Surrey sinks its teeth into comprehensive new dog bylaw

City will classify canines into four categories: normal, aggressive, vicious and dangerous.

Ten-year-old Doberman pinscher Ace was too busy helping his owner Gurbachan Kaler shovel snow Monday to notice that Surrey council has drafted a tough new dog bylaw.

There will soon be four kinds of dog in Surrey – and it has nothing to do with their breed.

Surrey is revamping its Dog Responsibility Bylaw and once again has chosen not to make the law breed specific.

There have been calls to create tougher laws even bans – on dogs such as pit bull-type breeds.

Known as breed-specific legislation (BSL), Surrey has determined that model wouldn’t best serve the city.

“Our analysis within the communities in which BSL has been implemented provided little evidence to suggest that breed bans have had a positive impact on dog attacks,” a report to city council on Monday states. “They impart a misleading sense of security and suggest that there is a simple solution to a complex community issue. Studies in other municipalities suggest that BSL has a tendency to compromise rather than enhance public safety.”

Coun. Tom Gill told said Monday he was surprised to learn from the report that breed bans have little positive effect.

Jas Rehal, Surrey’s manager of bylaw enforcement, said a breed ban isn’t the right answer to the problem of dog attacks.

“Ultimately we wanted a tool that wouldn’t be limited,” Rehal told The Leader. “We want a tool that’s going to protect our residents from any dog attack and we feel this one does that.”

Instead of pursuing a breed ban, Surrey is designating four different classifications of dogs: normal, aggressive, vicious and dangerous.

An aggressive dog will gain that status by being combative to a person or another animal without being provoked, or if it has caused a “minor” injury to them.

A vicious dog has caused “serious” injury to a person or animal, or has the tendency to attack without provocation, or has caused minor injury more than once.

(A minor injury is bruising, scratches or shallow punctures, while a serious one involves deep puncture wounds or broken bones).

A dangerous dog has killed or seriously injured an animal or person or was previously vicious and has since attacked.

Under each of these classifications, several restrictions are enacted.

An aggressive dog must be kept on a leash no longer than one metre when not on the owner’s property and must be muzzled when in an off-leash park. The owner must also obtain permanent identification information for the city’s records.

The owner of an aggressive dog will also have to take a course to learn how to control the animal’s behaviour before it is taken off the aggressive list.

The owner of a vicious dog must follow all of the above restrictions, as well as post a sign on their property warning people the dog is vicious. The animal must also be kept in a confined enclosure when outside on the owner’s property.

The owner of a dangerous dog must follow all of the above restrictions plus get written confirmation from a city-approved trainer that the animal is undergoing appropriate training. The owner must also provide evidence of liability insurance of not less than $500,000 for a year.

An owner of a dangerous dog unwilling to comply with the requirements will have their dog seized for two weeks, after which the dog may be euthanized.

The new bylaw, five-and-a-half months in the works, was created in collaboration with several animal experts, including the BCSPCA, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The City of Surrey also sought the advice of dog behaviour expert Dr. Rebecca Ledger who has served in court as an expert witness in animal cruelty and aggression cases.

In crafting the bylaw, the team examined other cities with best practices, including Toronto and Montreal.

“The biggest thing (the bylaw) brings in is the “tiering” system,” Rehal said. “We get complaints now of animals demonstrating aggressive behaviour and unfortunately with the old (bylaw), the ultimate control we had was the dangerous dog definition.”

Dogs had to be an extreme threat to meet that designation.

The bylaw has passed third reading. It’s expected to become law on Feb. 20.

 

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