified as "aggressive" if they display threatening behaviour without injuring anyone. Aggressive dogs will require sterilization, microchips and muzzles in public.

Coun.Brian Skakun was not convinced by the change.

Brian Skakun

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)

"It's the same as me putting on the snow tires after it snows," he said. "I don't think we should just wait until something happens."

Only 20.4 per cent of residents surveyed said they were in favour of breed-specific legislation, compared to 64 per cent when the last survey was conducted in 2003.

Classifying dogs as dangerous on a case-by-case basis, rather than by breed, is endorsed by the B.C. SPCA and the Canadian Kennel Club.

Cats at large

The other major change was new rules surrounding cats. Under the previous bylaw, there were no specific rules for cat ownership, but now the pets must have a tag, tattoo or microchip, and owners could be fined if their cat goes onto someone else's property.

Cat declawing ban

Prince George bylaw manager Fred Crittenden said the city's new cat rules will be based on the City of Medicine Hat, which has seen a 56 per cent decrease in cats coming to their shelter since enacting a Responsible Animal Ownership Bylaw in 2011. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

Cat traps can also be set up on private property but only if:

  • It will not be below –10 C for the next 72 hours.
  • The trap is shaded from sunlight.
  • The trap is checked hourly and not used between 9 pm and 6 am.
  • All adjacent property owners, including those across the street, are notified.
  • Trapped cats are immediately given to a shelter or the city.

Coun.Jillian Merrick asked about requiring sterilization in order to curb the population of strays, but Crittenden said it would be difficult to enforce without a significant investment.

He also said staff considered limiting how many cats people can own, but, because the animals are "very elusive," it would be difficult to enforce.

New rules for 2018

Other new rules include requiring dog owners to carry something to pick up excrement while in public spaces, banning the practice of leaving dogs tied up in public without supervision and limiting how long dogs can bark per hour before being considered a nuisance (10 minutes during the day and five at night). 

City staff will begin education around the new rules immediately and begin enforcement in 2018.

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Read the new Responsible Animal Ownership Bylaw

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