BSL In our communities

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Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a trend in local government towards breed-specific legislation. This had its roots in increased media coverage of dog fighting, dog attacks, and the association of certain breeds with criminal and low-income populations.

In the intervening years, it became clear that these laws do not work, and unfairly target dogs and their families. We are seeing cities and other jurisdictions repeal these laws on a regular basis. However, in many cases they remain - sometimes because old-school thinking still reigns, or sometimes because no one has bothered to change them. 

If you live in an area with BSL, we can give you the tools to take action.

 

Changing Municipal Bylaws

Help! My City has BSL

 

You can help introduce fairer, evidence-based, breed-neutral laws in your community. It can be a long process, but you will find there is a lot of support out there, and it’s a wonderful legacy to create.

  1. Look up the current animal control bylaws and become familiar with them. They should be available on the City’s website, or by calling the City Clerk. 
     

  2. Do a little investigative research. Find out when the bylaws were implemented and when the breed-specific elements were added. Was it a long time ago and it’s simply never been changed? Was it in response to an incident or perceived threat? You may want to reach out to animal control personnel, bylaw supervisors, or individual councilors for a friendly, non-confrontational call or meeting to gather this information. Learn as much as you can about the political climate, real or perceived animal control issues in your community, and recommendations about how to proceed.
     

  3. Once you have some background information, you may want to consider approaching City Council. We recommend sending a letter first – keeping it courteous, simple and direct. Don’t overwhelm them with data. Consider bringing together other community members to co-sign the letter. Councilors receive complaint letters regarding every possible issue, and a letter representing 10, 20, or 100 people will have more power than what might be perceived as an isolated complaint letter from an individual. You may wish to create a mailing list, Facebook group, or hold a meeting to drum up a support base.
     

  4. If you don’t receive a satisfactory response to the letter – which may be because councilors are busy – consider making a presentation directly to Council. Each city has its own procedure for hearing from the public. You may need to submit a letter to request a delegation, or you may be able to simply show up and speak. You should be able to find this out by visiting the City’s website or by calling the City Clerk.
     

  5. Keep the presentation focused and friendly. Councilors deal with a range of governance issues – parking, zoning, littering, you name it. Animal control is unlikely to be high on their radar or a subject they know much about. Keep in mind that policy-makers are human and subject to pre-conceptions and stereotypes, and they might believe that BSL is a sensible safety precaution. If they aren’t hearing about rampant dog attacks in their community, they may assume their current bylaws are just fine. Let them know about the movement towards breed-neutral legislation, and respectfully request that they review their animal control bylaws to make sure they are in keeping with best practices.
     

  6. If Council is receptive, they will usually refer the issue for staff review. This provides you with an opportunity to follow up and ensure staff members have current, accurate information in making further reports to council. We all know that there are many inaccurate sources of “statistics” on the Internet, and a city staffer tasked with compiling a report may not understand which information is evidence-based and accurate and which isn’t. You should be able to find out who is in charge of the review and request a friendly meeting with them to offer legitimate information sources to use in their research.

    Another tool you can use is a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act allows a citizen to request copies of records from government bodies in the interest of transparency. In working on animal control policy, for example, it might be useful to know how many animal control complaints have been received by the city, how many bites have been reported, and (if tracked) what breeds of dogs were involved. If the City doesn’t readily have this information available, you can submit an FOI request, click here for more information. 

     

  7. Many councilors understand that their job is to provide good governance and reflect the interests of the taxpayers and residents. Some will be receptive to data and best practices around this issue. You may also encounter emotional reactions and the use of anecdotes or poor sources of data to justify breed-specific thinking. This can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing. Still, it is crucial that all interactions be respectful and positive. At this stage, your role is not to protest the current legislation or government, but to be a resource in achieving the best possible legislation for the future.
     

  8. If there are questions, consider bringing in experts. Consult with reputable animal professionals, such as veterinarians and trainers, who work with animals every day and have valuable insight and knowledge on dog aggression. Ask them to write a letter of support or even to present directly to Council. The BC SPCA takes a firm stance against breed-specific legislation. If you contact them, they can provide you with a copy of their sample bylaws and may even be able to send a representative to speak. Local breed-specific groups or rescues like HugABull Advocacy & Rescue Society may be able to do the same, although be aware that while they have a great deal of experience and knowledge, they may be seen by policymakers as having an agenda. Still, these groups are worth connecting with and can often point you in the direction of helpful resources.
     

  9. If the Council isn’t receptive to a fair review, remember that there is power in numbers. You may want to increase your committee of supporters and consider a peaceful rally, a petition, a Facebook group, or some other measure that will help bring some public awareness to the issue. Ask residents and local business owners to use social media to show their support for a bylaw review. Reach out to local media. Keep the tone respectful and positive at all times, but make it clear that this is an important issue that isn’t going away and that the citizens of your community wish to see their city on the correct side of history when it comes to animal bylaws.

     

 

Sample Municipal Bylaws

 

In BC, a city’s animal control department handles most dog-related matters. If there is a serious attack or altercation, it may be referred to the courts under Division 6 of the BC Community Charter. 

 

A robust animal control bylaw will have specific requirements outlined for owners in the community. Some elements to look for include:

 

  • Rather than generally referring to “aggression” or “attack,” the document should outline specific behaviour: growling, snarling, biting, severity of biting (no mark, mark, breaking of skin), etc.

  • There should be specific and enforceable consequences for behaviours. They should cover management of the animal (leashing, muzzling, containment, training) and penalties for the owners. 

  • It should address all levels of aggressive behaviours. If the city doesn’t have a bylaw to address a minor bite or a chase incident, then this action will go without consequence. This is a concern, since serious bites are almost always preceded by a minor bite.

  • It should address the treatment of the animal. While cruelty investigations fall under the jurisdiction of the SPCA, the SPCA is stretched for resources and may only be able to attend to the most serious cases of abuse or neglect. By including basic standards for food, water, shelter and tethering, a city’s bylaws allow an animal control officer to address the situation immediately, which can help to sidestep potential aggressive behaviour by stopping any mistreatment of the dog.

  • It should address breeding and the sale of animals. Irresponsible breeding and lack of early training/socialization are major risk factors in aggressive and problem animals.

 

​Examples

The BC SPCA has sample bylaws available by request. They also provide advice and consultation to local governments.

https://spca.bc.ca/programs-services/working-for-better-laws/model-municipal-bylaws

 
The bylaws of Coquitlam and New Westminster, British Columbia are some of the most well-researched and progressive in the province and serve as great examples.

 
Calgary was a world leader in animal control best practices for 20 years, under the leadership of Bill Bruce. They had a revenue-neutral program, a high level of community engagement, and the lowest bite rate in North America. With changes in management and a declining economy, unfortunately, these successes have waned in recent years, but Mr. Bruce’s track record is impressive and the bylaw remains strong.​​