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The case for restrictive leash laws is unproven

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  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 08, 2012 06:00 am

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Regarding your editorial on controlling dogs, (Gazette, Dec. 1) I must disagree with your conclusion that a more restrictive leash bylaw is appropriate. It appears that your conclusion is based on three factors: other municipalities have restrictive leash bylaws, off-leash dogs constitute a danger, and, some people are averse to dogs.

The fact that other municipalities have leash bylaws does not necessarily mean they are effective or appropriate. Many of us remember our mothers saying "If everyone else jumped off a cliff … ." Applying a restrictive bylaw simply because everyone else has one is not a sufficient justification. Actually, St. Albert should be promoted as a leader in the emerging trend in North America towards less restrictive canine laws.

The submission made to council provides no information identifying a significant problem concerning the danger of dogs. We do not know the nature, frequency or seriousness. Is this a greater problem than injuries at the skateboard park or on city hockey rinks? The submission does show St. Albert in about the middle of a sample of Alberta cities in reported dog bites. Since all these other cities have restrictive leash laws, this would indicate that there is no relationship between leashing and reported dog bites.

The concern of people who are averse to dogs is one argument that may carry some weight. However, again we need to know the nature and frequency of the problem to solve it rather than assuming that leashing is the answer. In fact there is a possibility that in some cases it could exacerbate the situation (being leashed can increase fear-based aggression in certain situations). Once the nature and extent of the problem (if indeed there is one) is known, then an appropriate approach can be developed.

Restrictive laws should only be used in a democratic society when absolutely necessary to address a significant problem, and where such laws would likely be effective. In this case, no problem has been identified and the proposed law would likely be ineffective. There are, however, other approaches available.

A two-fold educational campaign could be used, one encouraging dog owners to be sensitive to others and to not allow their dog to approach people who may not be comfortable; second, teaching people, children especially, how to "speak dog" – to be able to read a dog (dogs are very open and demonstrative about their emotional state), and to know how to respond to a dog who is displaying fear, aggression, or "I want to greet you."

Another approach could be financial incentives. We already have a two-tiered licensing fee for neutered/unneutered dogs. How about a reduction in fees for dogs who complete an accredited obedience course or who earn a "Canine Good Neighbour" (CGN) certification?

In summary, we have a solution (restrictive leash laws) in search of a problem. Let's turn this around and identify the problem first and then search for solutions. Using restrictive law is seldom the most effective method of dealing with social concerns.

Wayne Wilson, St. Albert


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