The six-feet-tall horses that patrol the streets of Hamilton have always been head turners. But think twice before you want to get too personal with one. You could soon face a bylaw ticket and a $250 fine.
Hamilton is one of the first cities in the region to consider a unique bylaw that would allow police officers to issue a $250 ticket to someone who interferes with police animals, such as horses and dogs.
While such incidents don't happen often, some rowdy patrons at the entertainment district have thrown water bottles at police horses or tried to startle them, police say.
That's why Hamilton police are asking city council to enact a bylaw that target actions such as hitting, startling, harassing, touching, feeding or taunting a police animal, according to the proposal. Throwing an object at the animal and failing to control your pet from attacking a police animal could also be considered an interference.
The ticket carries a fine in the range of $250, according to the proposal. For incidents that are particularly egregious, however, officers have the discretion to issue a non-set fine. If convicted, the person can face a fine of up to $10,000 for first conviction and $25,000 for subsequent convictions.
Sgt. Brad Adams, lead of Hamilton police's Mounted Patrol Unit, explained that the actions listed in the proposal don't happen very often — he can recall a few dozen incidents since the unit was launched four years ago — but repeated incidents can traumatize the horses.
“There's a lot of training we put into our animals,” he said. “By doing it, it regress our training.”
However, if the bylaw is passed, it doesn't mean the public can't interact with the friendly animals.
“In most cases during the day time, if we are not actively engaged in anything at the moment, we will stop and allow the public to pet the horses and to have conversations,” he said. “It's not an issue.”
There are currently five horses with Hamilton police's Mounted Patrol Unit and four dogs with the K9 unit.
The call for a bylaw is spurred by the gap between existing protections and the incidents that take place on the streets, Adams said.
Unlike in the U.S. where assaulting a police animal has the same consequences as assaulting a police officer, Canada doesn't have similar protection for officers' four-legged partners, according to Adams.
Also, the current laws —such as the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act — only address animal cruelty, they don't deal with incidents that take place on the streets, many of which fall into the category of nuances.
“There isn’t anything in place to prevent that from happening, so that's why we are looking at a bylaw,” he said.
Hamilton Police Service is one step ahead of other police services in the region to fill this vacuum. Its counterpart in Toronto is also interested in a similar proposal, Adams said.
The proposed bylaw is comparable to the current bylaw on public urination, which carries similar fines, Adams said.
The Planning Committee will consider the proposal on June 17.