Pit bull owners push for changes

The City of Burnaby is revamping its animal control bylaw, and some local dog owners want to see the breed-specific part of the bylaw dropped.

Burnaby's bylaw from 1991 states that a vicious dog is defined as one that has attacked a person or animal without provocation, or "a Staffordshire bull terrier, an American pit bull terrier and any dog generally recognized as a pit bull or pit bull terrier and includes a dog of mixed breed with predominant pit bull or pit bull terrier characteristics."

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Under the bylaw, dogs defined as vicious must be muzzled in public and be kept confined when on the owner's premises.

It is time to change the law so that it no longer penalizes good dog owners, Kristen Neratini, a Burnaby pit bull owner, said.

Neratini is also the director of events and community outreach for the HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society.

Other Lower Mainland municipalities have either gotten rid of breed-specific bylaws or are in the process of revamping their animal control bylaws. Coquitlam got rid of the breed-specific wording in its bylaw last October.

"It's actually the trend right now for municipalities to go away from this type of legislation," she said.

"This is an owner responsibility issue, not a dog problem," Neratini added. "Dogs are still biting, people are still being injured by dogs, regardless of the breed."

Public perception of pit bulls is changing, she said, particularly with studies coming forward on how the breed of a dog affects its behaviour.

"There really isn't a lot of difference between dogs," she said.

Cities should focus on the reasons dogs are aggressive and legislate for those issues, instead, according to Neratini.

"It's ownership, it's lack of training, keeping them unsocialized, allowing them to roam the streets," she said. "Ninety-nine per cent of the time, it goes back to the owners."

Neratini is part of a delegation going to Burnaby city hall to speak on the issue at Monday night's council meeting.

April Fahr, director of marketing and communications for the society, said HugABull is approaching the few municipalities in the region that still have breedspecific bylaws.

Fahr, a New Westminster resident, will be speaking at the New West council meeting on the issue on Monday, as well.

A lot of animal control bylaws are vague, she said, so cities are working towards being more specific. She pointed out Calgary's dangerous dog legislation as an example.

"The more specific you can be and the more you can encourage things like spaying and neutering, proper containment and leashing, the better animal control you're going to see," she said.

Pit bulls, or dogs that resemble pit bulls, are in the shelter system longer than other dogs, according to Fahr, even those with behaviour problems.

She said breed specific legislation was "a knee-jerk reaction from 20 to 25 years ago, before animal aggression and risk factors were really well understood."

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has confirmed the city is reviewing the animal control bylaw as a whole, Fahr said.

"So it's a good time to be talking about this," she added.

Dan Layng, superintendent of proper use coordination with Burnaby's licensing department, also confirmed the city was looking at its animal control legislation.

"We are looking at the bylaw, not just that specific portion of the bylaw," he said.

"It's due for an update, it's more than 20 years old now," Layng added.

The city is still in the early stages of examining the bylaw, according to Layng, and has been in touch with the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals regarding possible changes.

"They have a model bylaw that we're looking at and seeing how we want ours to look compared to that," he said.

There will likely be consultation with the public over any changes that would affect residents of Burnaby, he added, before it gets forwarded to council.

"There will be an opportunity for the public to be heard, I imagine, to have their input on the bylaw," Layng said.

The B.C. SPCA does not endorse breedspecific bylaws in its animal control position statement.

"The B.C. SPCA opposes breed banning as a strategy for addressing incidents of aggression and reducing dog bites," the statement says.

"Rather, the society believes that the most effective way to address public safety concerns is for humane organizations, other animal stakeholder organizations, municipalities and the provincial government to work together on multi-faceted strategies that identify and address dangerous dogs of all breeds."

jfuller-evans@burnabynow.com

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