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Tough love
Sandra Thomas
Vancouver Courier

In the second part of a two-part series, we examine Calgary's successful dog management program, which practises firm enforcement, enjoys widespread public support and even pays for itself. Is it a model for Vancouver to follow?
CREDIT: Photo illustration-Dan Toulgoet
In the second part of a two-part series, we examine Calgary's successful dog management program, which practises firm enforcement, enjoys widespread public support and even pays for itself. Is it a model for Vancouver to follow?
Bill Bruce, Calgary's director of animal and bylaw services, says licensing fees help pay for Calgary's dog tracking system and emergency medical care.
CREDIT: Submitted photo
Bill Bruce, Calgary's director of animal and bylaw services, says licensing fees help pay for Calgary's dog tracking system and emergency medical care.
Celina Benndorf wants Vancouver bylaw officers to be more vigilant.
CREDIT: Photo-Dan Toulgoet
Celina Benndorf wants Vancouver bylaw officers to be more vigilant.

In the City of Calgary, licensing your dog is one of four key principles of responsible dog ownership. Bill Bruce, Calgary's director of animal and bylaw services, says as long as owners license their dogs, have them spayed or neutered, take proper care of their pets and ensure they don't show signs of aggression, such as charging or excessive barking, they won't have to deal with him. "But if you don't do those four things, it won't be a lot of fun," warns Bruce. "And in the end you will comply."

Bruce doesn't beat around the bush. Surprisingly, his tough-love approach to animal control causes few groans from dog owners in Cowtown.

His stance has been embraced by Calgarians to the tune of 90 per cent compliance with the city bylaws governing dogs. In 2005, one million residents of Calgary owned 100,640 dogs, almost all of which were licensed. In comparison 600,000 Vancouver residents in 2006 owned more than 60,000 dogs, of which 35 per cent were licensed.

"You can get a licence for an altered dog for $30," says Bruce. "But if you ignore it and don't license your dog it will cost you $280. The ticket is $250, but you'll still have to buy a licence."

In Vancouver, a ticket for not licensing a dog or letting a dog run at large is also $250.

Calgary's dog management program, which launched in 1990, is so successful it's become a model studied by cities across North America, including Vancouver.

The fact Bruce is invited to lecture across Canada and the western United States on the issue illustrates how many cities are struggling with dog management.

In Vancouver the parks board and animal control services struggle to find solutions for a growing dog population and a shrinking amount of greenspace. While dog owners are pleading for more off-leash areas, people who don't own dogs are complaining too much space has already been dedicated to four-legged furballs. Looking to Bruce for advice, several city and parks representatives from Vancouver visited Calgary. Bruce has also been invited here next month to make a presentation to parks board and council.

Bruce's visit will take place one month after the parks board's dog strategy task force was disbanded when the members, representing dog owners and people who didn't own dogs, failed to reach a consensus on anything beyond a lunch menu. One of its goals had been to examine what other cities are doing to balance the needs of both dog owners and non-dog owners on contentious issues such as off-leash areas, dog feces collection and aggressive dogs. The task force looked at cities across North America and Europe, but paid particular attention to Calgary, Toronto, which implemented a new dog management program this fall, and West Vancouver, which launched an aggressive enforcement blitz this summer that caught many of its residents off guard.

Bruce believes Calgary has such a high number of dog owners licensing their pets because residents are aware of the value received for the money spent. Each year the city takes in $3.5 million through licensing and fines, which pays for the total dog management program with no need for help from taxpayers. Last year the animal control budget in Vancouver was $1.6 million, of which $720,000 came from licensing and fines. The remainder came from the city's budget.

Bruce notes the program makes it extremely convenient to license a dog: licences can be bought in person at two city locations, online, at banks, by mail, by night deposit or through any bylaw officer.

"If you see a bylaw officer on the street and you need to license your dog, you just go ask," he says. "It's no hassle. And every nickel we collect goes back to the animals. The humane society gets an annual grant from us and it pays for my officers and my salary and our education programs. If an animal needs emergency medical care because it's been hit and is injured, it's all covered. Dog owners see the value for their dollar."

When a licensed dog is found at large by animal control officers, it typically gets its first ride home at no cost to the owner. Onboard computers allow officers to immediately find out where a dog lives so they can skip the trip to the animal shelter. In Vancouver officers must either call the office and wait while a desk-bound employee finds the contact information for the dog's owner or take the dog back to the shelter and look up the information themselves. "A dog licence is their ticket home," says Bruce.

Once the dog is back at home, the officer who delivered it will spend time with the owner offering suggestions on how to keep their pet properly contained. "They might suggest installing a $14 spring for their gate," says Bruce. "The number one cause of dogs getting loose is because someone, like a kid or a meter reader, didn't latch the gate. Another inexpensive suggestion is to install a piece of pressure-treated wood at the bottom of the gate so the dog can't dig its way out."

Money raised through fines and licensing pays for 22 animal control officers in Calgary. Vancouver has 11 animal control officers who patrol more than 200 parks and beaches as well as city streets and residential areas. While Calgary has a population of one million, covers 722 square kilometers and has 141 off-leash dog areas, Vancouver has a population of 600,000, covers 114 square kilometers and has 31 off-leash dog areas.

"We also have 900 hectares of on-leash parks and 3,400 hectares where dogs are prohibited altogether," says Bruce. "That way people who hate dogs can enjoy our parks, too, without worrying about them."

In contrast to Vancouver, Calgary also does not allow owners to tether their dogs outside coffee shops or stores.

Bruce is proud Calgary has successfully managed its dog population without a ban on specific breeds. Some cities have banned what they deem to be vicious dogs, such as pit bulls. He notes Calgary's bylaw officers have a big advantage over their Vancouver counterparts because they are provincially appointed special constables, a designation animal control services and many residents here have been requesting for years. In Alberta, according to Bruce, that extra power means dog owners must show identification when asked by animal control officers, just as they would when dealing with police. Should a dog owner become aggressive, as has been known to occur in Vancouver, the bylaw officer has the power to arrest them, though Bruce adds that rarely happens. He explains with 90 per cent compliance of bylaws, there's very little cause.

"And we're not very good at it," he says laughing. "If we need to arrest someone we call the police, and if they need to handle a dangerous dog they call us."

In Vancouver bylaw officers can't force anyone to show identification or hold them until police arrive. And because of the aggressive behaviour of many Vancouver dog owners, animal control officers often have to wait until police can accompany them when enforcing dog-related bylaws or when delivering a ticket to someone's home.

Sgt. Greg Neufeld, a Vancouver Police Department officer seconded to the Justice Institute of B.C. as a legal trainer, says special provincial constable status depends on the legislation decided for each regional request. Special constables also receive enhanced training. Full status allows bylaw officers the same rights as provincial police officers, but Neufeld adds legislation developed by the provincial Solicitor General's office could limit those rights.

Depending on the legislation, special constables may or may not have the power to apply for search warrants and to arrest someone or hold them until police arrive.

Neufeld adds special constable status could also be used in animal cruelty cases. If an animal control officer believes an animal is being abused, they have the power to prepare a Crown counsel report and proceed with charges. "Which is something bylaw officers don't have the power to do," he says. "But the powers special constables receive all depend on that piece of legislation."

Paul Teichroeb, the city's chief license inspector, says the city has explored the idea of seeking special constable status for its bylaw officers, but no decision has been made. In Vancouver animal control falls under the city's licensing division. "It's not the overall answer," says Teichroeb. "It doesn't give them the authority to stop people or even require them to show ID."

In Calgary, legislation allows bylaw officers to stop people and force them to show identification. Teichroeb notes animal control has partnered with the VPD in the past and will continue to do so. He notes an extensive enforcement and education program was set to launch this summer, but the extended civic strike put everything on hold.

"Basically enforcement was put on hold altogether," says Teichroeb, who as a manager spent the summer working at the city's animal shelter during the strike. "The plan was to get out into the community, but nothing could be done during the strike and that was a real setback."

Teichroeb has been to Calgary to meet with Bruce and is impressed with his animal control program, in particular its education component. Calgary's school and education programs are based in the curriculum and include presentations for students from kindergarten through Grade Six. A team, made up of two public education advisers and a public education coordinator, promotes responsible pet ownership, dog bite prevention and bylaw compliance throughout the City of Calgary. The educators visit schools, present the programs free of charge and supply resource material for students and teachers. The team also speaks to community groups and attends any animal-related events held in the city.

Teichroeb is also envious of Calgary's modern animal control building and shelter. He said a request for a new shelter in Vancouver will again be put forward to council for consideration in the next capital plan. Past attempts to receive consideration in the plan have failed. "We need a place where the public can come and be involved," says Teichroeb. "We also need more staff, but right now we don't have any place to put them. Have you been to the office lately? We physically don't have the room for any more staff."

Kitsilano resident Celina Benndorf has kept her eye on the Calgary model. Unlike Teichroeb, Benndorf is convinced special constable status is the way to go. In her eyes, many Vancouver bylaw officers are simply too nice. "It's about hiring the right people and giving them the right training," says Benndorf. "And making them special constables."

Benndorf has tracked dog issues in Vancouver since she moved here from Toronto 10 years ago and purchased a home near Kits Beach. Because Benndorf is allergic to dogs, she increasingly finds she can't enjoy her neighbourhood because there are so many off-leash canine companions roaming her neighbourhood. She says a lack of enforcement regarding dogs, and Mayor Sam Sullivan's campaign to reduce public disorder, prompted her to help form Citizens Advocating for Responsibility and Enforcement.

The group, which launched a website last week at, advocates for bylaw enforcement and encourages citizens to take personal responsibility for their community. Managing off-leash dogs is one of the first issues the group is tackling.

"I want to emphasize that we are not dog haters, but are pro responsible dog owners," says Benndorf, noting that due to the city's push for EcoDensity, Vancouverites will be sharing less greenspace with more dogs. EcoDensity is the city's plan to build up, not out.

"The question is how do you accommodate dogs within EcoDensity in an environmentally sustainable way," says Benndorf. "The way dog waste is disposed of is not environmentally friendly. In a perfect world we'd put it in a toilet meant to handle dog waste. Can you imagine if we had people going to the bathroom all over the place?"

Benndorf says the results of a $20,000 parks board-commissioned survey completed in 2003 have been largely ignored. The survey, compiled by market research firm Synovate, found six out of 10 residents have seen or experienced problems with off-leash dogs. That same 60 per cent wants increased enforcement. "It's not rocket science," she says. "The city can increase bylaw compliance by enforcing animal control bylaws and ticket dog owners whose dogs aren't licensed and ticket owners who do not pick up after their dog or who do not leash their dog."

Benndorf suggests that if animal control can't provide adequate enforcement, the responsibility should be transferred to the city's engineering department, which handles parking tickets. "If the animal control officers we have now can't get the job done, it should go to engineering," she says. "They don't have any problem handing out parking tickets."

Teichroeb says such a move is not a consideration.

Bruce says proper dog management includes providing an adequate number of off-leash areas because owners are going to let their dogs run off-leash whether they're allowed to or not. And he warns Vancouver that it must sink a large amount of money into its animal control program for necessities like a new building and more staff.

"But eventually it will start to pay for itself," says Bruce, who notes profits from the Calgary program not only pays for basics such as staff, equipment and the new shelter, but also for extras like a new clinic under construction that will provide free spaying and neutering to low-income families.

Liane McKenna, the parks board's director of Vancouver East District, has worked on the city's off-leash program for several years. She notes no designated fund goes into the off-leash program, and it doesn't look like that will be a possibility in the future leading up to the 2010 Olympic Games. Earlier this month the parks board announced it was asked by the city to cut $800,000 from its 2008 operations budget in the wake of Olympic spending.

McKenna says that doesn't mean the parks board isn't working on the issues. "Every time a new park design is being considered, we review what needs to go into that park based on the needs of the neighbourhood," she says. "If there is a need for an off-leash area and if that is a priority we'll consider it as part of the park redevelopment."

McKenna notes the redevelopment of Nelson Park in the West End, which is not yet completed, has a designated fenced dog run. Aaron Jasper of the West End Residents Association, who does not own a dog, says although the park isn't officially open, many people use the dog run every day. He adds there is a real need for off-leash space in the West End.

"It's quite large and isn't just a flat gravel space like some areas," he says. "It's great because kids and seniors can visit the park and not have to worry about dogs and the dogs can run free in their area. It's awesome."

McKenna says the proximity of dogs to children greatly concerns many residents, and she notes the use of barriers, including fences, hedges or curbs, is being considered. But fences don't sit well with all dog owners. During a lengthy public meeting regarding Heather Park several years ago, a dog owner--with tears streaming down her face-- told the parks board she didn't want her dog to feel imprisoned or deprived of its freedom because a fence was erected in the park. During that same debate, a dog owner in Heather Park told the Courier her dog refused to defecate if it was on a leash.

As for the number of off-leash dog areas in the city, McKenna says Vancouver has too many or too few, depending on whom you ask.

"There's two sides to the issue, and the parks board is attempting to find a balance between the two," she says. "You can't make general statements about either side."

Bruce notes Calgary also began licensing cats in January, and so far 3,000 felines sport the new identity tags.

But that's another story.

© Vancouver Courier 2007


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