Animal control bylaw needs sharper teeth

The city needs better enforcement of the existing animal-control bylaw, not new laws, says one city dog owner.

The city needs better enforcement of the existing animal-control bylaw, not new laws, says one city dog owner.

The city wants to change its bylaw to include punishments for dogs that attack other dogs in off-leash areas.

But the city would be better off enforcing existing regs, said Jacqui Wolffe, backed by a dozen supporters seated in city hall, told council this week.

“This is a big problem — we need bylaw officers issuing tickets.”

Dogs are roaming off leash throughout the city, said Wolffe.

“If you go downtown to the Millennium Trail, people are walking and running with their dogs off leash. Why do people think that this is their right?

“It’s really scary when you see a dog is coming over a hill and there’s no one else in sight,” she said.

Roaming animals have been an ongoing problem for bylaw officers — there are too many to keep up with, said city bylaw manager John Taylor on Tuesday.

“We have a lot of people who believe that they can just let their dogs run in the bush, or some people open their door and let the pooch go out and run,” said Taylor.

Although the city does not keep stats on the actual number of complaints it gets, Taylor says bylaw’s phone line is busy.

“We have an amazing number of complaints coming in from people who say, ‘We have a dog running at large’ and we spend a lot of time chasing them down.”

But, by the time bylaw officers arrive on scene, the canines are usually long gone.

“It’s like anything: we enforce (the bylaw) to the best of our ability,” said Taylor.

The city employs six bylaw officers and there are anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 dogs in Whitehorse, said Taylor.

There is one designated animal-control officer who is responsible for enforcing the animal-control bylaw and running the city’s shelter, which includes cleaning kennels, feeding the pets and being there when the vet administers weekly euthanizations.

There are five other bylaw officers who also handle animal complaints if they need immediate attention, said Taylor.

The current bylaw, drafted in 2001, carries a $75 fine the first time a pet is caught wandering, $150 for the second and $200 for the third.

If the city is to change the bylaw, it should start by upping the fines for offenders, said Wolffe.

As the bylaw stands fines are merely an “irritant, not a deterrent,” she said.

“How many dogs would be running loose if the fine for a first offence was $500?”

Wolffe proposed the fines be raised to $500 for a first offence, $750 for a second offence and $1,000 for a third offence.

“I just about got bitten twice today running the back trails behind the college,” said councillor Doug Graham on Monday.

“The one benefit I found is that I run a lot faster,” he joked.

Meanwhile the city is continuing its investigation into the fatal mauling of a Pomeranian by two Italian mastiffs on the trails near Copper Ridge two weeks ago.

To date, there have been no charges or fines laid in the attack, said Taylor.

Proposed amendments to the animal control bylaw are slated to come back before council for second reading on September 25.

MUNICIPAL ELECTION

City polls take back seat to territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Ernie Bourassa fears voters will be too focused on the territorial election to put much thought into the municipal vote.

“Obviously (the territorial election) will be the focus for both the media and the public, leading up to the election and even after the election date,” Bourassa said this week.

Friday, Premier Dennis Fentie called for the territorial election on Tuesday, October 10 – the day after Thanksgiving, and just nine days before Whitehorse and other territorial municipalities are slated to go to the polls to elect new mayors and councils.

“We’ll try, as best we can, to get our names out there and remind people there is an election and to make sure that people get out and vote.

“Who knows? It’s going to be difficult.”

Although Bourassa says there are no pressing issues to resolve before the end of council’s mandate, the territorial election is also stealing council’s last thunder.

Its final meeting falls on October 10, the same night as the territorial election.

“We’re trying to keep that meeting pretty light because we know we’ll have trouble getting people out to that,” said Bourassa.

The municipal election is slated for a fixed date every three years.

Fentie was obligated to call the territorial election before November 11, when the Yukon Party’s mandate officially ends.

Also in the mix are territory-wide school council elections slated for October 2. (LC)