Pit bulls still a vicious dog in Burnaby

Burnaby council voted to keep pit bulls in the city muzzled and considered a "vicious dog" at Monday night's meeting.

On Sept. 9, a city staff report recommended keeping the breed-specific legislation in its 1991 bylaw and strengthening its fines and fees.

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The new amendments have replaced a vicious dog incident and impound fees from $200 to $400, to $500. A vicious dog will now be impounded for 21 days and licence fees will be $100 and $150 (unaltered). A fine for an aggressive dog incident where no bite occurs is now $200.

Councillor after councillor at the Sept. 30 meeting said they supported the report because pit bulls are naturally vicious.

Coun. Nick Volkow said he was open minded about the issue until last Monday, when after listening to the delegations defending pit bulls and asking for the removal of breed-specific language - a news report of five pit bulls mauling a two-year-old in Los Angeles came forward.

"When it comes to the issue of pit bulls, I don't know what we're doing today is not the right thing," he added.

Coun. Pietro Calendino said protecting public safety is their number one priority.

"I'll call it the vocal minority that's been addressing us, writing to us, again, as I said, passionate about their pit bull dog," he said. "But we have a very silent majority out there that is in support of what the council is doing and they want us to not change our mind about ... restraining vicious dogs in the public."

Calendino noted that he has spoken to several citizens who support strengthening the city's breed-specific legislation.

Council gave the public until Sept. 20 to send in comments about the bylaw amendments.

According to the city clerk's department, as of Sept.30 about 108 letters were received: 95 were against the report and 13 supported it. Of the 108 letters, about 36 were from non-residents.

The two delegations at Monday night's meeting encouraged council to review its data, speak to the experts and engage with other municipalities. Burnaby is now one of three cities in the region that have not removed breed-specific legislation from their animal control bylaw, including Richmond and West Vancouver.

Mayor Derek Corrigan said people pick and choose data to support their own opinion, and the good pit bull owners feel "put upon."

"It's unfortunate this dog was bred by human beings in order to be a fighting dog, in order to be a dog that learned how to fight to kill and to sustain an attack," he said. "Unfortunately though, there are people out there who use this dog like a weapon. There are people out there who consider this dog is part of their macho image."

He also noted that he did not want to remove the breed-specific legislation and then have a child get attacked by a pit bull because he would feel personally responsible.

The report passed unanimously.

Council chambers were half full of pit bull advocates who left immediately after the decision was made - among them was Kristen Neratini, a Burnaby resident, pit bull owner and a member of the HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society.

"I'm very disappointed. I'm speechless to be honest," she said about council's decision. "The comment made about private conversations that they can't prove happened, taking the stance that while they heard from a small majority of the community that led them to believe the rest of the population was in support of their recommendations was probably one of the most shocking statements I heard from the evening."

Neratini said council chose to disregard HugABull's petition, delegations from academics and the animal law litigator to remove the pit bull wording from the bylaw.

"I truly, truly believe this council held fast to their original decision made 12 years ago based on the fact they were not comfortable having to admit they were wrong. That is my overall belief," she said. "We have a council in place that rather than looking at the hard facts, respecting the voice of their community they choose to ignore it, choose to listen to their own voices, choose to rely on their own Google searches to provide them with their position and I think as a resident of Burnaby as a resident of British Columbia this is probably one of the most atrocious things I have ever witnessed firsthand and it has really left a really sour taste in my mouth, as far as how this particular city council manages itself and manages the community."

The new amendments also include increasing the number of dogs allowed per household from two to three, and it updated the prohibited animals list that includes poisonous or venomous animals.

The second part of the animal control bylaw report is expected to come forward at the Oct. 7 meeting, which will address pet sales in the city. It will likely then get tabled for two weeks, which will allow the public to send in their comments.

Then at council's Oct. 28 meeting, the report will be lifted from the table and discussed.

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