People love their dogs like never before. There are probably more dogs in Surrey than there have ever been, due to much stronger interest in having them as companions and the large increase in the human population.
Another factor in the dog population increase is at least indirectly related to several other issues. Many young couples get dogs as companions because they aren’t ready to have children. Student loans, the high cost of housing and uncertainty in the job market can be issues in making this decision. Dogs provide companionship and unconditional love and affection, something not always available elsewhere.
Many young couples and families aren’t able to afford large homes with yards either, which means they need to keep their dogs in smaller spaces than has been the case in the past. Many dogs live in apartments or suites. In addition, dogs are often left home alone for long periods of time while their owners are away at work or school.
All of this means there are more dogs out on the street, in parks and in other public places. Dogs need to be walked, they need fresh air and they need to get outside at least several times a day. The growing popularity of off-leash parks is proof of the demand.
In the wake of several serious dog attacks in Surrey in recent years, council is passing a dog responsibility bylaw. The changes are better than simply and arbitrarily declaring a certain breed, such as pit bulls, dangerous. This is the route many cities have gone, because it makes headlines and it makes them seem tough.
In Surrey, the basic approach is that those who don’t follow the rules will pay for the privilege. There are three classes of dogs defined in the new bylaw – aggressive, vicious and dangerous.
The current fine levied on owners of a dog found at large (off-leash) in public is $200. This will be boosted to $300, which will also be the fine given to owners of a dog considered aggressive. That designation comes when a dog is combative to a person or other animal without being provoked, or has caused minor injury to them. This fine can be given if the dog is off-leash or unmuzzled.
The next level is vicious dog, defined as one that has caused “serious” injury to a person or animal, or has a tendency to attack without provocation, or has caused minor injury more than once. Fines to owners of vicious dogs will be $450.
Serious injury is considered one that involves deep puncture wounds or broken bones.
Owners of dangerous dogs, those which have killed or seriously injured a person or animal, or been previously found to be vicious and have since attacked, will face $1,000 fines.
The escalating level of fines should act as a better incentive for most owners to keep their dogs under control. Of course, there are always a few who feel laws don’t apply to them and their pets, so this bylaw will not end dog attacks.
The new bylaw should lead to more random patrols. Then people will really sit up and take notice. How often will animal control officers do patrols in public areas to observe how people are dealing with their dogs, and hand out fines?
It shouldn’t always be up to the public to report dog attacks, nor should the city always leave it to citizens to document what happens. While it is easier to do so than ever with video, the city still needs to be as pro-active as possible.
The new bylaw is a good step in the right direction. With proper enforcement, it should lead to a marked decrease in serious dog attacks.
Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for The Leader.