By Tim Kalinowski
Last Monday’s Redcliff Council meeting went to the dogs; literally. A group of about 25 citizens led by spokesperson Chantelle Mackney from the advocacy group “Justice for Bullies” addressed council at length about what they called the innate injustice of having Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which imposes restrictions on American Pitbull Terriers and related mixed breeds, as part of the community’s revised animal control bylaw brought in earlier this year.
Mackney made an impassioned presentation with moral support from the gallery behind her. She pointed to statistics citing no higher rate of dog bites or attacks from breeds commonly referred to as Pitbulls than other dog breeds. She rolled out endorsements for getting rid of BSL from prominent animal organizations. And she presented a positive solution to council for a new approach which, instead of focusing on breed, focused on effective local dog owner education and giving stronger enforcement powers to bylaw officers through A Dangerous Dog Act. Neither of which had a BSL component to them.
“We want equality for all dogs instead of based on appearance and assumed breed,” said Mackney “A Dangerous Dog Act should be put in place which emphasizes the individuality of all dogs, and still allows dogs to be deemed as dangerous based upon proven behaviour instead of assumed breed and/ or appearance. Dogs are only as dangerous as we humans allow them to become.”
Not all councillors welcomed Mackney’s suggestions. Coun. Dwight Kilpatrick drew jeers from the gallery as he tried to express his support for the current BSL legislation.
“The question I have is: What is the downside to BSL? The way I see it with that bylaw in place the way it is we are discouraging certain breeds of dogs from being in town. And even harder than discouraging a certain breed of dog is discouraging a certain type of person. So having a Pitbull, and having a higher licencing fee, discourages that breed of dog,” said Kilpatrick.
Council then heard from Lester Landry, president of “Please Respect the Service Dog,” who spoke in support of the efforts of “Justice for Bullies.” Landry also had a response for Kilpatrick’s comments.
“Once you start restricting breeds of dogs, where do you stop? Let’s get away from this idea that these are vicious dogs. Or these are bad people. We are dealing with an unenforceable bylaw that has actually hurt people,” said Landry.
He also suggested that any new animal control bylaw brought forward in Redcliff should require owners to have liability insurance on their pets.
Coun. Cathy Crozier then said what she heard from the delegation had convinced her to change her mind on Redcliff’s BSL component to the current animal control bylaw. She received a rousing applause from the gallery when she moved to revise the bylaw to get rid of Breed Specific Legislation.
“The most vicious dog I ever came across was actually a Toy Poodle. I also own the stupidest Border Collie that ever lived. So I would like to make the motion that we accept your recommendation that we instruct administration to look at amending our (BSL) bylaw,” said Crozier.
Crozier’s motion was quickly passed by council by a vote of 5-0 with councillors Kilpatrick and Solberg abstaining.
Mayor Ernie Reimer said Monday’s meeting was more excitement than he was used to at the average council session.
“I was surprised to see so many people in the gallery tonight. We need to have some more discussions on animal bylaws because quite often you will receive a high contingent of people in the gallery,” joked Reimer.
Reimer went on to say, in hindsight, he felt the BSL component included in newly adopted animal control bylaw wasn’t given the in depth consideration it required. He was grateful to the delegation for bringing persuasive information and constructive suggestions to improve animal control legislation in Redcliff.
“I agree it is actually penalizing the people that do own those types of dogs, and sometimes for no reason. I do not myself own a dog but I like dogs. So the dogs had a few supporters on council tonight,” Reimer said.