The fur is set to fly in Manitoba over whether landlords should be forced to accept tenants with pets.
Animal owners are lining up behind an opposition bill that, if passed into law, would outlaw no-pet rules at rental properties across the province.
"There is much greater support for this than I ever anticipated," said Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard. "There's a lot of passion when I talk about it with individual people who have to give up their pets when they move into apartments."
Since the end of January, more than 2,900 people have signed up on a Facebook page to support Gerrard's bill, which was tabled at the end of the legislature's fall sitting. Groups such as the Winnipeg Humane Society have joined the battle and are calling on the NDP government to pass the bill.
"We get elderly people in particular, or young people, forced out of apartments because they have pets. The pets have nowhere to go and they end up here," said Bill McDonald, the humane society's executive director. "I have seen far too many sad stories."
Ontario is the only other province with such legislation, McDonald said, and fewer pets have been destroyed there since the law took effect a decade ago.
Landlords not convinced
On the other side of the fence are landlords who feel they should have the freedom to choose whether to allow animals. They say some tenants have allergies, while others simply prefer to live in a pet-free building.
Ron Penner, president of the Professional Property Managers Association representing 50 landlords in Winnipeg, told a legislature committee last year that his members are "very adamant" that pets remain optional.
Gerrard's bill is expected to come to a vote in April, but at this stage appears to have little chance of becoming law. The government passed its own law last June that allows landlords to charge up to half a month's rent as a damage deposit specifically for pets.
"It is hoped that the damage deposit provision ... will encourage more landlords to welcome tenants with pets," Rachel Morgan, press secretary to Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh, wrote in an email. "The new [law] will strike a balance between the various interest groups in this emotional issue."
"While pets can have a positive impact on people's physical and mental well-being, it is clear that these benefits are not universal. People with asthma or other respiratory conditions can experience severe reactions to pets."
NDP has supported some opposition bills
Gerrard is hopeful, however, that the government may change its mind, especially in the face of public pressure. The New Democrats have supported several opposition bills since they took power in 1999.
"What's happening now is that people sneak pets into apartments and they probably cause more problems. It's better to allow pets in apartments but doing it in a way that there are responsible rules," Gerrard said.
His bill would allow landlords to set down rules for acceptable pet behaviour and cleanliness of the rental unit — a provision he feels would appease tenants who don't want pets in their building.
The bill would also allow pet owners who felt they had been discriminated against to file a complaint with the provincial residential tenancies branch.