Canine issue won’t release bite on city council

Coun. Arjun Singh seemed to be speaking for everyone on Kamloops city council when, at the start of the second three-dog variance discussion on the agenda during the first meeting of 2013, he said, with a half-laugh and half-groan: “Are we ever going to be free from this?”

Freedom won’t come this week.

At the Tuesday, Jan. 22, council meeting, another pair of three-dog applications lead off the agenda, as they so often have done in the past 10 months.

Three-dog variances aren’t new to Kamloops.

Mayor Peter Milobar told KTW the city has for years limited the number of dogs per household to two and has signed off on exceptions to the rule on a household-by-household basis for just as long.

In 2012, however, the third dogs of Kamloops seemed to come out in droves.

Between March, when the first variance application rolled in, and December of 2012, council dealt with the three-dog problem 21 times.

That figure doesn’t include several policy debates, in which council decided to waive the $350 application fee for a dog variance for the year.

Compare that number to the handful of variances the previous council doled out through its entire three-year term.

According to meeting minutes, there were six.

Milobar attributes the doggy onslaught to a couple of decisions of the previous council, which overhauled the city’s policy on the issue.

The changes require the city to send out notices and ask for comment from neighbours of dog owners. Council also allowed bylaw-enforcement officers to begin licensing third dogs.

“Previously, if you went in and asked for your third dog to get a dog licence, bylaws would say, ‘No, you can’t have three dogs.

“‘“‘You can’t licence three’,” Milobar said.

“And, most people would just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that. I’ll have to get rid of my third dog’ and leave. And, no complaints. Bylaws wouldn’t bother following up.”

Today, dog owners can properly licence all three dogs but, in doing so they are flagged and sent through the variance process and, eventually, to council chambers.

Council’s decision last April to waive the fee for such applications until Jan. 1, 2013, also made the process more attractive.

However, Milobar thinks the dog days are nearly over.

“Yeah, it seems like a lot right now, but it’ll work its way through,” he said. “We’re hitting the tail end now, by the sounds of it.”

Not everyone at the council table is so sure.

Coun. Ken Christian points to the two dogs on the agenda today as a sign the issue may not be on its way out.

He is also concerned about a council decision on Jan. 15 to allow a local woman to apply for a variance so she can purchase a third dog.

Mainly, though, Christian wonders if council chambers is the appropriate place for owners to air their three-dog fights.

“We’ve heard medical information that really shouldn’t be public information at a council meeting on television,” Christian said.

Other applicants have shared details of custody battles, job losses and neighbourhood disputes. Tears were sometimes shed.

There’s also the issue of time. At their speediest, variance applications take up between five and 10 minutes of council’s time.

But, when controversy dogs the proceedings, a variance application can rack up the minutes.

One memorable case on Uplands Drive, where property owners had a history of letting their dogs run free, took just under 50 minutes — not including an appeal at a later meeting when council initially voted against the request.

“It’s taking time away from making other fairly important decisions and having discussions about other civic matters that I think would be, at least in my opinion, more worthy of council’s attention,” Christian said.

He suggested council may want to revisit the bylaw to give enforcement officers more power to process three-dog requests.

In cases where the situation is temporary — for example, a child with a dog moves home — bylaw officers could grant pet owners a six-month period of amnesty, Christian said, noting the decision wouldn’t need to come to council.

When owners are looking to keep three dogs for an extended period of time, Christian tends to take a harder line.

“I’m not convinced there is any rationale to change the number just because people want that. What if someone comes in and says. ‘I really, really want a horse’?”

But, Milobar said, the city needs to be open to people who have three dogs for other reasons, in particular because blended families are becoming more and more common.

“There’s two dogs in one household, one in another and, suddenly, they become a couple or they move into the city for work with three dogs they’ve always had,” he said.

“How do you just say absolutely no for something that may not even be a neighbourhood concern?”




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