City report indicates Calgarians overwhelmingly against pitbull-specific rules

·3 min read

Calgarians have spoken out against breed-specific rules in the city's responsible pet ownership bylaw after the city floated "pitbull" specific laws during the public consultation process.

Over the summer, the City of Calgary released a lengthy survey about cats, dogs and even urban livestock.

But a series of questions mentioning pitbulls specifically became a headline.

Pitbulls were the only type of dog mentioned in the line of questions singling out nuisance dogs.

The city wanted to see if there was an appetite to come down harder on pitbulls and their owners with higher fines, more insurance and obedience training and even limit the number of pitbulls per household, among other rules.

April Fahr said the city's questions about pitbulls came as a surprise.

She's on the board for a group called Justice for Bullies, an advocacy organization that fights for breed-neutral laws.

"We were absolutely staggered," she said. "Calgary has not only been breeding neutral, it's been held up as an example.

"So to see them go in the opposite direction … was absolutely shocking and incredibly disappointing."

EyeEm/Getty Images
EyeEm/Getty Images

Upon hearing the news, Justice for Bullies, along with other passionate dog supporters, sprung into action.

The fear was that singling a breed or type of dog out in Calgary's bylaw could, down the road, open the door for banning certain types of dogs. Pitbull bans exist in several Alberta municipalities.

Fahr said treating a dog differently based on the way it looks not only discriminates against the animal, but can also affect the owner's ability to find housing, among other repercussions.

"It's ineffective on so many levels, and it hurts people, it hurts dogs," Fahr said.

"What we need to do is have strong bylaws … target owner accountability, which targets the behaviour of dogs. And those are proven to keep community members safe and be fair to everyone and target every breed."

Engagement complete

The second phase of engagement for the city's responsible pet ownership bylaw is now complete.

Ryan Pleckaitis. the City of Calgary's chief bylaw officer, said engagement on the surveys was overwhelming.

More than 100,000 people responded, and the overwhelming majority came out against creating any rules that single out dog breeds.

"Clearly, breed-specific legislation wasn't supported," Pleckaitis said. "But what was supported was giving the city more ability or more mechanisms to deal with dogs that are involved in attacks that have a history of aggression."

Some other measures the city will consider include a move to a tribunal system to adjudicate on vicious dog matters, higher fines for dogs that have a history of being aggressive, along with more mechanisms to keep citizens safe.

Bylaw coming next year

"It's certainly in the hands of the animal services team," Fahr said. "So the public feedback, I hope, is an important part of it, but it's certainly not the only part of it. So we will be watching very closely."

Pleckaitis said it's too soon to comment on what exactly the bylaw will look like.

"Beyond making sure that we have a new bylaw that's contemporary, that protects the public safety, that looks after animal welfare, is important for us to have a bylaw that aligns with citizens' expectations," Pleckaitis said.

"Once we do digest all this information and start to come up with a draft bylaw, that will align very closely with what we've heard."

Pleckaitis asks for patience now, as the wording for a new bylaw won't be ready until next spring before it is presented and then debated on the city council floor.