New animal bylaw to go before council on Tuesday

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St. Albert’s controversial animal bylaw returns to the public arena next week amid expectations of disappointment and disagreement among councillors and city residents.

Possible changes to animal control regulations sparked sharp debate last fall, with council eventually deciding to ask city administration to come up with a new set of proposals.

A public hearing on these proposals is set for Tuesday, to be followed by a debate and a vote of city council.

Some councillors said they simply want to do what’s best for the community, even though that will leave some people disappointed.

Others think council should not have touched the subject in the first place.

“It’s one of those issues where there is good and bad to both. And I am pretty sure the community is evenly split on this,” said Coun. Cam MacKay.

“At the end of this there will be some people that are upset and we won’t have solved a thing, I know that for certain.”

The bylaw proposal that will come before council on Tuesday would do the following:

• turn the city into an on-leash community with exceptions applying to off-leash areas. Dogs now don’t have to be on a leash except in specific areas;

• require dog owners to have a means of picking up dog waste while walking them;

• introduce a late payment fee for overdue dog licences;

• institute fees for dogs deemed dangerous or aggressive, including a new dangerous dog licence fee;

• prohibit animals normally considered “livestock” in the city as defined by the city’s land use bylaw (these include chickens, sheep, goats or pigs).

In the past, these recommendations have received both positive and negative response from residents in the community.

MacKay, who owns three dogs, said it’s a contentious issue and there is no middle ground. He has not made up his mind as to how he will vote.

But he can’t argue with someone who has been hurt by a dog.

“And if you can prevent someone from getting hurt it’s difficult to make a counter argument to that point,” he said.

“Every dog will bite if you put it into the wrong circumstances … the only thing that prevents that is if you have an animal that is really well socialized.”

He added that it makes no difference if the bylaw passes or not.

The city does not have the means to police every dog owner and people will still let their dogs off-leash in the parks, he said.

While MacKay is still weighing the options, Coun. Wes Brodhead said he’s voting in favour of the bylaw.

The law supports the comfort and enjoyment of people living in the community, he said.

“And although animals are a great addition to our lives and bring value, the community is still about the people who live here,” he said.

“And we need to make sure that our bylaws and the rules that govern behaviour support that.”

Brodhead expects to question administration on a few of the provisions going before council, such as the requirements for a two-metre leash.

He said the provision could take away the use of extendable leashes.

He also wants to know how many bags people should carry to collect dog excrement.

“This is at the discretion of the enforcement officer but I think we need to talk a little bit about this to inform the community about how enforcement officers are coached,” he said.

He added that administration should define what constitutes a dangerous dog and what the provisions are if a dog is provoked.

Brodhead said it was one of the tasks of councillors to listen to the people and make decisions that make St. Albert a better community.

But not all community members agree with him.

Gareth Jones, a resident of Forest Lawn and former city councillor, said dogs should be on a leash on the street but allowed to run free in parks and on the trails. That way they can’t run into traffic.

He added that dogs need exercise, which is impossible when on a leash. He agrees that owners with problem dogs should receive a penalty.

“The problem is not with the dogs, but with the owners. They don’t train the dogs properly,” he said.

“When I walk our dogs I come across a few people (that are afraid of dogs) and when I observe that I make sure the dog comes close to me.”

Bonnie Walke, a dog owner and resident of Deer Ridge, thinks leashing dogs is a good idea.

She’s had problems in the past with dogs leaving excrement in her yard and running around the neighbourhood.

“You just never know what a dog is going to do. They are not people and even people you can’t predict,” she said.

“I would hate to be walking my dog, being responsible and cleaning after its doo doo and have another dog from another yard rushing out.”

Jones and Walke are only two voices of a few hundred sitting on either side of the issue.

Mayor Nolan Crouse said the city has received hundreds of e-mails from concerned citizens over the past several months, plus the results of the open houses on the subject.

He expects the bylaw will pass but won’t prejudge council’s decision.

“We have the ability to proceed that evening and there is a good chance (the bylaw) will proceed,” he said.

“There will be some amendments coming forward … we certainly will hear the public out and then we can see if we get on with voting.”

So far legislative services has registered only one public speaker on Tuesday night.

Crouse added that livestock will not be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting as “chickens in backyards” fall under the land use bylaw.

Depending on how late the meeting goes, Crouse said council may also discuss options for off-leash dog parks.

“I was the one that was driving the push to make sure that if we do proceed with on-leash, in order for it to be a formula for success you have to be clear about where off-leash is allowed,” he said.

“So I am very happy that our staff have weighed in and provided some options.”

The bylaw contemplates recommendations for off-leash areas in the city. Administration proposed that 20 out of about 145 parks and green spaces remain off-leash areas.

The city would also have at least one area in each quadrant of the city where dogs could play off leash.

In January, council approved the location of the city’s second dog-friendly park at a stormwater pond in Campbell Business Park, beside Servus Credit Union Place.

Members of the public who wish to speak before council can call Legislative Services at 780-459-1500 before 12 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2.

A copy of the draft bylaw is available online at www.stalbert.ca/new-animal-bylaw.

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