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Draft Animal Control Bylaw referred back to administration following public hearing

A public hearing regarding the Town of St. Paul's draft Animal Control Bylaw, which combines the current Dog Bylaw and Cat Bylaw took place on May 23.
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ST. PAUL - A public hearing regarding the Town of St. Paul's draft Animal Control Bylaw, which combines the current Dog Bylaw and Cat Bylaw, saw two members of the public speak, and written submissions presented on May 23.

Speaking first was Amber Newbury. While she was listed as being opposed to the new bylaw, she later confirmed with Lakeland This Week that she was neither opposed nor in favour, but rather she was hoping for clarification on some portions of the draft bylaw.

A local resident, Newbury has helped countless cats and dogs find shelter through connections she's made with various animal rescue organizations. At the public hearing, she showed council a large binder filled with photos of the animals she has helped over the years, sometimes paying veterinarian and surrender fees herself, and holding fundraisers to help cover the costs associated with helping stray animals.

Speaking to council, Newbury questioned the number of animals allowed in the new bylaw, noting that in the draft it states residents can have a maximum of three dogs or three cats, or a total of four animals if they own both cats and dogs.

The current Cat Bylaw states residents can have three cats, while the Dog Bylaw states people can have three dogs, which results in a total of six animals allowed. Newbury wondered if people would be grandfathered into the new bylaw since it limits people to just four animals total, or questions if they would be forced to give pets away. 

She also asked why there was a change in the grace period moving from 90 days to six months for people who have a litter of dogs.

"Personally, I feel this is helping breeders who can’t find homes right away," said Newbury.

She also questioned why the new draft bylaw does not allow for the trapping of cats, even if a person has good intentions. In the current Cat Bylaw, trapping a cat is allowed. The Cat Bylaw states, "Individual residents within the Town must utilize a cat trap from the Town to capture a cat or cats at large," and that an agreement must be adhered to.

Speaking to animals wearing tags, Newbury said she felt that encouraging pet owners to microchip animals was a better alternative than tags, and a microchip scanner could be purchased for as little as $25. 

She also shared her thoughts on pet licensing, and that adding lifetime licenses could be beneficial for pet owners. She also believes that licenses should be much higher for animals that are not spayed or neutered. 

"For the registration fees I would like to see more encouragement to be a responsible pet owner and have a big price difference for those not spayed or neutered. The dog and cat over population has gone too far and there are more lives than homes and rescues," said Newbury.

Overall, Newbury said her main reason for speaking to council was to bring attention to the cat situation in town.

"I used to be 100 per cent against euthanasia, but when has the suffering gone too far?" she questioned, also offering examples of some of the severe conditions she has witnessed in stray animals, such as freezing, animal abuse, starvation, and more.

She added, "At the end of the day, you can euthanize all animals who never had a chance, but where is the lesson? People will get more cats. And the suffering cycle continues."

Newbury also asked council how they intend to educate the public about the new bylaw, as many people are unaware that a Cat Bylaw currently exists. She also said she was surprised there weren't more people in attendance at the pubic hearing, since the topic of stray cats is one that often comes up among residents.

Also speaking at the public hearing was Tanice Joly. She stated she didn't feel the Town should be telling people how many animals they should have, but also noted that she has had to replant several gardens due to cats ruining them and she has contacted the Town's municipal enforcement department many times about stray animals.

"I am an animal lover," said Joly, adding, she too has rescued cats or paid to have them euthanized when they were too sick to be saved.

She did question who would be enforcing the new bylaw, and says she would like to see something done when an issue is reported to the Town.

Two written letters were also included in the documents at the public hearing, but were not read out loud.

One of the submissions came from Anita Hellquist, a long-time veterinarian in St. Paul. 

"As a long time veterinary clinic owner and veterinarian (now retired) in St. Paul, I would like to speak to the proposed amendments, Section 4.1, and additions of Section 5.10," wrote Hellquist.

"I am of the strong opinion that Section 4.1 requires a 'grandfathering' clause, which would allow pet owners who currently have more than the permitted pets in their household to keep them, if they can demonstrate responsible pet ownership," she explained. She noted there is a lot of variation with the number of pets allowed by different municipalities in Alberta, with some allowing just four, and others having higher limits.

"One dog or cat not looked after responsibly and allowed to roam often causes as many issues, if not more, than multi-pet households which are managed responsibly," wrote Hellquist. 

She encouraged the Town of St. Paul to put measures in place that encourage people to spay and neuter their pets. Hellquist also recommended a higher licensing fee for animals that are not spayed or neutered.

Hellquist spoke to the addition of Section 5.10 in the draft bylaw, which prohibits people from feeding feral or stray cats.

"Starving cats will continue to live in St. Paul and will instead be more likely to access garbage and prey on birds. People could be encouraged to feed during the day and remove food when done," wrote Hellquist. She noted that while some neighbours might not like several cats congregating for a feeding, those cats would be less likely to get into garbage and yards seeking food if they are fed.

"There is no solution which gets rid of stray and feral cats, only measures which help somewhat," wrote Hellquist.

The public hearing was closed at 7:17 p.m, with no questions being posed to those who spoke about the draft bylaw.

Mayor Maureen Miller made a motion to send the draft bylaw back to administration following the constructive criticism received. CAO Steven Jeffery said he too believed there was some good feedback received. 

The motion was carried by those in attendance.

Councillors Brad Eamon, Sid Sood, and Nathan Taylor were not in attendance for the public hearing. 

The bylaw did get first reading before proceeding to the public hearing. The bylaw will come back to council for second and third readings once changes are made.

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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