Emily Sydor and her pig Podgy were in the news recently, in front of city council trying to get a special permit to allow Podgy to stay within the Winnipeg city limits. Her family claims that Emily's bond with Podgy assists with mental health issues, and that the pig is essentially a service animal.
With the ruling that Podgy the pig can remain in the City of Winnipeg with a 6 month permit, and permanently if it can be trained as a service animal, it brings up some questions about our current by-law, somewhat inappropriately named "Responsible Pet Ownership ByLaw".
Part of the by-law includes the ability for the issuance of special permits allowing the ownership of restricted animals, which is how Podgy got his stay.
By-law No. 92/2013 23
Special permits issued by COO 34(1)
Notwithstanding section 33 (Prohibited animals) but subject to subsection (2), the Chief Operating Officer is authorized to issue a special permit authorizing an animal prohibited by section 33 to be kept or harboured in the City of Winnipeg and may impose any conditions in the permits he or she considers appropriate to
(a) protect people, property or the environment from the animal; and
(b) ensure humane treatment of the animal
This would be in keeping with the name of the by-law, not allowing the willy nilly keeping of exotic pets, but allowing citizens the ability to keep the pet of their choosing, so long as they provide proper care and protect other citizens from harm.
Unfortunately, in repeated discussions of this provision, members of the local exotic pet community have been told that while the provision for them exists, the current COO (Chief Operating Officer) Leland Gordon has no intent of issuing any of these permits. I was told flatly that any application we made on a restricted species would be rejected, without review or consideration of merit.
Mr. Gordon does not seem to see the need for anyone to own a non traditional pet. In fact, the original bylaw proposed from his office contained a list of barely 200 species, which we were told "should be enough for you to choose from". This was soundly rejected as unacceptable, as there was no rhyme or reason for restricting most of the species that did not make the list. Local pet enthusiasts attended the council meeting, and forced the city to ask Animal Services to throw that by-law away, and come back with a more reasonable one.
The revised by-law that was presented to and passed by council was also objected to by local pet enthusiasts, as it was merely a carbon copy of the Ottawa by-law, which wasn't working. If you ask the people involved in Ottawa, they would tell you that there were a lot of problems with the regulations. A quick search of Kijiji shows people openly selling restricted species.
Our Animal Services people knew about these problems, yet went forward with the by-law. They did widen the "allowed" animals slightly, adding in hedgehogs and sugar gliders. Requests by the exotic pet community for a less restrictive law regarding cold blooded pets fell on deaf ears though. These animal enthusiasts (myself included) were made well aware that Animal Services did not deem to include all animals in responsible pet ownership, just dogs (except for bully breeds) and cats.
In the discussions on Podgy, Mr. Gordon warned this could open the floodgates. He worries that requests for these permits (which we are legally allowed to request) could stretch Animal Services resources. The question is, if the provision exists, and they have a mandate to provide these services to taxpaying citizens, how can they flatly refuse? These special licenses don't have to be free, they can carry whatever price he deems appropriate, to pay for the allocation of resources.
I applaud Coun. Mike Pagtakhan for making Animal Services actually work with Emily and Podgy. Hopefully it does open the door for people to responsibly own some other wonderful pets that are currently illegal to own in our fair city, but can be legally owned by people just on the other side of the perimeter.