Friday, January 21, 2011

Updates to Victoria's Pet Bylaws

In two earlier postings we've commented on the proposed pet bylaw updates that the City of Victoria has been looking into. Sadly, despite several emails since late July to Councilor Thornton-Joe (who's heading the project), we hadn't heard back.

Well, until 6pm last night, an hour and a half before I had to be at City Hall to speak on the matter. The Councilor finally got back to me, after six months, and dozens of emails and phone messages. She apologized, but it's still very disappointing.

It turns out that the proposed bylaws have been filtered down significantly since the initial proposal, here's the latest draft (thank you to Chantelle from the Greater Victoria Animal Crusaders for providing this). At the meeting last night, all were passed, and two additional amendments were added, including mandatory spaying of all cats sold in the Victoria area. Fortunately, the earlier proposed limits to the number of pets allowed in a home has been scratched.

Here's the speech I brought to read to the Mayor and Council:
Thank you, Mayor Fortin and Council, for this opportunity to present.

As a little background, I’m the Canadian Correspondent for Friends of Animals, an international animal rights organization. I have been employed by Friends of Animals for over four years, and have been a local advocate for animals for more than a decade.

I would like to address the Council on matters relating to the review and update of local animal bylaws. Many of the proposals I’ve seen are great, and much-needed, and I applaud the council for making Victoria a safer place for our pets and free-living animals as well. But media reports never mention the horses used in Victoria’s carriage industry – although over the last four years, I imagine Council has received hundreds of emails and letters on the matter.

As you know, our organization and supporters want to see a ban on the horse-drawn carriages.

Coercing horses to walk on hard concrete in busy traffic is inhumane. They have no choice but to breath in the traffic fumes, and perform in rain, snow or heat. Their presence in traffic leaves them constantly in danger. Sometimes, they react. They can bolt without notice. Accidents occur, although they are rarely reported. My own Freedom of Information Request to the City Hall, the Victoria Police Department and ICBC revealed reports of incidents in the single digits over the last 10 years, including one that was from a carriage company who was being harassed by scooters.

Last summer there were two awful incidents reported in the media, one which saw a carriage driver taken away on a stretcher in an ambulance, and another which reported on one horse in a pair being dragged along Dallas Road.

We have not seen a recent fatality in Victoria, but in cities in the US, there have been recent horse fatalities, and people being injured from a bolting horse, including several children in one incident.

Let’s quit this unnecessary gimmick while we’re ahead, and not wait for a tragedy to force our hands to act.

Another concern, which we have submitted several emails addressing, is the matter of pet limits. One letter was co-signed by Lawyers in Defense of Animals, an organization whose lawyers have spent 20 years litigating animal-related cases in New Jersey. They’re familiar with the impact of pet limit bylaws.

While it no longer appears that Council will be pursuing this measure, Friends of Animals wants to emphasize the significance of the matter. Part of the letter reads:

Both of our groups view pet-limit laws as creating distrust (and thus non-compliance) among law-abiding people who are driven underground in an effort to protect their animals.

Household limits have proved detrimental for cats and cat rescue or foster advocates – people who do our communities a service, and who should be encouraged.

In various locations in North America it’s become clear that pet limit laws do not effect the aims for which they are enacted. Existing health code laws and animal-cruelty laws are already aimed at the problems that limit laws attempt to address. Local ordinances can be enacted to cover situations such as breeding of animals. Limit laws, however, are typically enacted in reaction to some incident, and fail to ensure good general policy.

Relinquishment of cats, rabbits, and other pet animals attributable to the economic climate has already overburdened shelters. A limit law will increase that burden while simultaneously depriving these shelters of the foster homes on which they rely to help ease the space constraints.

Ultimately, enacting pet limits would mean Victoria will be viewed as an authority to be avoided, thus diminishing the likelihood that help will be sought in those situations where it is genuinely necessary.

End of quote.  I hope council will take this into careful consideration.

The last matter I’d like to address was mentioned in last week’s Victoria News. Councillor Thornton-Joe commented on receiving numerous emails requesting a ban on the sale of pets, but instead seeks more information to be provided for city by-law officers and the public upon request.

This issue really needs to be considered more deeply. The interests of a business should not overstep the interests of cherished members of our communities. It’s a simple fact that the sale of pets fuels feral communities and ultimately inundates shelters with animals.

Go for a visit to our own SPCA’s cat room, which houses upwards of 200 cats, if you have any doubts. This is because people are inclined to go to a pet store to buy an animal, which drives demand, and more breeding.

These animals are sold to people without any kind of background check, who can just as easily take the poor creature to the shelter (or abandon them) when ‘bored’, or whatever excuse people give. This is another large factor in the abundance of homeless and feral animals.

We’re asking: What is the core point of the policy? Should we care more about the businesses, or the pets themselves?

At the very least, the ban of rabbit sales should be foremost on this list. The University of Victoria rabbit debacle emphasizes this need. UVic, blaming all but themselves, has neglected the issue, and is now punishing the offspring or descendants of rabbits who were abandoned on the grounds over the last few decades. A simple TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) program, as volunteered by local vets, would have managed the issue if enacted even just a few years ago. Now groups are scrambling to deal with the latest news - UVic Faculties Manager Tom Smith is considering making UVic “rabbit free”.

In media reports from the last week, Smith claims that by declaring UVic ‘a no-rabbit zone’ rabbits would no longer be dropped off at UVic. Right - because the people who are abandoning their rabbits care so deeply for them.

Three simple steps would go a long way to reducing or eliminating an overpopulation of rabbits at UVic, were a population to remain, which we support. There really is no reason to remove or kill all of the iconic rabbits.

First step, a little education by posting signs around the campus, making it clear people should not abandon rabbits, or any animals, on the ground, and should take the animal to a shelter. Second, take advantage of volunteering veterinarians and start a TNR program. If the rabbits can’t reproduce, they can’t increase numbers. Third, ban the sale of rabbits in Victoria. These three simple and reasonable steps would go a long way to dealing with this matter, and saving everyone a lot of headache.

Thank you for the opportunity to present here, I hope you consider these issues.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to read it all and hit my 5 minute limit, so the last couple paragraphs weren't read, but I've included them for your reading.

Thanks to other activists for coming and speaking up, they really helped drive home that mandatory spay and neuter programs are essential, and that we need to align programs with the Greater Victoria area (like the program in Saanich.) I believe it was our presentations that lead to the amendment, which is encouraging!

We'll keep you posted on the progress, feel free to comment below as well!

Dave Shishkoff
Canadian Correspondent
Friends of Animals
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