Exotic animal ban much ado about nothing

A Morinvillenews.com editorial

By Stephen Dafoe

In a slow news week television news programs need to fill the same time slot that they do when the streets are flush with stories. It is therefore no surprise that a story about Morinville’s potential banning of elephants, armadillos and other exotic animals would find itself on the tube last week, complete with accompanying footage of Godzilla terrorizing Tokyo and that scene from Jumanji where the elephants were running wild in the streets.

The added clips made for a funny holiday filler piece, but the central theme of the story has really created much ado about nothing.

The story, picked up from St. Albert Gazette reporter Kevin Ma’s report on Morinville’s proposed Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw, went somewhat viral over the New Year’s weekend, travelling to various news sources off and online as one news source picked it up from another, few taking the time to do any original research on the topic.

While Morinville Town Council does in fact have a document in front of them proposing to outlaw elephants, armadillos, hippopotami and 127 other animals, the list of banned and prohibited animals are but a three-page appendix to a 56-page bylaw.

Kevin Ma made that clear in his Dec. 29 Gazette article. Global News did not, leaving viewers, including Morinville residents themselves, with the distinct impression that our tax dollars are being spent on cockamamie bylaws that do not address what is important to residents. It’s not a good impression to have hanging over council’s head when they just passed a budget authorizing the hiring of 14 new administrative staff.

But when you jam a microphone in someone’s face and ask them their thoughts on a possible elephant ban in town, chances are people are going to react with outrage or sarcasm. And why not – the idea is ludicrous when one does not have all the facts, and a two-minute news segment of which a large portion is consumed by stock video footage of animals (and Godzilla) running amuck through the streets does not provide all the facts.

Everyone has an opinion, but few people have an informed opinion. Sadly, many of those who saw the Global piece on Morinville’s elephant exodus are forming their opinion without realizing nine months of work has gone into a new bylaw that seeks to target those pet owners who do not take responsibility for their pets.

Should the bylaw be passed, Morinville residents who let their cats run about the streets defecating in their neighbour’s gardens will be looking at stiffer fines, as will residents who let their vicious dogs off the leash. The same bylaw will require residents with three or more cats or dogs to buy a kennel licence, and dog owners in general will have to keep their pets off school grounds, playgrounds and the splash park.

Of course none of those things (the meat of the proposed bylaw) match up well with clips from Jumanji or vintage Godzilla films.

Council tabled discussion of the bylaw Dec. 21 because it had not been brought before council prior to the meeting. During the course of the discussion that will be had between now and when the bylaw receives its three readings, some items will likely be added and some items will be removed or clarified.

Whatever shape the bylaw ultimately takes, the Town’s decision to shift from an Animal Control Bylaw to a Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw is something to be applauded, not ridiculed simply because the drafters of the bylaw wanted to include a list of prohibited animals and the media wanted a funny holiday story.

But whether the exclusion of elephants, armadillos and other exotic critters remain in the final draft of the bylaw or not, the content that does remain will be meaningless without enforcement. A $120 fine for roaming cats only keeps kitty off the streets if some roaming kitty’s owner is actually forced to dig in their pocket to pay the fine.

And with the number of cats using Morinville flower beds as a litter box, let’s all be thankful they’re thinking of banning elephants as pets.

Proposed Banned and Prohibited Animals

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  1. Say what you will, how much exactly did this “responsible pet ownership bylaw” study cost? It obviously was given great thought by someone! It’s my tax dollars wasted once again! From the way the mayor and Council have been thinking over the past years, I am surprised that any animals were banned at all seeing as how animals of any size could be tagged and a tag for a pet elephant could put a big dent in the bill for our white elephant, the Community Center! And I still don’t see why cats are not tagged like dogs? If there is a need to increase fines for cats crapping in neighbours gardens, obviously it is a signifigant enough concern to justify cat owners paying for tags just like other pet owners (except for those who own elephants because they are banned and have to be kept in the house!)

  2. Well said. It is amazing how much traction this story received provincially. I think the key to understand is that this bylaw is in its infancy. There will be considerable discussion on whether prohibited animals will be singled out by name as they are now or if grouped under categories providing for less ridicule such is a similar bylaw in Edmonton prohibiting “Large Animals”.

    Unfortunately many of us have had crack pot neighbors in the past that try to push the limits of what is reasonable and rational. What would happen if a new resident moved into town and moved their “traveling road show” with them? Without rigorous bylaws the town can often be left with little recourse when obvious infractions occur. I would rather council take a hard position and massage a thorough bylaw then get in trouble later when taken to task for exceptions. Exceptions end in appeals and court which is where the real time and money gets spent.

  3. Reading the full description makes the ban feel even stupider than the short version with elephants.

    “nine months of work has gone into a new bylaw” – 9 months of taxpayers money went into…

    “is something to be applauded”… not only is the town council a laughingstock, so apparently are some of news reporters

    Why ban being different when it does no real harm… I mean what for example is a pet sheep going to do? Is a sheep in any way more dangerous or harmful than a dog? (Sheep are less likely to spread germs, bite someone, bark loud, etc, and probably better for enviroment)

    How many people are harmed by “spiders” in whatever aquarium/cage the owners keep them, compared to bitten by a dog, etc?

    You like in a town that borders on wildnerness, where foxes and birds and all sorts of other wildlife roam and poop and tear up trash… it sounds like a bit of strange obsession to be spending so much money for a small town, on so little.

    For me it says avoid Mornville like you would the plague, don’t ever move there as long as this town council is allowed to run amok and waste money to try to force people to all conform to their absurd ideals.

    I suggest we have a provincial law that everyone who does something stupid like this, if vast majority of those affected agree it is stupid gets an extra 20% thrown onto any tax or fine for the rest of their lives.

    • As it states in the editorial, the list of prohibitted animals (proposed) is a three-page appendix in a 56-page bylaw, one that covers an incredible amount of ground with respect to Domestic animals. It is that proposed content that is being applauded, not the appendix which is the much ado about nothing.

  4. Morinville has a population three times smaller than the small Ontario community I live in. How are the councillors explaining to the Morinville taxpayers the need to hire 14 more staff? The council in my community has to fight to justify any additional hirings, let alone 14. And what on earth is your council doing passing 56-page-long bylaws? Any municipal bylaw that long should be read closely and carefully. Those two things, far above the list of banned animals, should get people and media to start paying a little bit closer attention to that council.

  5. Clarification – Council has not passed anything, in fact, they have not seen it in any official capacity as noted by the writer. Another clarification – draft bylaws do not come from council, they come from administration. They are then approved, approved with changes or thrown out – any of which may happen here in Morinville. Do I admit that the bylaw as written was a tad overzealous? Perhaps. Does council looking at this cost money? No – The more time it takes to review, the longer the meeting or perhaps schedule an additional one – none of this costs tax payers more money.

  6. I am all for a ban of grubby and dangerous animals, but what we really need to do is GET RID of all highly dangerous animals like pit bulls and the like. Too many people have been killed and maimed by these vicious creatures.

    And people may think this is a non-issue, but they have no clue, NO CLUE, as to how many of these dangerous animals and pets are around them. Wait until a poisonous snake or spider creeps over their balcony, or into their garage, then see what they think.

    But most importantly, GET RID OF THE PIT BULLS!

    • Dangerous and vicious dogs account for about four pages of the proposed bylaw, substantially more than the three-page appendix on elephants and armadillos.

  7. Its kind of funny that so much effort seems be getting poured into this By-Law. I too have stray cats visiting my garden, I hear neighbours dogs barking at all hours….. Yet there are already laws against this which nobody actively enforces.
    As for dangerous animals…lol I’ve had coyotes in my back yard, after they visit the local high school looking for scraps, I found what appeared to be a black widow spider on my fence, I had a hawk snatch a sparrow from the air as it chased a moth across my yard and the little prarie dogs like to run everywhere. All in all a nice rural community.
    Really, if an animal has no impact (noise,smell,property value) on a neighbour, then it should not be anyones concern.
    As for pitbulls: “In Canada, the targeted breeds and any other dogs that happen to be labelled “pit bulls” account for less than 5% of all bites.” http://www.dogownersrights.com/articles/ontpresent.htm

  8. At least as interesting, and certainly of more real legal significance, is the fact that included are several animals that might be raised in any Alberta town – cows, horses, sheep and goats – and some probably were reasonably common in Morinville in years past. At least this clarifies the status of chickens, which has been a major discussion point in larger cities recently.

  9. I cannot comment on the proposal as a whole as I have not read it. What has been overlooked however is that the majority of these animals are already illegal to own as pets in the province of Alberta. Contact the Fish and Wildlife for details on that. The exceptions that I have noticed fall into the “spiders, pythons, and boa”. Understandeably many people are not that knowledgeable on reptiles and invertebrates, and this is why I have offered to help the Morinville Council with this area. The province of Alberta already has an extensive list of which species are illegal to keep. This includes all of the giant snakes. Most of the pet pythons and boas are harmless, and even the largest legal species pose much less threat than the average cat or dog. When it comes to spiders, there are indeed some species that can be a threat. The large majority however are not.

  10. The list includes mostly animals that are already illegal to own in Alberta. Why time is wasted on banning animals already illegal is beyond me.

    The pythons, boas and spiders is a concern because with the exception of giant pythons already illegal, that puts a restriction on reptile owners rights.

    There isn’t a concern for a “poisonous spider or snake to creep over your balcony” because venomous (use the correct terminology) snakes are already illegal. The spiders that are kept as pets are not lethal. Other then a few exceptions like deathstalker scorpions this list is a joke.

    • One would think a bylaw should include reference to existing legislation so people who have to deal with said bylaws do not have to cross reference several documents. This particular bylaw lists as relevant policies and bylaws the following:

      Dangerous Dogs Act of Alberta
      Animal Health Act
      Alberta Public Health Act Regulation
      Canadian Kennel Association
      Alberta Veterinary Act and Regulations
      Canadian veterinary Association
      Communicable Disease Regulation
      Alberta Regulation 238/85 Public Health act
      Alberta Fish and Wildlife Act
      Service Dogs Act
      Alberta Service Dogs Qualifications Regulation
      Blind Person’s Rights Amendment Act
      Blind Person’s Rights Act
      Canadian Registry of Therapy Animals and Service Animals Society
      Traffic Safety Act
      The Stray Animals Act
      The Bee Act of Alberta
      The Livestock Act of Alberta

      The Town isn’t banning anything because the bylaw has not come up for discussion. The much talked about list is merely titled Schedule D – Banned and Prohibited Animals. The actual background to the document states the new bylaw “provides a schedule of prohibited animals.”

      We’ll be speaking with the drafters of the bylaw this week to determine just how the list came about and why.

  11. Respectfully, I would say that the 3 page appendix IS in fact important and worthy of discussion, right along with the 56 page bylaw.

    As Thomas pointed out earlier, town administration prepared this proposed bylaw, and the mere fact that they had the ability to incorporate three nonsensical pages into it tells me that someone (or more likely, multiple people) in the town administration have an abundance of time that would be better spent elsewhere. These are obviously bright people with a high level of attention to detail, and they should be assigned to solving actual problems in the town, and given proper deadlines for projects.

    As also pointed out by Thomas, this bill itself is EXTREMELY overzealous. Just think of all the time the town administration had to spend to research, write, edit, and propose a 56 page bylaw just on animal control. For comparisons sake, the Town already has an animal control bylaw, it is 7 pages plus appendices. So, apparently someone at the town thought it would be a good idea to spend the money required to make the bill SEVEN TIMES LONGER, and then STILL had time to make a 3 page appendix of specific exotic animals.

    These are YOUR tax dollars people. Tax dollars that could either be in your pockets, or put towards things OTHER than coming up with ridiculous lists.

    This is happening in a climate where we have an unresolved stench from Champion Pet Foods, a number of large problems with road infrastructure (Highway 2/Cardiff Road certainly comes to mind), a 93%/7% residential/business split, and most importantly, NO PROPER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN.

    At the same time, administration is coming to the taxpayers asking for over a million dollars for new positions? I’d like to know who is going to be setting priorities for these new positions? It seems likely that next year we’ll have a 140 page ‘yard maintenance’ bylaw with a 10 page appendix on the type of tropical climate trees we can’t plant in our front yards.

    I was skeptical when I saw the massive increase salary costs PASSED in the budget. Even in a disciplined and lean organization, it is hard to efficiently manage that kind of a staffing increase. Now that we all have a glimpse of how current staff are spending their time, it seems obvious that priority tracking isn’t even being done now, never mind with a ballooned budget. How much of our money did council just spend that could have been made up with efficiencies rather than ballooning staffing costs?

  12. After reading this I am more furious than I was before. As a resident of Morinville for the past 13 years, and an owner of reptiles who are they to take away our rights. Almost every animal listed is either illegal in the province already, known by all to live on a farm or they would never survive in our climit. This was the biggest waste of our hard earned tax payers dollars. Morinville should have a new election and vote the mayor and town council out. Any responsible pet owner especially those with reptiles makes sure every housing and security issue is looked after. I have children and would never conisder getting a pet that I felt was harmful to my children I sure as hell do not need the fools that run Morniville to tell me what I can have or cannot have. When they listed the ban on elephants, kangaroos, walrus were they seeing things in town that the other 5000 residents having been missing?

    I will not stand by and allow the mayor and town council to take away the rights of Morinville residents, I will fight this, I will contact the media, I will even go to the provincal government with this.

    I can not believe that the we trust these people to run our town. If I was the mayor or any member of town council I would seriously be embarassed and want to stay out of sight of residents. We seriously need to take a hard look at if these are the types of people we want to run our town.

    • Before you get too outraged, you might want to consider, as others have pointed out that council do not write bylaws, they approve them. This bylaw was tabled when it came for first reading because council had not been presented the info prior to the meeting. Your council unanimously decided they wanted to see what was in it before they approved it.

      The MEDIA, particularly television media, made this list – which is but an appendix to the bylaw – the central point of the story, creating as my editorial says, much ado about nothing.

      It is a tragic symptom of our society that we can say something is a waste of time without knowing what that something is. It is like saying a book is rubbish because one read only the index and determined the book must therefore be boring.

  13. Can’t honestly say much of anything about the proposed legislation as I haven’t read it, although there are a few things that do jump out and strike me.

    As a biologist, pet keeper, and concerned citizen, I always have concerns when I see this sort of legislation brought up.

    First that strikes me is the idea of using fear to justify actions that affect others. I’m not saying the council is guilty of this, but looking at some of the responses I’ve seen here, the idea of passing a law based on the idea of “what if,,,?” is, at least to my thinking, absurd. Sure, sounds sane when you posit “what if someone’s pet rattlesnake does such’n’such, won’t you feel stupid that you didn’t step up before and prohibit this?”. Same logic should apply to “what if your neighbor could become an axe-murderer?/”what if your son could become a childmolester?”/ ad nauseum. Laws should never be passed on the basis of “what if…”, all it does is justify paranoia.

    Second, as an educated taxpayer, I wonder exactly how much thought and effort has gone into this thing. I realize as some have pointed out about the notion of “jumping the gun”, but really, clearly someone HAS been paid to write this up, taxpayers HAVE invested in this. Yet I look through the list above and notice a number of errors. Musatelidae?!? Never in my educational career have I heard of this, I’m assuming they’re actually referring to the family Mustelidae, the weasel group. Sure, we could ascribe this to a bit of sloppy spelling, but within the group they’ve listed the skunk, which is NOT a member of the Mustelidae family (or Musatelidae[sic] for that matter) but of the family Mephitidae. Struthofornes? Casuariformes? Permaelidae? Seriously, they can’t get the sort of stuff correct any child with an internet connection and ten minutes to spare should be able to straighten out, but want to consider passing regulations on it?!?! Yes, I think citizens do have the right to cry “waste of time” over this.

  14. I, like many others, must seriously question the rationale for listing many of those species of animals as “prohibited” to own in Morinville, if that said rationale is indeed to “protect public safety”. Many of these animals are completely harmless to people and are commonly held pets by the public, and without any incident to other members of the public. Is it really the intention of Morinville, for example, to outlaw domestic ferrets (they fall within the famly Mustelidae), pet tarantulas (most of which are not medically significant arachnids in terms of their venom) and pot bellied pigs? Do any of these animals truly pose any sort of legitamate danger to the public?

    Of equal amount of concern to me is the listing of (presumably) all boas and pythons. As with the aforementioned animals, many of these snakes are among the most popular and widely held reptiles and most species do not become large enough to present any significant danger to humans. The Ball Python for example is currently the most popular python and only attains 3 to 4 feet. Some species of Australian pythons remain even smaller. Only one recorded human death has ever been verified (to my knowledge) in the United States by a Boa constrictor (a Central and South American species), and the circumstances of that case were due to extreme negligence on the part of the person who was keeping the snake. Given that Boas are also a very widely held species of snake, does only one accidental human fatality justify outlawing all ownership of Boa constrictors, particularly when we as a society seem to continue tolerating ownership of many domestic species that DO NOT appear on Morinville’s proposed list of banned animals and which contribute to dozens of maulings, injuries, and fatalities each year.

  15. This publicity has made Morinville a bit of a laughing stock.It did not help that Councilor Holmes relished in getting on TV for her moments of exposure. This bylaw does cost the raxpayer money- council will be well compensated for reviewing it.The Councillors voted in are making light of the real issues- South Glens, the smell from the plant, Cardiff death trap, the budget. Are these subjects too hard to comprehend that they must go into a circus act of bylaws or is to to cover up for the other’elephant’- the community centre. While having a coffee in St Albert the joke that was circulating in the food court at the mall was Dizzie Lizzie and her circus act. It made me embarassed to be from Morinville. Is this what we want for the Town?
    Publicity on a large scale should maybe be reserved for the real issues, to positively promote the Town or elicite support ie Cardiff Corner…
    If this was Ottawa Holmes would probably be booted out by now.Too bad there is not a three month probation on Councillors, or maybe Morinville should review that issue.

  16. Okay Everyone!

    Take a deep breath…

    This is a proposed bylaw that has not been debated by your democratically elected officials. Contact a town councillor and let them know how you feel (keeping in mind this bylaw did not come from council).


  17. Joanne,

    I find it interesting that this editorial comments not only on the proposed Bylaw in question but also on the responsibility that the media has to report information accurately and without bias. I believe that Global news failed miserably with both and this is not the fault of council. Editing is a magical tool in the hands of someone wishing to “create” a story.

    Your personal attack makes me wonder why someone would want to get involved in municipal government. I expect to see a “Joanne S.” on the ballot for the next election!

  18. Commendable for Thomas to step in and defend his wife Councilor Lisa Holmes.A saying by Benjamin Disraeli-“there is no education like adversity”. For every action a reaction. I would like to see the discussions revert to the real issues of Morinville and also to the report from Champion Pet Foods and their progrese towards a “zero-odour,” which is suppose to be before Council in January. And also more towards the fantastic events for the 100th anniv of Morinville.

  19. All I can say is THANK GOD Smith Music has an Elephant and Armadilla Crossing. Hats off to Paul Smith for providing one. What would we ever do without it?

    I was having a lousy day until I seen the sign in front of his business. I laughed so hard I could hardly drive.

  20. Hello Everyone. Okay I would like everyone to know that I have had multiple conversations with the Mayor, By-Law Manager and Councillor Lisa Holmes. I am speaking in front of Town Council on the 18th concerning this proposed bylaw. I am not infavor of it all and I will do all I can to stop this. I have emailed the Premier of Alberta, I have spoken with local pet stores and I have a petition going that I will take before Council. Please do not attack Lisa Holmes as she is not sure of what this new bylaw entitiles and is not behind this proposal at all, and I am trying to work with her to help all pet owners in Morinville. My husband is probably the biggest reptile (snake) owner in town, and we feel this ban on animals is unjust and uncalled for, but we are also forgetting dog owners in this bylaw. They are now banning dogs from school play grounds, sports fields and your neighborhood playground. These are common areas to take your children and walk your dog at the same time.

    I have demanded a copy of this so called study they did so I may review it before I step in front of Council. I have also obtained a copy of the Bylaws for the town with all the new changes and am in the process of reviewing them. Alot of these changes are called for and quite frankly long overdue, but there are alot that are unjust and uncalled for. We have to stand together as a town and show them that this type of legisation is extremely off base and they need to sit down not just to relook at this bylaw but in the case of snakes, spiders and bearded lizards talk to a person that is directly involved with them so they can learn more. People are afraid of what they don’t know and knowledge is the key to diffusing this situation.

    If you have comments that you would like our public officials to hear please email me at rmccc1@telus.net and I will voice them on the 18th. I am standing up for the rights of all pet owners from dogs, cats, alpacas, and reptiles in Morinville, but I can’t do it alone. With all my conversations with town officials in the past couple of days they know that I am not going to back down in my fight, and I challenge any member of council or bylaw to meet with me to put alot of this misunderstanding on what makes an animal dangerous to rest. We voted them into office we can vote them out!

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