Barrett: Responsible Animal Bylaw starting to go astray

Feral cats swarm the deck of a residential home northwest of Lacombe near Gull Lake. More than 20 cats were on the premises as the area is a dumping ground for unwanted pets, who then breed and multiply. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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I’m all for enforcing responsible pet ownership.

As someone whose family often takes strays off the street and into Alberta Animal Services so they can either be returned or adopted, it’s frustrating to watch people allow their pets to roam the neighbourhood freely when you know they’re safer inside, to see pets out in -30 degree weather, and to have another pet owner get mad at you because you took their pet in thinking it was a stray because they did let it roam.

It’s high time people learn owning a pet truly is a responsibility, that caring for them the way you would any other family member shouldn’t be optional. If they’re not willing to care for their pet properly, they should either be made to, or barred from ever owning another pet again.

In a lot of ways, Lacombe city council’s proposed Responsible Animal Ownership Bylaw is a step in the right direction and I wish every municipality had a similar bylaw.

However, there’s a fine line between trying to encourage and educate pet owners on their responsibilities, and dictating to them the precise means by which they must achieve them. Council, I believe, started to cross that line.

To my understanding, the bylaw came about as a way to better deal with and minimize nuisance animals in the community – in particular, those of the feline variety who, unlike their canine counterparts, were not required to be licenced. As such, it included different licencing fees to encourage pet owners to not only spay and neuter their animals, but have a means for them to be identified either through microchipping or tattooing.

That changed at the last meeting, however, when some council members said they believed the main purpose of the bylaw to be the identification of animals. Some said they didn’t believe spaying and neutering to be that big of a deal and not worth the “discount” in licence fees.

Concerns about spaying and neutering not being that big of a deal, aside (any shelter or rescue agency will tell you otherwise) they also decided the tattoo option for identification wasn’t worth the “discount,” either, because it might take enforcement an extra couple of seconds more to check for a tattoo rather than wave a wand over an animal.

Tattooing is an identification method vets in Alberta all have access to. For awhile, many pets adopted through shelters already came tattooed, but under the proposed bylaw, they will now be assessed $75 extra because they’re not identified using the city’s preferred method.

The theory is it’s more “affordable” to microchip than pay the full licence fee, because a microchip is only $30-40. But if someone has paid to have their pet tattooed, they’ve spent well in excess of the discount – and some vets will charge $100, if not more, just for the visit.

If the purpose of the bylaw is identification, doesn’t a tattoo accomplish that?

Should it be the purview of council to dictate how a pet is identified if it is a method recognized by vets? Should an extra cost be associated for that?

I don’t believe so.