By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Council Chambers were well attended Tuesday night for Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the first time Morinville Town Council had an opportunity to discuss as a group its proposed Responsible Pet Ownership bylaw.
About a dozen mammal and reptile owners attended the meeting to get a clearer understanding of just what the bylaw means to them and their pets.
Morinville’s Chief Administrative Officer Edie Doepker said recent media attention on the proposed bylaw had the benefit of prompting residents to ask a variety of questions about the document, questions that have helped shape and clarify the bylaw.
Those questions included concerns regarding where dogs would no longer be permitted in town, the need for off leash areas, the problem of animal defecation, why cats are not allowed to roam free and concerns that Morinville was planning to ban exotic animals.
In explaining the bylaw in detail to council and the gallery, Morinville’s Interim Manager of Enforcement Services, Donna Tona, clarified some resident concerns.
Tona said dogs will be permitted in Morinville’s parks, playgrounds and sports fields, provided they are on a leash; however, dogs will not be permitted in the water area of the Morinville Splash Park due to health issues.
Additionally, Tona explained that animals in vehicles will only be an issue if the animal is interfering with the driver’s ability to operate their vehicle safely. The provision is in keeping with Alberta’s recently passed and soon-to-be-enforced distracted driver law. However, dogs will not be permitted to ride in the back of trucks. Enforcement services plans to post signage on the Town’s photo radar signs to alert visitors to Morinville of the fact once the bylaw is passed.
With respect to the prohibition on cats at large, Tona explained cats remain Morinville’s largest animal problem, with the majority of enforcement complaints stemming from cats killing birds, defecating on property and in public sand boxes as well as cats injured from the elements and vehicles. Tona said Enforcement Services dealt with 65 cats at large issues in 2010 and that some of the cats did not survive.
“It’s not a real fun job to tell a child their cat has died,” Tona said, adding the Town of Morinville incurred $1,200 in veterinary bills for cats at large in the month of December alone.
If passed, the new bylaw will fine owners $120 for roaming cats and Morinville will have the authority to attach veterinary bills to a resident’s tax bill should the Town not be able to recoup the expense using other methods.
Tona explained that with council’s approval she would like to conduct a feral cat round up in the spring whereby cats would be spayed or neutered to help curb what she sees as a problem in Morinville.
With respect to the banning of exotic animals, which represented the bulk of resident calls since the draft bylaw became public, Tona again clarified the list of prohibited animals was but a schedule attached to the bylaw and not a part of the bylaw itself.
“Nowhere does it say in this bylaw that residents cannot own exotic pets,” Tona told council, reiterating earlier comments that the list of prohibited animals contained in the original draft of the proposed bylaw was but a synthesized schedule that cites the Convention of International and Interprovincial Trade on Endangered Species (CITE). “It is a cue for us.”
One visitor to Tuesday night’s meeting who was pleased with the clarification is Ian Kanda, president of the Edmonton Reptile and Amphibian Society, who came to the meeting to support local members of his organization and their concerns that their animals might be banned.
“I’m quite happy how receptive everybody involved with the Town of Morinville was as to what the public concerns were,” Kanda said, adding his initial concerns were prompted by the schedule referred to in media coverage of the proposed bylaw. “Ninety per cent of these animals are already made illegal by the province of Alberta. Now I realize it is more just a point of reference for the CITE’s animals as opposed to a new proposed list of animals being banned.”
Kanda said he e-mailed some suggestions to the town as general advice on reptiles, particularly with respect to the listing of pythons and boa constrictors, an item that was subsequently removed from the list.
“You can’t just say boas and pythons,” he said. “It’s too general a thing because there’s 26 species of pythons and there’s six that are illegal in Alberta, which are the really massive ones and the ones that can pose a danger. The rest of them, most of them, are two or three feet in length and quite common in the pet hobby.”
Kanda said his concern was to make sure Morinville was not proceeding with a ban on those species commonly found in pet stores. Morinville’s Interim Manager of Enforcement Services indicated in a Jan. 9 interview with MorinvilleNews.com that such species would not be prohibited under the new bylaw.
Morinville’s Responsible Pet Ownership bylaw is scheduled for first reading at the Jan. 25 meeting of Morinville Town Council. Councillors will decide at that time whether or not to act on administration’s recommendation to hold a public hearing prior to second and third reading of the bylaw.