Discretion needed for off-leash by-law

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Dear Editor:

            When I first moved to Pointe-Claire in 1998, a dog license cost $10. Then it doubled to $20. Now it's $25. This 150% mark-up has coincided with a change at City Hall to an aggressive campaign by Public Security to ticket dog owners for having their dogs off leash in parks. Dog runs are insufficient on several accounts, and there are no off-leash parks like the one in Dorval. Within the past two years, Pointe-Claire has become very unfriendly to dogs, and based on anecdotal evidence at the park, there is a growing resentment amongst owners. It's time to reconsider this policy and find a way to allow dogs a place in our city that is healthy and acceptable to all.

            The main argument I've heard in favour of the leash by-law, cited by a Public Security officer, is that a dog might be dangerous. Let me be perfectly clear: there is no place in our society for a dangerous dog. Negligent owners and dangerous dogs should be punished to the full extent of the law. However, assuming that all dogs are dangerous is analogous to saying all drivers are drunk because there are some impaired drivers on the road. Should we all have to suffer the same restrictions because of a few delinquents? Should we all have to blow green before our cars will start, just as we make all dogs stay on leash because a few are dangerous? As with humans, so it should be with dogs: innocent until proven guilty. And as a dog owner, I have more at stake than most in keeping aggressive dogs on leash.

            My dog has not only passed a basic obedience course—something all dogs and owners should do—but has also worked his way up through several levels of competitive agility sports. He can walk and run by my side off leash, heel on command, and is completely under my control at all times. He is friendly, submissive, and playful; still, in the eyes of the law, he is dangerous, and if I let him off leash, I am a criminal. This lack of discretion and judgment in the application of the leash by-law is what I object to the most.

            Any dog trainer will tell you that an exhausted dog is a happy dog, and the truth of the matter is, a dog cannot get adequate exercise on the end of a leash. They need to run in a large open area, on grass. The dog runs in Pointe-Claire are inadequate for several reasons. I estimate there are nearly 5000 dogs in Pointe-Claire[1]; it's unrealistic to expect all these dogs to use only two small runs. Both are covered in small stones, which the dogs hate since the stones hurt their paws, making them usable only in winter when snow is down. Both are out of the way and contain little or no shade. The one on Ovid Street is next to the highway, not an enjoyable location to spend time with your dog. By contrast, Dorval has a large, grassy, treed off-leash park behind the Surrey Aquatic and Community Centre. Pointe-Claire desperately needs a similar facility, and its dog owners should demand one, funded by their tax dollars and dog registration fees.

            But there are other problems with Pointe-Claire's small dog runs. Some dogs do not do well in packs. Some, like herders, become anxious, and some become aggressive. An aggressive dog is still a problem, perhaps more of a problem, in a group of dogs confined to a small area. I've used the dog runs and inevitably there are altercations. I know owners who stopped going to the runs after their dogs were repeatedly injured or constantly bullied. The fact that almost no one uses them is a sign of their unpopularity. Marginalizing dogs to small, confined areas of our city is not an acceptable solution.  

            Rather than segregate dogs, the best solution is for both dog owners and Public Security officers simply to use common sense, good judgment, and discretion. I do not allow my dog to fun free at Terra Cotta because of potential damage to wildlife and out of respect for people walking the trails. Obviously I keep my dog on leash when the soccer kids are at the park, or any other time I see that someone is uncomfortable with him off leash. But often I am completely alone, mid-afternoon or late in the evening, when there is absolutely no one else around and no good reason for him to not be allowed to run free. Yet it's at these times when security has ticketed otherwise law-abiding taxpayers. This indiscriminate application of the law is excessive and unnecessarily punitive. In most cases, requiring a nuisance dog and its owner to pass an obedience course would be a much better response to a problem than simply issuing a $70 fine. In other cases, negligent or disrespectful owners should be ticketed. Public Security officers should be allowed to use their discretion in enforcing the leash by-law, just as they have for years, until recently. Similarly, dog owners should use good judgment in exercising their dogs and pick up after them.

            Dogs are an integral part of society. It's time we return to a more reasonable approach to dog ownership through the responsible sharing of our green-spaces.

 

Kevin Bushell

Pointe-Claire, QC

[1] Based on the fact that 40% of homes in North America contain a dog and there are over 12,000 dwellings in Pointe-Claire.

 

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