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New dog bylaw gets prickly reception

Recent newspaper correspondence about the regional district's new canine-related bylaw might lead one to believe the Central Okanagan has gone to the dogs, but officials say that's not the case.

Bruce Smith, the district's communication officer, said the board adopted the Responsible Dog Ownership Bylaw this week, adding the cherry to the top of a structure intended to "support and reward" those who properly care for their pets.

The bylaw is the end point of a process that's been in the works since 2012, and focuses largely on things like leashing one's pooch, picking up droppings and licensing. But, there were a few points in the document that raised the ire of area residents.

Among the colourful comments gathered at the Capital News were, "this is a poorly written, unfair and irresponsible bylaw that should be completely rewritten."

Another, with concerns about powers for dog control officers in mind, said, "I know that I would not feel comfortable in my own home knowing that there could be someone from bylaw prowling through my home and property without legitimate reason to do so just to see if I am 'abiding by the bylaw.'”

And they weren't alone with their concerns. An online questionnaire the district sent out garnered 909 responses, around 35 people attended an information open house on the bylaw and the district office received 13 separate letters or emails about it from Jan. 16 to Feb. 12.

The steady stream of erroneous commentary on social media sites, also prompted the regional district to create a webpage debunking misconceptions.

The most rampantly spread fallacy, said Smith, was the idea that dog control could somehow have more power than peace officers.

"It's always been the case that a bylaw enforcement officer can enter a property to ensure compliance with the bylaw," he said, adding that they would do so within daytime hours, and within the structure currently set out for all bylaw officers.

And, in addition to explaining the finer points of the document, Smith said community engagement also refined the bylaw.

Some were concerned that they would be fined if a licence was put on a harness, instead of a collar. Others were bothered by the idea that they'd have to "immediately" stop for a dog control officer, if asked.

Wording was tweaked to allay those particular concerns, but not everybody will be content.

"Dogs are a very emotional issue, but the bylaw is not emotional," said Smith. "It's a living breathing document that will encourage a dog friendly community."

Backing up the new bylaw is also the new focus on licensing.

"In October we held the free dog licence amnesty program, dog owners could get free licences for the rest of 2013, then they'd get a renewal notice for 2014," he said.

By the end of 2013, 16,908 dogs were licences in the area, which was a 4,100 licence increase from the previous year.

Incentive was that the new fine for an unlicensed dog has gone up to $300 from $100, and dog control is making good use of their ticket booklet so far.

"From the beginning of the year, 43 tickets handed for unlicensed dogs," said Smith.

Next up in the dog control efforts is education and awareness, said Smith. When dog owners how to behave with their pets, there will be fewer causes for enforcement.

Among the bylaw changes:

  • Licensed dog owners will receive a one-time ‘free’ ticket home without penalty from Dog Control in the event their dog is found at large and reported to the Regional Dog Pound.
  • A leash of two meters or less in length in order to control a dog in public areas.
  • Dogs must not be tethered for longer than four hours a day and inside a stationary vehicle or enclosure must be protected from direct sunlight and provided adequate ventilation.
  • Owners of dogs newly deemed dangerous will be required to post signs advising a dangerous dog is on the propert
  • Dog owners that let their dog run at large, off leash in an area not designated for off-leash activity or choose not to pick up after their pet face higher fines.

The Regional Board has maintained the two dog limit that was in the previous bylaw.  It has asked for more information in order to consider an amendment that would raise the maximum number of dogs allowed to three.

 

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