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Update animal control bylaws

January 19th, 2003, 08:36 PM
Update animal control bylaws

Vancouver Sun
Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Some days are so hot that they drive dogs mad. They're called the dog days of summer -- a myth, of course, but as with many myths, there's an element of truth: if you keep a dog in inhumane conditions, you can literally drive it mad.

Most people pay little attention to the plight of such animals, but the savage attack on Shenica White has changed that. The 14-year-old girl was walking with a friend in late December -- the dog days of winter, you might say -- when she was viciously mauled by two mastiff-Rottweiler dogs that apparently were not well socialized and spent a lot of time on their own behind a fence.

The attack has renewed calls for new animal control bylaws to deal with the issue of animal neglect, in addition to the usual matters of licensing and running at large.

The Animal Advocates Society of B.C. has promoted neglect bylaws for the past seven years, and 11 municipalities in the Lower Mainland have adopted its proposals. The society presented Vancouver city council with a report and recommendations in June of 2001, but council did nothing to follow up.

The new council can't afford to make a similar mistake.

The society's proposals would allow animal control officers to take action when animals are not properly cared for. Of particular concern are so-called "yard dogs" -- like the ones that attacked Ms. White -- who are psychologically damaged from the isolation of being kept locked or tethered in a backyard for long hours on end.

As current bylaws and criminal laws are silent on neglect, little can be done about yard dogs. Animal control officers can report cases of neglect to the SPCA, but the SPCA has only two officers for all of Vancouver.

The dogs that attacked Ms. White were the subjects of 17 reports filed by volunteer safety patrollers, but it's not known if the SPCA was contacted.

Although it's unfortunate that it took the Shenica White tragedy to open our eyes, city council now seems prepared to remedy this disastrous situation. COPE Councillor Tim Louis said on the weekend that he plans to discuss the matter with fellow councillors and possibly table the issue at the next council meeting.

Mr. Louis also highlighted the close relationship between the welfare of our animals and the welfare of our community: "Maltreatment of animals is not just bad for the animals, it's bad for the people the animal comes into contact with."

That's precisely the issue. While animal welfare rarely gets much attention from politicians or pundits -- witness our woefully inadequate animal cruelty criminal laws -- we can't ignore animal welfare without disregarding our own.

Amending animal control bylaws therefore needs to be the first step in a thorough rethinking and reevaluation of our attitude toward animals.

Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun