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Meet the Mayor – October 4, 2012

Dog bites, dangerous dogs, vicious attacks on defenceless children by unrestrained dogs, and the question of banning certain breeds of our best friend have been in the CBC provincial news recently prompting me to question Administration on the protection provided by our own dog-control bylaw.  How safe are we?  Is there something we still need to do to make our sidewalks and neighbourhoods safe for all of us but especially for our children?  Can they play free without danger of being mauled by an unrestrained dog?

Animal control is not a recent innovation.  Hammurabi in ancient Babylon 3700 years ago had animal control laws with real teeth in them.  Approximately 300 years later Moses, leader of the Israelites, placed responsibility for control of dangerous animals squarely on the owner, with capital punishment applied when an animal known to be dangerous caused the death of a human being (Exodus 21:29).  Would you say we’ve gotten soft?

How does Chetwynd fare as a protector of its citizens from attack by dangerous dogs?  I set out to discover if our bylaw needs updating.  Chetwynd has a dog-control bylaw that is solidly based on Section 93 of the Community Charter, the provincial legislation that defines the limits and responsibilities of local government.  Our bylaw includes every safety provision allowed by the Charter.

The bylaw is also complaint-driven.  That means that the Bylaw Officer is not going to pay you a visit to see if you are afraid of dogs but if you have a concern about an animal and call the Bylaw Officer, she will investigate and take appropriate action.  Of course your complaint needs to be evidence-based and not that you just don’t like or trust a particular breed that happens to live in your neighbourhood.

Dogs that have demonstrated aggressive behaviour will have restrictions imposed on them that could start with wearing a muzzle when on a leash in a public place.  Interestingly, the size of the dog is not a deciding factor.  Your sweet Miniature Schnauzer might be one of the dogs that must be muzzled during your evening stroll through Cedar Park while the Great Dane heels sedately on a leash.

But it’s the big dogs that have the strength to do real damage to muscle and bone.  It is attacks by these dogs and not the miniatures that make the news and prolong the debate on banning certain breeds.  Chetwynd is not entering the banning debate now and I think it would be fruitless to do so later.  Our bylaw defines regulations that apply indiscriminately to all dogs.  When you apply for a dog license, ask for a copy of the bylaw and inform yourself on your obligations as a responsible dog owner. 

Moses or Hammurabi didn’t write our bylaw but the principle of your responsibility for the safety of others inherent in their law codes has come down to us intact from antiquity.   Keep your dogs safe; keep your neighborhood safe.

Merlin Nichols, Mayor