Bad dog! West Vancouver council votes to banish single German shepherd from municipality

It's the first time council has voted to revoke a dog's licence

It's the first time council has voted to revoke a dog's licence

The District of West Vancouver's Animal Control Bylaw allows the municipality to remove a dog licence after five bylaw notices once a dog has been deemed aggressive. (Shutterstock/Quality Stock Arts)

The District of West Vancouver's council had an unusual decision on its hands Monday night. 

Issue number five on their agenda was the following: "THAT Council confirm the dog licence revocation for 'Jemma,' a German shepherd."

Council ultimately voted to uphold the dog licence revocation, meaning Jemma must be removed from West Vancouver within 14 days. 

The municipality says it's the first time they've had to revoke a dog's licence since the Animal Control Bylaw was put in place in 2008. 

"In this case, warnings and even tickets written for infractions haven't changed the behaviour of the owner," said Jeff McDonald, a city spokesperson. 

"It's a process of education. Not simply with this bylaw — in most cases, people receive warnings and then they comply. That's not what happened in this case."

7 tickets and $3,500 in fines 

Council was provided a 76-page report on Jemma, who has been licensed in West Vancouver since July 2014. 

The dog was classified as "aggressive" by the city in December 2016, after multiple incidents of aggressive behaviour toward people and other dogs.

Following that classification, Jemma's owner was given an additional warning, and then five tickets between February and July of 2017 — three for failing to build an enclosure on her property and two for not leashing Jemma. 

In total, Jemma has been the subject of seven tickets and two warnings, adding up to $3,500 in fines. 

"It's the owner's responsibility to follow the bylaw, and if they do that, they're allowing their dog a successful chance to live in the community," said McDonald. 

Under B.C.'s Community Charter, animal control officers in municipalities can apply to provincial court for a dog to be euthanized if it's deemed dangerous. 

Such situations don't come up often — the City of Vancouver only euthanized six dogs between 2014 and 2016 — but municipalities have different regulations for dangerous dogs that don't meet the threshold to be put down, including removal of dog licences, fines or prohibitions on owning dogs. 

West Vancouver council prepares to debate the motion to remove the dog licence for Jemma on Oct. 10, 2017. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

'Such an emotional situation'

Those decisions are generally made by city staff, but under West Vancouver's bylaw, Jemma's owner had the recourse to ask council to reconsider the decision — a first for the municipality of 42,000 people. 

"There is a process for people who believe a decision has been wrongly made, that they have some recourse," said McDonald.  

Frank Leonard, the former Saanich Mayor and President of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, has been involved in municipal politics for over 30 years, and says it's the first time he's heard of council voting on an individual dog. 

"Many municipalities will delegate authority to staff so it's not a political decision ... it must have been a very difficult night for the council," he said.

"It's such an emotional setting, in which councillors' backs are to the wall. But they've got a bylaw, and they need to enforce it."

A family member of Jemma's licence holder spoke to council in tears and asked them to reconsider, saying Jemma was old, had a serious hip injury and might be put down if the licence was removed.

The argument struck a chord with Bill Soprovich, the only councillor to vote against the motion.

"When I was 8 years old, I had a German Shepherd clam on to the back of my leg, and every parent said we want the dog put down, and I said no. And a year later I was walking that dog around for exercise," he said. 

​But as Coun. Nora Gambioli pointed out, their hands were tied.

"It's really difficult for you, so good for you for [arguing your case]," she said.

"We are also in a difficult position, because that's the way the bylaw's written."

About the Author

Justin McElroy


Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.