Montreal’s new bylaw is breed-neutral, but needs improvement

Many of you know that the City of Montreal reversed the “pit bull” ban implemented by former mayor Denis Coderre in 2016. There was no question that the former bylaw was archaic and unfair. Many animal owners and advocates spoke out against it, including the Montreal SPCA.

When Valerie Plante was running for the office of mayor, part of her campaign promise was to scrap the breed ban and replace it with a more progressive version in line with Calgary’s Responsible Ownership Bylaw. There’s reason to believe that this was a key campaign issue for many voters, and animal welfare issues are thought to be a major factor in her ultimate victory.

Plante made good on her promise around the breed ban. Breed specific language was removed almost immediately after she took office. That was amazing and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. But you can’t just remove a bylaw; you have to replace it with something else. Unfortunately, it looks like that “something else” might be less progressive than expected.

Please bear in mind that at this point, the proposed bylaw is posted only in French, and although the folks at HugABull and Justice for Bullies have many talents, bilingualism is not one of them. If you refer to the original bylaw and see a translation or interpretation error, please report it to us.

The big problems

  1. The city bylaw requires mandatory sterilization and microchipping of pets. There is no evidence that mandatory sterilization is effective at reducing unwanted litters or problem behaviours.It means the City is in the position of forcing owners to put their pets through a surgical procedure. While spay/neuter surgeries are relatively low-risk, all surgery carries some risk. Is it fair to force this upon an owner if they do not consent? If a pet suffers a serious complication from surgery, could the City be held liable?What about low-income individuals? Unless the City is providing subsidies for these mandatory surgeries, a low-income owner must choose between spending money they don’t have, surrendering their animal, or risking a hefty fine.

    Most animal welfare advocates agree that spay and neuter goals are best achieved through outreach, education, and providing easy, affordable access to these services. For further reading on this please check out our previous #bslbyte on mandatory spay and neuter.

  2. Dogs weighing over 20kg must wear a “harness or halter”. This clause is problematic and will be difficult to enforce. There’s no evidence that one type of equipment is inherently safer than another, and there’s no definition of what a “harness” or “halter” entails. There are plenty of flimsy and decorative harnesses on the market!

    While a well-fitted harness could be a great option for a strong or reactive dog, a poorly fitted one can be less safe than a flat collar. A fearful or injured dog may be seriously distressed by being forced to wear a harness. This issue is much more complex than a blanket equipment policy can address.

    While the goal is to encourage the use of more humane equipment, perhaps we need to use positive reinforcement principles in implementing change. People need education about what they are using, support in conditioning their pets to it, and support in making decisions that affect the day-to-day quality of life for them and their pet. We need to work with pet owners and not force tools upon them
  3. We hate to break it to you, but breed discrimination is still in the bylaw! “Pit bulls” have a reprieve, but the bylaw prohibits “hybrids”. While people may have an emotional reaction to the idea of wolf or coyote mixes in their midst, these dogs are very rare and frequently misidentified. As with the “pit bull” restrictions, the wolf regulations are based on visual identification and have historically targeted various husky and northern breed mixes. Instead of making assumptions based on the wolfish appearance of a dog, good bylaws should target its behaviour, not its perceived heritage.

And a few more concerns….

  1. Pet limits still exist. Calgary’s Responsible Ownership Bylaw doesn’’t specify a maximum number of pets, using the logic that it’s the quality of care and control that matters, not a limit. A responsible owner of five dogs is a much safer community member than an irresponsible owner of three. 
  2. There appear to be multiple categories of “dangerous dog” in the bylaw. This is generally a good thing – it allows for animal control officers to intervene for less serious offences like chasing, lunging, or nipping without having to declare a dog dangerous.In this case it seems that a dog can be declared “potentially dangerous” simply at the discretion of an animal control officer. Furthermore, if this designation is made, the dog can’t be owned by anyone with a past criminal record! This level of ambiguity makes us nervous. Does that mean that a dog that barks behind a fence could be considered “dangerous” and taken away from its owner who had a minor drug offence as a teenager?
  3. Dog park behaviour is strictly controlled. There are some good guidelines – like a guardian must be present and may not bring a dog in heat or one showing symptoms of an illness. But it also states that no one may bring more than two dogs at a time to the park, and may not use food, toys, or sticks in the dog parks if other dogs are there. This is new territory and not something we have seen in bylaws. While it is based on some common-sense behaviour principles, it may also be a little too specific and perhaps those should be “guidelines” posted at the local park rather than offences to be ticketed.

In many of these cases, we also need to consider that Animal Control departments are generally under-resourced. Is it in the community’s best interest to have them checking the reproductive status of dogs and the presence of sticks at the local dog parks? Or should we be more focused on the quality and control of ownership?

We haven’t addressed all aspects of the bylaw due to translation and time limitations, so we welcome additional discussion and feedback. There are parts to celebrate, especially the reprieve given to “pit bull” type dogs. But as advocates for responsible ownership, let’s be mindful that there is work to be done to make it as fair and progressive as Calgary’s model.


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