A bylaw enacted 2½ years ago to prohibit Surrey dog owners from tethering their pets for more than four hours in a day has done nothing to improve the lives of chained dogs, says the woman who appealed to the city to take action.
“In effect, nothing has changed for dogs in Surrey,” Janet Olson told Peace Arch News last week. “I think it’s had virtually no effect.”
Olson – a former South Surrey resident who last year pleaded guilty to stealing two dogs, attempting to steal a third and a break-and-enter, having 34 other dog-theft related charges stayed – appeared before Surrey council in April 2012 to lobby for an anti-tethering law, estimating a few hundred dogs in Surrey were living in distressing conditions.
Council members at that time voiced unqualified support.
“I don’t think that there’s one person around this council table that has any disagreement with what you are proposing,” said then-mayor (and now MP) Dianne Watts, noting she was behind the group “150 per cent.”
While thrilled with council’s reaction then, Olson said she was disappointed with the resulting bylaw.
After it passed November 2013, she described the legislation as “unenforceable… perfectly designed to try to appease frustrated animal lovers while at the same time doing nothing to alienate chained-dog owners.”
“It is all appearance without substance,” Olson said.
Last week, the now-Langley resident reiterated that the four-hour limit is impossible to enforce. She told PAN she would like to see it narrowed to a ban on the chaining of unattended dogs, and plans to make that appeal to council this fall.
City officials, however, say the current bylaw is doing exactly what it was intended to – opening the door to educate pet owners and help them build healthier relationships between the owners and their dogs.
“The bylaw, really, from our perspective, is about education,” said Kim Marosevich, the city’s bylaw business operations manager.
“It’s not meant to be the hammer, it’s meant to be an opportunity for our officers to go out and say, hey, do you know…? It’s an opportunity to begin a conversation with a resident.”
Marosevich said few complaints that come in are specifically regarding tethering, and said in some situations, officers investigating tethering concerns find there is a reason for its use, such as the property is unfenced or there is a history of aggression with the animal.
Olson pointed to a dog in North Surrey as an example of the bylaw’s ineffectiveness. She said neighbours reported concerns with the animal’s condition many times over the years, but it was only seized by the SPCA in mid-April.
The SPCA’s chief prevention and enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty confirmed it was “definitely not a good situation” for the dog, which had lost weight. The complaint, she said, came in on March 26.
Marosevich said the city had “several” files regarding the dog – including one noting a fairly significant bite – and that “there was a lot of work done by both the SPCA and the city” at the property.
She noted the other element at play in the file was that the dog was being used for security purposes; something she said begs a bigger, societal question of dogs’ roles in the world.
Municipalities, she added, don’t have the authority to seize a dog.
Complicating efforts is that provincial legislation sets low standards for pets – there’s no basic legal requirement for pets to be loved and cared for, Marosevich said.
So if it looks like an owner is taking steps to improve their pet’s situation, there is little that officials can do.
While Marosevich said she doesn’t see any advantage to amending the anti-tethering bylaw, Olson said she will continue to push for change.