SURREY — The City of Surrey is adding more bite to its dog bylaw, but has decided against banning specific breeds.
A review of the city’s dog bylaw was launched last last June after two dog attacks in just 10 days. Then, last December, a pair of pit bulls were euthanized after two separate attacks in the Tynehead area in about two months.
City council voted Monday night to repeal the existing Dog Responsibility and Pound Bylaw and replaced it with the new Animal Responsibility Bylaw. The city says key objectives of the new bylaw are to “better prevent dog bites, mitigate risks associated with aggressive dogs and promote responsible dog ownership.”
Breed specific legislation in other communities was analyzed in the review, according to a city report, but it found “little evidence to suggest that breed bans have had a positive impact on dog attacks. They impart a misleading sense of security and suggest that there is a simple solution to a complex community issue.”
The report noted banning specific breeds actually “compromised” rather than enhanced public safety.
“Under the old bylaw a dog would have to physically attack an individual before it could be deemed as dangerous,” said Jas Rehal, Surrey’s bylaw manager. “The new Animal Responsibility Bylaw gives us the latitude to intervene when a dog is behaving aggressively and before a dog bite or attack occurs.”
Key changes include adding new definitions to ensure “clarity and enforceability,” creating new offense categories to handle aggressive behaviours that happen while a dog is leashed or in an off-leash area, penalties for aggressive behaviour ranging from $200 for failing to post a warning sign on a property to $1,000 for unmuzzled dangerous dogs.
The city will also implement a tiered system of registering dogs – normal, aggressive, vicious and dangerous – which aims to give bylaw officers tools to address problem behaviour.
Also new are requirements for owners of aggressive, vicious or dangerous dogs to seek training from a qualified professional, abide by muzzling restrictions, confinement rules and put up signage.
Licensing fees will escalate, based on the dog’s designation in the new tier system, from $43 to $500. And the city has created an “investigative tool kit” for reported aggressive behaviour, as well as a checklist and annual inspection process for registered dogs. Staff will also receive additional training with respect to dog aggression.
“The new Animal Responsibility Bylaw has been developed after consulting with canine experts including organizations such as the BC SPCA, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association,” said Mayor Linda Hepner.
Dog behaviour expert Dr. Rebecca Ledger, who has served in court as an expert in animal cruelty and aggression cases, was also consulted.
“Our goal is to modernize our bylaws to further minimize the risk to the general public in respect to aggressive and dangerous dogs,” added Hepner.
Click here to see the full report to council.
Kate Crew, founder of Surrey-based Loveabull Rescue Society, said Surrey “hit the nail on the head” with the new bylaw.
“Owners definitely need to be held accountable for their dogs, and their dogs actions. A dog set up for failure by their owner will only lead to the dog paying the price in the end,” said Crew. “BSL (breed specific legislation) has not proven to be an effective way to control dog bites. They happen with all breeds, but social media has put a huge fear out into the public and society tends to categorize dogs as a ‘pit bull type’ when that’s not always the case.”
She said Surrey’s new bylaw is not only a step in the right direction but is a “stepping stone towards a safer dog community.”
“As an ethical and responsible rescue we are glad this law is in place to protect all dogs,” Crew added. “To protect our family members and to also protect society. Just as (with) humans, it’s important that dogs are treated as individuals, not by their appearance.”
Crew said she wanted to clear up misinformation about lock jaw, provided by a new volunteer with her society in a previous article in the Now.
“Pit bulls do not have a locking jaw,” stressed Crew. “Pit bulls do not have any special physical mechanism or enzyme that allows them to ‘lock’ their jaws. If you compare a pit bull skull to a skull of any other dog breed, you can see with the naked eye that both skulls share the same characteristics and general bone structure.”