Vancouver councillors want changes to 'aggressive dog' bylaw
VANCOUVER -- Two Vancouver councillors are hoping to see changes to the city's animal control bylaws that would allow dogs designated as "aggressive" to be rehabilitated and reassessed.
In a motion being presented to council Tuesday, Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe say they're hoping to see the city's bylaws be modernized to give dogs the "chance to be properly rehabilitated and managed" after being labelled "dangerous."
"The current bylaw as written doesn't really do much to remedy a dog that's designated as aggressive, rather it just serves to isolate and muzzle them in an effort to protect the public and other animals," Fry told CTV News Vancouver.
"But it doesn't address the underlying root cause of the aggression. In fact … a dog who is muzzled and isolated is even less socialized."
The matter has a personal connection for Fry, who said he had a family dog with aggressive tendencies after she had been shuffled around to several homes.
"She was a third-hand dog by the time we got her and she came with some baggage," Fry said, adding that his vet referred him to a qualified animal behaviourist.
"I know firsthand that a dog that might be otherwise deemed as aggressive can actually be rehabilitated."
Fry explained that he learned there are different types of aggression and it isn't always linked to offensive behaviour. Instead, for some dogs, aggression can be reactive and stem from past trauma or even an illness.
"First we identified that she wasn't an aggressive dog, she was a reactive dog … in fact there was training and behaviour modification that could be done to nip that behaviour in the bud," he said.
"After that I had her at a point where she could be called off immediately. She was a perfectly trained dog."
But Fry admitted that not all dogs can be rehabilitated.
"It's certainly not the case that we should do away with the designation of aggressive or dangerous dog. Those are important tools to protect the public and other animals," he said.
"What this does recognize is that there may be an opportunity for rehabilitation, so the life sentence of muzzling and isolation doesn't do anything to really affect the underlying behaviour issue."
As the bylaw stands, a qualified animal behaviourist isn't involved in determining a dog is aggressive or dangerous. Instead, it's an animal control officer who gives the designation. But Fry said the motion isn't a critique of their assessments.
"They'll often come in after the fact and it'll be a 'he said, she said' kind of situation … but it doesn't necessarily explore the full context," he said.
Fry said he hopes the motion being introduced Tuesday will launch a dialogue for changes to existing bylaws. The motion recommends allowing dog owners to apply for a reassessment after working with a professional animal behaviourist, no less than one year after the dog has been designated "aggressive."
Fry said other cities like New Westminster and Coquitlam have implemented similar rehabilitation strategies for aggressive dogs.
"This isn't just a Vancouver outlier," he said. "I don't think this is actually any great shock to our animal control department … they do feel like the bylaw's overdue for modernization."