Responsible Pet Ownership By-Law, how it affects exotic pet owners.

If you own a cat, it will require a license as of Jan 1 2015.  Great idea if the funds are used for spay/neuter programs.  Circus animals are no longer allowed into the city, good idea.  Dogs that look like pitbulls are not allowed in the city, bad idea, many breed bans are actually being lifted now, they just don’t work.  There are a number of other changes that will affect owners of dogs and cats, but I’ll discuss these and more in future columns. 

The issue that is pressing right now is that the city has added a large number of animals to its prohibited list effective immediately.  Animals that up to last week were legal to own in the city, and now are not.  People who presently own these animals can grandfather them under the bylaw, but have only until Oct. 15 to do so.  And no one can buy or bring a new one into the city.

 We are trying to get definitive answers on exactly what animals are eligible for the grandfathering, and what will be legal, but there are questions that still need answering.  The city’s website has a list of prohibited animals and the prohibited animal registration forms here: http://winnipeg.ca/cms/animal/other/prohibited_animals.stm .   The form is simple, you need to provide the animal’s name (what you call it), its type (species), its age and its sex, along with a photo.  Once registered, you can legally keep the animal until it passes away.  You cannot transfer the ownership within the city, by selling or even giving it away.  You cannot purchase a replacement for the animal should it pass either.  And should they parent any offspring, those offspring are illegal in the city.

One of the main reasons for changing this part of the current bylaw was to make it more concise and remove some inconsistencies in defining the banned animals.  Unfortunately, the new bylaw introduces a number of new questions, and bans a number of totally harmless animals by association. 

There are questions about things like “large rodents” not being able to be kept, and it goes on to specifically mention prairie dogs.  Prairie dogs are the same size as Guinea Pigs, so, by association, is a Guinea Pig a “large rodent”, and therefore need to be registered?     

As far as exotic, or non traditional pets go, this bylaw is one of the most restrictive in Canada.  It really limits the options of people who desire a pet other than a cat or dog.  I know most people don’t understand why someone would want a snake or a spider as a pet, but we all have different tastes.  No one wants to force everyone to have a spider as a pet, they just want to have the same options that people in every other large Canadian city have.

Some of the animals that you can no longer purchase and will have to registered with the city or face $1500 fines for keeping include Anoles and Ameivas.  These small, completely harmless lizards that are commonly kept and sold in the pet trade have the misfortune of being related to Iguanas and Tegus (Family Iguanidae or Teiidae).    So, while they are the farthest thing from dangerous, they are presently prohibited from being sold in Winnipeg.   Other animals now similarly banned include Curlytails, Collareds, Horneds, Basilisks, Casque heads, Swifts, Tegus, Whiptails, False Monitors.  To see if your animal is a member of these families, Wikipedia is a good reference, look up the common name of your lizard, and check under the scientific classification for “Family”.  If it is Iguanidae or Teiidae, you need to register the animal.

Also added to the new list are any lizards over 2m and any snakes over 3m.  This is a standard in most new bylaws across Canada.  It is a fair regulation that is very easy to enforce, anyone with a tape measure can do it, and there are no gray areas. 

But the Ottawa bylaw that ours is based on (when was the last time anything we got from Ottawa was good for us?) had added some modifications to the 2m/3m rule.  All Boas and Pythons are banned except members reaching an adult length of no greater than two (2) meters.  Here are the questions.  Is a 2.1m Boa more dangerous than a 2.9m Cribo?  Does this mean Boas and Pythons are legal until they reach a length of 2m?  Or if any member of that species has ever reached a length of 2m, is that species banned?  And how do they measure length?  Most scientific journals use SVL (snout to vent length), as the tail length is irrelevant to most discussions.  Additionally, any Varanid lizard over 1m is banned.  Varanids, or Monitor Lizards, are rarely under 1m adult total length, although many commonly kept monitors are under 1m snout to vent.  And, if you’re going to allow 1m Varanidae, why not use the 1m rule for Iguanidae and Teiidae?

 Sorry for getting technical, but these rules are not logical at all.  These additional size restrictions make no sense, and just make the bylaw harder to interpret and enforce.  There is no evidence that these additional clauses make the city any safer or the bylaw any more effective.

For creepy crawly types, Pink Toe, Rosehair and Red Knee Tarantulas are the only members of spiders or scorpions that are legal under the new ban, so if you have any other species of spider or any scorpion, you will be required to register it or risk a fine, whether it is harmless or not.  Emperor Scorpions are one such animal that is now banned.

While the bylaw is now in effect, there are still opportunities to affect change, and influence the interpretation of the rules.  We will continue to try to get a definitive listing from Animal Services of species that need to be registered, and ones that are legal under the new bylaw.  We are also trying to get an extension on the deadline, as we had been told originally we would have 3 months from Jan 2014.   If you are affected, or feel that this bylaw is not good for Winnipeg, please contact your Counsellor or the Mayor.

In the meantime, be ready to have to register your “illegal” pet.

Jeff McFarlane is the owner of Aardvark Pets in St. Vital.  You can contact him with questions, comments or topic suggestions at aardvarkpets@shaw.ca or www.aardvarkpets.com.

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