Edmonton city council hears public wants dog breed restriction bylaw gone

Saphire, a four month old pitbull mix, was up for adoption during the Pet Expo at the Edmonton Expo centre in Edmonton, Alberta on Sunday, January 22, 2012. Saphire and her littermates were found as strays and can be seen at PitBulls for Life. AMBER BRACKEN/EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY

The city is one pawprint closer to repealing a dog breed specific bylaw that targets pit bulls and changing the definition of a “restricted” pooch.

“We’re very pleased, we think it’s a really good step for the city of Edmonton,” said Bilinda Wagner, with the Edmonton Humane Society. “Dogs should not be judged by breed, but judged by behaviour.”

A new report presented to Edmonton’s Community Services Committee Tuesday shows there is renewed public support for the removal of legislation that restricts dogs by breed.

After extensive research and a public consultation process with dog owners, off-leash park users, and animal experts, the officials found that over 80% of residents believe dog attacks are the result of bad ownership and not related to the dog’s breed.

The report also revealed that over half of Edmontonians had no idea there was breed specific laws in place and 44% believe owners should be held more accountable.

The change to legislation in the city’s animal control bylaw would be a massive victory for dog owners in the city, said Wagner.

The breed specific legislation — the only bylaw of its kind in the Capital Region — only places restrictions and conditions on two breeds of dogs: American Staffordshire dog and Staffordshire Bull Terriers and crossbreeds.

Wagner, Behaviour Training Manager with the Humane Society, argues that contrary to popular belief, those breeds — commonly referred to as pit bulls — are not a ‘vicious breed’.

She called the bylaw discriminatory against owners of the animals and said it does little to prevent injuries when it comes to dog aggression.

“”Every dog is an individual. Every dog learns what people teach it,” she stressed. “I know that a large portion of serious dog attacks are medium to small dogs, of various breeds.”

As it stands, a “restricted” dog refers to any pup that has injured a person, or another animal as well as American Staffordshire dogs, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and crossbreeds.

The current bylaw stipulates that the owner of a restricted dog must have $1 million liability insurance to cover any damages for personal injury.

While the dog is on public property, it must be on a leash and muzzled and when it’s at home, it has to be in a fully enclosed pen, or outside and muzzled.

On top of that, owners of restricted breeds also have to shell out higher pet licensing fees.

All of those conditions result in many pit bull owners hiding their dogs from the city because they are wary of licensing costs and day to day restrictions, say officials.

“People feel judged for the breed of dog they’ve chosen,” said Wagner. “And all the restrictions deters them from reaching out for education about their breeds.”

The new, proposed bylaw would take the restrictions off of pit bulls and change the definition of a restricted dog to one that has a history of aggression — regardless of its breed.

After reviewing the report, and hearing from the Humane Society, the committee voted in favour of amending the bylaw but city council will have final say on the issue.

The Humane Society has promised to ramp up its breed specific public education and dog training efforts in lieu of the “unfair” legislation.”

The shelter also offers a specialized pit bull training class for new owners.

angelique.rodrigues@sunmedia.ca


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