By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Council held an open house Tuesday evening giving residents an opportunity to voice their concerns on Morinville’s proposed Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw. However, despite the media attention the bylaw has received since a Christmas week television segment focused on the more exotic portions of the document, residents did not come out to the public hearing in flocks, herds or gaggles. Approximately six residents attended the Feb. 15 Committee of the Whole meeting to lend their voice on the matter.
While the numbers were few, the concerns were significant. Two residents, former Morinville Town Councillor Joe Gosselin and recent Morinville resident John Summerfield expressed their concerns the bylaw calls for the banning of dogs riding in the back of trucks, something both men said their dogs enjoy.
Speaking first, Gosselin said when he bought his truck he purchased a canopy with a small window just large enough for his pet to get its head out of for a little fresh air.
“When I transport him he loves to have his head sticking out,” Gosselin said, adding the new bylaw requires an animal to be restrained within a vehicle. “I have an issue that a restraint is required. I don’t want to have to put him in a car seat.”
Gosselin questioned whether Morinville might be going too far with its bylaw.” If reasonable care is taken to secure the pet, I don’t know if all these restraints are necessary,” he said.
The former councillor was not alone in the view that Morinville may be going too far. John Summerfield, who moved to Morinville six months ago, said his dog also enjoys a ride in the back of his pickup and was opposed to restrictions being placed on the practice.
“I’ve never been to a council meeting in 50 years but I got steamed by what I read in the paper,” Summerfield said of the issue of dogs riding in trucks. “I love my dog but it’s a dog – it’s not a human being. I don’t understand why we’re getting involved in how we treat our pets.”
Summerfield said animal cruelty laws exist to deal with the treatment of animals and that he believed Morinville had better things to spend their time on than dogs riding in trucks or creating bylaws with respect to dogs attacking people on an owner’s property, another element of the bylaw he took issue with given an apparent redundancy between municipal legislation and other levels of protection.
“There’s multiple levels of legislation,” Summerfield said.” Why are we using my tax dollars to write this legislation when there’s other layers of legislation.”
Mayor Bertschi agreed that perhaps some consideration should be given to looking at addressing specifics in the bylaw where other legislation exists.
“The whole exotic pet issue that got us into trouble was because we spelled out the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] instead of just referencing it,” Bertschi said.
Other resident concerns included the bylaw’s requirement that service dogs be licensed. Lucy Roy said there are some residents who train service animals in town and that she felt it would be good if Morinville waved the licensing fees on those animals as they are sent out of town once they are trained.
Additionally, Morinville resident Elizabeth Nakohonyk asked council about the rationale behind a prohibition on poultry, suggesting there may be requests from residents to keep a couple hens in their yard to produce eggs.
“It’s happened in Calgary,” she said. “Why wouldn’t it happen here?”
But chickens weren’t the only farm feature discussed during the open house. The topic of Morinville’s prohibition on keeping bees came up for discussion with some members of council suggesting that exemptions could be made for some parts of the municipality.
“We have two full sections that are rural that are being farmed,” Mayor Bertschi said, adding although he’d not like to see a beekeeping operation in a neighbour’s backyard, perhaps an exception could be made for rural properties within the municipality’s corporate limits.
Now that the public open house has been held, administration has been directed to research some elements brought up by residents during the open house. The bylaw is set to come before council for second reading at the Feb. 22 meeting of Morinville Town Council. Third reading would be held a couple weeks later to allow for further public input that may result in further tweaking of the document prior to final reading.
“I have confidence that this bylaw has had more due diligence than any bylaw we’ve done in years,” Bertschi said, noting media attention had resulted in a great deal of public input and discussion.