Projet Montréal has promised to repeal the Coderre administration's controversial animal control bylaw, adopted last year after a 55-year-old woman was fatally mauled in her backyard by her neighbour's dog.
The bylaw prohibits Montrealers from adopting new pit bull-type dogs, and people who already owned one before the bylaw went into effect need a special permit to keep their dog. The dog must wear a muzzle in public, and large dogs of all breeds must also wear a harness.
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Projet's promise to repeal the bylaw has dog lovers cheering — and has earned the opposition party the support of prominent animal welfare activists, such as lawyer Anne-France Goldwater.
But what would animal control look like in a Valérie Plante administration?
'Responsible dog ownership'
If elected, Projet Montréal plans to follow in the footsteps of other Canadian cities and hold public consultations on a new animal control bylaw, said Sterling Downey, Verdun city councillor and the party's animal welfare critic.
Projet Montréal would keep some aspects of the new bylaw: it supports mandatory licensing for both cats and dogs, for instance.
Downey said the crux of Projet's animal control plan is to educate the public on "responsible dog ownership" as opposed to banning certain breeds.
Downey said that a dog's dangerous behaviour can often be traced to the other end of the leash.
"Nobody is saying 'an animal over a human,'" he said. "If you're truly putting people before animals, then you need to educate those people."
The Calgary model
Projet Montréal holds up Calgary's Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw as a model worth emulating.
"We believe that poor animal behaviour results from a failed relationship between pet and owner," Calgary's website states, explaining that it does not support breed-specific legislation.
It's a model that is a "gold standard" among experts, says Dr. Judith Weissmann, a veterinarian in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough.
Calgary also requires all animals to be registered, Weissmann said, but owners have a strong incentive to do so:
"If your dog were to get lost, instead of ending up at Berger Blanc or the SPCA ... The City of Calgary would drive to the owner's home and deliver the dog to the owner."
While that may seem expensive, Weissmann said that it ends up saving the municipality money. If lost animals are not spending the night (or several) in shelters, then less staff is needed to care for them until their owners come to pick them up.
Montreal's SPCA also approves of the Calgary model, but it says there has to be money to back up putting in place those kind of measures.
Montreal invested $1.29 million in animal services last year, the SPCA said, compared to $127 million by the City of Calgary.
"We do like [Projet's] platform in terms of the type of commitments they're making," said Sophie Gallard, an animal advocacy lawyer with the Montreal SPCA. "But we also want to make sure that there's going to be money that's going to follow those promises."
Projet Montréal has not said how much it would spend on animal services.
Muzzles only if necessary
Downey said a Projet Montréal administration would only require a muzzle on individual dogs that have been deemed dangerous by a professional.
If a dog requires one, then there would be follow-up with its owner to try to correct the animal's behaviour.
"Muzzle dogs that have been identified as being problematic in the public, 100 per cent. Enforce training and a bunch of other things, absolutely," Downey said. "But don't penalize animals that have done nothing wrong."
There are several reasons a Projet administration would do away with the muzzle requirement for all large dogs, Downey explained.
He doubts, for instance, how well a muzzle works to prevent dog bites.
"Muzzling an animal in public will not stop that animal from biting somebody in an apartment, where it doesn't have to be muzzled," he said.
"What if that animal gets out? That's not making the community safer."
Downey also believes muzzling a dog may leave it feeling threatened by unmuzzled dogs — creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Muzzled dogs act differently, said Weissmann. The dogs appear subdued or "ashamed."
"The stories I've heard [from clients] is that their dogs are aggressed more frequently by other dogs because they're wearing a muzzle," she said. "So it is playing with the way they interact with each other, somehow."
Projet would also lift the requirement that dogs weighing more than 20 kilograms wear harnesses when in public. A harness simply encourages certain dogs — such as huskies, who are bred to be sled dogs — to pull, Projet said.
Weissmann said her own dog, a Labrador-Husky mix, did pull more when it began to wear a harness. But, she said it is normal that some dogs — regardless of breed or type —react differently to different kinds of leashes.
"You only know by trial and error," she said.
Dangerous dogs still put down
Projet Montréal is not opposed to euthanizing a dog deemed dangerous.
Dangerous animals "cannot be in public," Downey said, and should be put down.
When it comes to a dog biting another animal, Downey said that the circumstances of the bite and the severity should be considered.
"Your dog biting another dog at a dog park could just be two animals establishing dominance. It could be simple things," he said. "Animals act as animals act."
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While Weissmann agrees that sometimes dogs will work things out with each other amicably, she said that does not mean that the behaviour is acceptable.
"There are situations that escalate to dog bites and real aggression and real injury to one of the dogs," she said. "It's hard to know, at the beginning of a fight, how it's going to turn out."
However, if an animal were to bite a human, Downey said that the consequences would immediately become more severe.
"That's a whole other level of seriousness that needs to be addressed," he said. "Animals that have shown clear signs of aggressive behaviour that is not at all correctable have to be dealt with accordingly."