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Burnaby pitbull regulations should be kept, strengthened: staff report
Pitbulls could stay muzzled in Burnaby under a proposed update of the the city's animal control bylaw, which would also set fines and special licencing fees for that specific breed and other vicious dogs.
Burnaby is one of three cities in the region, along with Richmond and West Vancouver, with breed-specific designations in their animal control bylaws.
But a pitbull advocacy group is questioning why Burnaby is going against what other local municipalities have done after comprehensive reviews of the issue.
Under Burnaby's bylaw, a vicious dog is defined as either one that has bitten or injured a person or pet without provocation (with the exception of trespassers), or a Staffordshire bull terrier, American pitbull terrier, any dog generally recognized as a pitbull or pitbull terrier and mixed-breeds where those breeds' characteristics are predominant, according to a city staff report.
In 2012, council heard from a delegation and received emails and a 425-signature petition, of which 174 were from Burnaby residents, calling for the designation being removed for pitbulls, the report said.
Despite that, city staff are recommending the designation be kept and even strengthened, based on statistics around dog bites in Burnaby.
Between 2007 and May 2013 there were 477 reported dog bites in the city, but it was possible to identify the breed involved in only 50 per cent of cases.
Of those where the breed could be identified, 59 or 24.7 per cent (or at least 12.4 per cent of the overall total) were committed by pitbulls.
"Pitbulls represent the largest number of bites attributed to any breed," the report said, noting such dogs account for only 113 or two per cent of licensed dogs in the city.
The second-highest number of bites by breed were by German shepherds, which were identified in 35 or 14.6 per cent of those where the breed was known (7.3 per cent of the overall total). In 2012 there were 296 German shepherds licensed in Burnaby, or 5.4 per cent of licensed dogs.
"The number of bite incidents involving pitbulls in Burnaby is concerning, and further compounded by this breed's potential to inflict significant injuries," the report said. It cites Dogsbite.org, a U.S.-based, dog-bite victims group which reports that pitbulls were responsible for 61 per cent of American fatalities due to dog attacks in 2012.
Burnaby staff recommend keeping existing regulations which call for all vicious dogs to be muzzled and leashed at all times while in a public place. When at home, such dogs must be kept indoors or within an enclosure in a fenced yard capable of preventing the dog from escaping and people from accessing it inadvertently.
In addition, staff recommend strengthening the bylaw by establishing a $500 fine for vicious dog incidents, licence fees for vicious dogs and a $200 fine for aggressive dog incidents where no bite occurs. It also proposes increasing off-leash fines for vicious dogs from $100 to $200, and increasing the impound period for vicious dogs from 10 to 21 days.
April Fahr, executive director of the Vancouver-based HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society, questioned why the Burnaby report did not consider research that advocates against breed-specific legislation.
"They're claiming there's a pitbull problem in Burnaby but New West, Coquitlam, Vancouver have all done the same review and found nothing like that," Fahr said.
"They (Burnaby) do have breed-specific legislation, they're still getting more pitbull bites. But rather than looking at this problem, which is very puzzling, they're actually saying, 'well our legislation doesn't work so let's do even more of it?'"
Fahr said the higher fees will likely result in fewer people licensing their pitbulls and increased cases of people abandoning their pitbulls at the shelter when they're impounded.
She said there is "absolutely no evidence" that pitbulls are more vicious than other dogs and their reputation came out of a misperception in the 1980s and '90s that they were mostly owned by criminals who bred them for dog fighting.
More recent research has shown the issue is not about breed but the dog's ownership, bad breeding and poor treatment of the animals, she said, noting that cities without breed-specific legislation, and which have good enforcement and laws that target owners have the lowest bite rates.
Fahr is all for bylaws and penalties that target vicious dogs, which identify them by risk factors such as threatening behaviour and being chained outside all day.
"You can't say because a dog looks a certain way, it has short hair and a blocky head, so it looks like a pitbull, therefore it needs to be muzzled for the rest of its life. That's not fair, and it's not effective."
The updating of the city's animal control bylaw also establishes a list of prohibited animals, including poisonous or venomous reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, "to address public safety issues." The fine for keeping such animals is proposed to be $100.
The number of dogs allowed per household is proposed to be increased from two to three, while the number of cats allowed would stay at four. Fees have also been updated to reflect current costs.
The proposed bylaw changes were to be considered by council on Monday. The other contentious issue, on whether pet stores should be banned from selling animals, will be the subject of a future staff report.