Elected officials put the MD of Bighorn’s responsible animal ownership bylaw on a shorter leash.
The amended bylaw, which passed third reading of council July 11, prohibits off-leash dogs in public spaces in Exshaw and requires all residents to licence pet dogs within the MD. Exshaw was previously the only MD hamlet in the Bow Valley lacking the regulations.
“I hope this helps with enforcement issues and concerns,” said Reeve Lisa Rosvold. “I think it will make all of our hamlets a more safe place to live.”
Bighorn’s protective services department reviewed the 2005 bylaw and identified the need to bring it up to date with current standards, comparing it with 11 other municipalities like the Town of Canmore, Town of Cochrane, Rocky View County and Mountain View County.
“We quickly found that we needed to make a number of changes,” said Andrew Box, fire chief and director of protective services with the MD.
Other changes include owners of convicted vicious dogs having to obtain a vicious dog licence regardless of location, decreased annual dog licensing fees for neutered and spayed dogs and increased annual fees for unaltered dogs, and the ability for the MD to revoke dog licences.
The bylaw also includes new sections with regulations on animal welfare, duty to notify an officer when in possession of a stray dog, carrying a means to remove excrement, animals in prohibited areas and others.
Box said the MD has received requests from the province to tighten its leashing requirements, particularly in Bow Valley hamlets to prevent encounters with bears, cougars, elk and other wildlife inhabiting the area.
“We are currently dealing with issues specifically in areas that border onto Alberta Parks lands, and I’ve had a number of requests recently from Alberta conservation in regard to assisting them in better promoting our leashing requirements, for instance in Dead Man’s Flats and Lac Des Arcs,” said Box.
Implementing the updated bylaw will involve “extensive” education and a period for residents to become aware of changes, he added.
“It’s our mandate within the municipal district to go to penalties and fining as a last resort,” said Box.
Rosvold suggested adding more signage in communities as one avenue to consider educating the public, including visitors. She said it was recently pointed out to her that in Dead Man’s Flats, there are no signs indicating dogs must be leashed.
“There’s lots of signs telling you what you can’t do but there’s no signs telling you to leash a dog there,” said Rosvold.
In Exshaw she noted signage may be especially important. Dog owners caught walking their four-legged friends off-leash could face a fine of $100.
She noted removing off-leash areas could also lead to the need for building designated off-leash dog parks, an amenity none of the hamlets currently have but one many residents have expressed interest in in a recreation master plan recently prepared for the MD of Bighorn.
While the master plan may provide opportunities to establish designated off-leash areas in the future, the recent bylaw change equips MD enforcement with the tools to effectively manage and inform the public now.
Box stressed that officers will be using an education first approach when dealing with infractions where bylaw changes are concerned.
“There’s going to be what I would term a soft or you could even call it a non-enforcement period,” he said. “There’s going to be a strong education period.”
The bylaw was further amended at the request of Coun. Jen Smith, who suggested looking to the Town of Cochrane, City of Calgary, City of Wetaskiwin and City of Toronto to determine dog licensing fees.
“All four of those cities require licensing as of three months of age, that would be 12 weeks, but then with a cost reduction until they’re of age to spay or neuter,” said Smith. “Each one has a little different regulation.”
The bylaw originally proposed requiring a licence when a dog reaches six months of age at an annual rate of $75.00 for unaltered male or female dogs, with no discounted rate until dogs are spayed or neutered. The discount is to encourage dog owners to spay or neuter their dogs rather than leaving them unaltered.
Smith recommended following in the footsteps of other municipalities to offer discounted licence fees until a dog reaches 18 months of age. The discounted rate is the same to license a neutered or spayed dog at $30.
The penalty for an unlicenced dog in the MD of Bighorn is $250. All changes to the bylaw can be viewed on the MD’s website.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 21, 2023