RPO bylaw revision

For most people, keeping a pet means a cat or dog. Some may identify birds as pets, or rodents, or fish. A few find companionship in reptiles, snakes or amphibians, and take pleasure from providing appropriate environments for these animals. In many cases, the keeping of exotic pets is not at the exclusion of dogs or cats, but in addition to keeping them. In some cases, exotic pets may be the only option for a person, either because where they live has restrictions on cat/dog ownership, because of health issues with keeping a cat or dog, or because of limitations in space, money or time available for their care.

In 2013, the City of Winnipeg, and more specifically, the Animal Services department, proposed a new “Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw”. At the time, there was in place a bylaw that precluded ownership of poisonous snakes, species of snakes that could become dangerously large, as well as other animals that were inappropriate to keep as pets. This bylaw was working fine at preventing citizen of Winnipeg from the danger of these animals being kept in the community.

A new bylaw was proposed that included a list of “allowed animals”. This list was fairly comprehensive and represented a very large percentage of the animals currently kept by people. The problem was, there were many animals left off the list that were not dangerous, and while not commonly kept, could be kept safely and appropriately. Many of these animals were closely related species to ones on the list, and being able to discern if your animal was species (A) that was allowed, or species (B), which was banned would take an expert in that type of animal.

I understand the idea behind an “allowed list”, but there is a reason no other jurisdiction in the world has one. They are too restrictive, and exclusionary of animals that can be bred, maintained and enjoyed safely in an appropriate captive environment. Even the best researched and most generous listing will leave something off, to the detriment of those animals and the people that wish to care for them.

So, in 2013, the “allowed list” bylaw proposal was soundly rejected by citizens of Winnipeg, and through them, City Council, and animal services was directed to reconsider their revisions to the bylaw. The new bylaw proposed, and ultimately passed, included a list of prohibited animals that was a little larger than many in the industry would prefer, and included animals that would not be a threat to the citizens of Winnipeg.

Today, we are facing another proposal from Animal Services of an “allowed list” of pets for the citizens of Winnipeg to consider. This list is much more draconian than the one rebuked in 2013, reducing lizards from over 200 species, to fewer than 10, reducing snakes to 3 species (including Corn Snakes, meaning the “ 8’ White Snake on the loose “ that was in the news would remain legal), birds to 34 species (excluding any parrots other than budgies and cockatiels), no amphibians, spiders or insects, and a handful of rodents. It also seeks to ban all wild caught fish, as well as any fish (other than Koi and Goldfish) that can reach 14”. It has other recommendations I won’t go into, including making feeding squirrels and deer illegal, backyard breeder restrictions (already Provincially enforced) and a mandatory spay/neuter of your pet at 6 months, even though this can be a very unhealthy practice.

There was one bone tossed to the pet community in this proposal, the removal of the Pit Bull Ban. This should never have been in the by-law, as the current by-law contains a dangerous dog provision that is based on a dog’s behaviour, not breeding. This part of the by-law should be implemented immediately and separately from the rest of the proposal, it has been a long time coming that Animal Services admits the Breed Specific Legislation is ineffective and unnecessary.

Uproar in the exotic pet community has been tremendous, and petitions are up everywhere to be signed. People are inundating their councilpersons with their objections. The ideas behind the restrictions may have some merits on the surface, but they are not appropriately addressed in a city bylaw. They are already addressed by international conventions (wild collection and trade), Federal laws (smuggling), and Provincial laws (abusive keeping and breeding of animals). These authorities have the training, funding and personnel to address these concerns appropriately. The City or Winnipeg does not have the personnel, training or funding to do this at a local level.

I applaud Animal Services in their interest in trying to make Winnipeg a safer place for its citizens, and to protect the animals kept here. These by-law revisions, as they stand (apart from the removal of the Pit Bull Ban), do not achieve that goal, and make Winnipeg exclusionary to people that either already live here who keep these pets, or people who are interested in moving here but won’t, because they cannot keep their pets. We want Winnipeg to be the heart of “Friendly Manitoba” and be an inclusive society, while maintaining safe and responsible ownership of companion animals, regardless of their species.

More information is available at: https://engage.winnipeg.ca/ and choosing the “Responsible Pet Ownership By-law Review” tab, and you can send feedback to:RPObylaw@winnipeg.ca

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