Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Speaking up for the animals

from today's Gleaner
Upset Public meeting to discuss changes
NACKAWIC - About 30 people turned out to a public meeting Tuesday night to debate a proposed new dog control bylaw.
The new bylaw, which passed first and second reading two weeks ago, will eliminate references to pit bull terriers, Rottweilers and any dog with a mix of those breeds.
Those breeds or mixed breeds are restricted in Nackawic and cost $250 to licence in the current dog control bylaw.
The restrictions include keeping such breeds leashed at all times and muzzled when in public.
The bylaw became controversial last spring when the town began enforcing it after a dispute between two neighbours involving one of the restricted breeds.
Nackawic physician Dr.
Mary Ann Bramstrup wasn’t one of the people involved in the dispute.
But she owns a Rottweiler mix named Jessie.
“I now have to drive outside the town limits to walk my dog,” Bramstrup told the meeting at town hall.
She said her dog can’t wear a muzzle because it can’t pant properly in the hot weather.
“I can’t let her off the leash even on my own property,” said Bramstrup.
She also had to pay $250 for her dog licence instead of the regular fee of $25.
Bramstrup was so upset by the situation that last month she announced she was withholding extra medical services from the town, such as participating in mock disasters.
The media attention prompted town council to draft a new bylaw.
It doesn’t mention restrictions on specific breeds.
But it keeps restrictions on a dog deemed to be vicious, which is defined as an animal with a tendency to attack without provocation, an animal that has bitten a human or another animal without provocation, a dog that chases humans or animals or is a continuing threat to cause serious harm.
The licence for a vicious dog would still be $250.
Many in the audience were worried that the definition of a vicious dog was too vague and questioned who would declare an animal to be vicious.
Others were worried that an animal could be declared vicious, seized and put to sleep by the town.
People asked why a dog would be allowed in the town at all after it was declared vicious.
Deputy Mayor Jacques Laroche chaired the meeting and said only a court could decide if an animal was vicious and needed to be destroyed.
He also said the need for the $250 licensing fee would be reviewed.
Bramstrup said the proposed bylaw is a big improvement on the old one.
“It will allow me to be treated the same as anyone else who has a dog that hasn’t done anything wrong,” she said.
But the controversial bylaw still remains in effect and that means Bramstrup can’t walk her dog off her property without it being muzzled.
She said because of that restriction, she will continue to withhold extra medical services for the community until the new bylaw is passed.
Nackawic resident Mel Jefferson said he owns a German shepherd- Rottweiler mix and he hasn’t walked his animal off his property since the town began enforcing the bylaw last spring.
“I moved here two years ago and I have never seen a town get so upset about a dog bylaw,” he said.
Coun. Paul Legere reminded the audience that some new councillors had nothing to do with the old bylaw.
“We are doing our best to make a better bylaw,” he said.
Several times people asked why council wasn’t enforcing the dog control bylaw and other town bylaws more aggressively.
More than one person said that a bylaw is worthless if it can’t be enforced.
But Coun. Peter Seymour said enforcement is expensive.
In one case, he said, a municipality spent $3,000 in court costs to collect dog tag fees worth less than $100.
At one point, someone raised the always contentious issue of cats running loose.
That drew chuckles from quite a few people in the audience at the thought of trying to solve that problem.
One man suggested that issue would give council something to do next summer.
The meeting lasted 90 minutes and at the end, Mayor Rowena Simpson thanked everyone for attending.
“Your comments are all appreciated,” she said. “We will take them into consideration.”
Simpson said council is trying to find the right balance between the rights of dog owners and public safety.
“What is going to happen next is we will go back to our bylaw review committee and as quickly as we can, try to make some changes,” Simpson told The Daily Gleaner after the meeting.
She said she expected the revised bylaw to come up for third and final reading at council’s next regular meeting Sept. 8.

This is far from a fairy tale ending ..... particularly with a definition of 'vicious dog' being so open to interpretation. And .... with roughly a thousand residents, Nackawic has a much more streamlined municipal government structure than HRM. Nor did it hurt that the most public opponent of the BSL bylaw also plays an essential role in the community as a Dr.
Still .... a group of concerned citizens kept after their mayor until a public meeting was held on the subject. Whats that I hear .... ahh.. that's the sound of voter feedback getting politicians attention and inspiring them to act.
That is as relevant for the 372,679 residents of HRM as it is for the 966 folks in Nackawic. The way ahead on any issue is always paved by voter feedback. The original bylaw passed in Nackawic because there was no substantial objection and it took much more energy to make a change.
I am told that there were no more HRM residents at the public forums on A300 than there were at the last Nackawic meeting. If HRM residents expect their government to take ARPO - Advocates for Responsible Pet Ownership 's recommendations with respect to A 300 seriously, then more meaningful response from the animal loving community is necessary.
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing... - Albert Einstein

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