Lots of St. Albertans love their dogs and want to see them run. St. Albert dog owners, of course, may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Councillor Malcolm Parker striking out with his leash law idea.
ST. ALBERT, Alberta
If you don’t think much about municipal politics, you may not realize that among the biggest issues that bedevil city councillors anywhere is pets, what they do and what to do about them. So for those of you who don’t live here in St. Albert, Alberta, welcome to the wacky world of the St. Albert dog bylaw, which works just fine, but which Councillor Malcolm Parker, who is apparently not a dog owner, wants to fix anyway.
“If a dog is on a leash, the owner has it under control,” said Mr. Parker told our local twice-weekly newspaper. “I find it hard to believe that we let dogs run free in any area.”
This suggests to me that Mr. Parker hasn’t been paying attention to either the small children being dragged by big dogs or the well-behaved small doggies in this town. But he’s forgiven for this omission … by me.
But for a guy who says he studied psychology at university and depends on voters to be re-elected, I’d suggest he’s also not been paying attention to what happens to politicians who tick off large numbers of voters.
Just in case he missed that lesson, to stick with the canine metaphor, here’s what happens: They step in it!
My guess is that most of St. Albert’s many, many dog owners aren’t yet aware of what their City Council has been talking about doing – that is, making it illegal to let your dog run off its leash anywhere in the city but one small and crowded dog park on the west side, which isn’t really a dog park anyway but merely a shrinking hunk of un-zoned land.
When they find out, it will most likely be when a crabby city bylaw officer hands them a stiff fine. They will be furious. Let me say that again: They. Will. Be. Furious.
Tomorrow, we’ll get back to the weighty matters of provincial and federal politics. For today, though, here’s my letter to St. Albert City Council – which you won’t likely be reading on Rabble.ca or in the Calgary Beacon or any of the other places this blog sometimes appears – on this issue. And if this sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea, just remember, all politics is local!
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Dear Mayor Crouse and St. Albert City Council:
As a citizen of St. Albert, a taxpayer and the owner of two small and well-behaved dogs I am writing you today to express my serious concern with City Council’s apparent plan to require all dogs to be leashed at all times in the city.
This strikes me as a classic example of elected officials moving to solve a problem that doesn’t exist in a way that is extremely unfair to a significant group of taxpayers. At the very least, if an unneeded law like this is to be put in place, the city must provide its dog owners with appropriate and accessible off-leash areas for our pets in all parts of the city. After all, as I noted above, we are taxpayers too and have a right to enjoy our city’s parks with our pets like other St. Albertans. Indeed, we are not only taxpayers, but have to pay a significant additional fee to license our pets. But what we have seen in reality is the sole informal off-leash area in the city, the un-zoned land west of Lacombe Lake that is not in fact a dog park, significantly reduced in size.
Most dogs in St. Albert are small, but big and small they need to run a little. They bring enormous joy to their owners and all but a few present no threat to pedestrians, other dogs or children. Those that do are adequately governed by the traditional municipal bylaw approach, which calls for dogs to be “under control” at all times. With the rule change proposed by Councillor Malcolm Parker, a large and out-of-control dog on a leash held by a small child would be “legal,” but a small obedient dog walking to heel with no leash would be subject to a fine. What’s wrong with this picture?
While there has been some discussion of this proposal in the local media, I would be surprised if many people in the pet-owning community know about it, so I think council can be quite confident that there will be a backlash with consequences in the polling booth for those councillors who support this measure when municipal bylaw officers start handing out fines.
Moreover, it is my personal belief that when governments pass foolish laws like this one, they actually make the situation worse, because many dog owners will simply ignore the law – and possibly start ignoring other laws as well, such as picking up after their pets.
Naturally, there are bound to be some people in any community who just can’t stand dogs. There are also some who hate cats, despise natural gardens or disapprove of gasoline-powered lawnmowers. But the laws we pass as a community need to reflect a reasonable compromise between the concerns of such individuals and the rights of all taxpaying citizens. I find it very hard to believe that there are very many St. Albertans who are all that concerned about a few dogs, mostly tiny house pets, off leash in the company of their owners in St. Albert’s parks. On the other hand, I am reasonably confident council will find there are a lot of dog owners made extremely unhappy if this foolish change manages to become the law.
There are many more serious issues than a few well-behaved pets off their leashes that need to be tackled by St. Albert City Council. I would strongly advise council to heed the advice of that well-known bit of folk wisdom: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
David J. Climenhaga