One Slave Lake resident is up in arms about the responsible pet owner bylaw. She feels it’s being unreasonably applied in her case.
Sheri Smears has a German shepherd. He is large and quite protective, she says, but quickly warms to anyone who she introduces him to. Anytime he barks at a new neighbour, she invites them in to meet him. After that, she adds, all they have to do is call him by his name and he quiets down.
However, for the last four years, one of her neighbours has refused to get to know the dog and complained about his barking.
Starting in April, Town of Slave Lake bylaw enforcement has gotten involved. The first court date for Smears is November 15, but already the tickets include the caveat that after the next ticket the dog could be removed. People who choose to pay a ticket can do so on or before that date, but to enter a not guilty plea as Smears plans to do must be done on that date. Then a trial date is set. These will be in commissioners court which only meets once a month. As of Nov. 1, trials in commissioners court were being set on June 2, 2024.
“I have not been convicted of anything,” says Smears. “Who deems this as a disturbance? Am I not allowed to have my dog bark? And that is what I am very upset about.”
On April 12, 2023, a Town of Slave Lake bylaw officer gave Smears a ‘verbal warning.’
Smears says this included the suggestion that the neighbour get to know the dog, so that that the dog can recognize them.
“My husband went and asked them again after this,” says Smears. “They’ll take the time to video, but not to get to know him,” says Smears. “You can’t just stand there and stare at a dog, and not talk to them, of course they’ll bark … He does not bark except when they are at the front of their property, and he sees them as a threat.”
The Smears put up a railing in their yard which keeps the dog away from the neighbour’s fence.
On September 26, 2023, Smears received a letter with three tickets and two warnings attached via registered mail.
The times were July 28 (from 3:30 to 4 p.m.), August 12 (5:50 to 7 p.m.), Aug. 29 (3:30 to 5 p.m.), and Sept. 19 (2:20 to 3:15 p.m.). The three tickets are $100 each.
“It was too hot to be in my vehicle,” explains Smears about why he was in the yard while she was away. Also, the house was quite warm. “Why shouldn’t he be on my nice covered deck?”
One of these times is after quiet hours, says Smears.
Quiet hours in Slave Lake are 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The three tickets have the following phrase crossed off – “and certify that I have served an offence notice personally upon the person charged of the offence on that date.”
“Since that date, my dogs were not left alone outside with I was not home,” says Smears.
However, on Oct. 17 she was rushing around doing things and left them outside for 20 to 30 minutes by accident.
After that she received a second letter with a ticket attached, with a voluntary payment of $200.
The second letter includes “after the third offence, if the animal is still barking, howling, or creating a disturbance, the animal may be ordered removed from the Town of Slave Lake upon written owner from a peace officer, RCMP or animal control officer or a person appointed by council.”
As this matter is before the courts, Town of Slave Lake Senior Peace Officer Mark Becker was not able to talk about the specifics of the case. However, he was able to provide some clarity about the possibility of the dog being removed.
“In order for a dog to be removed from the community,” he says, “law enforcement would have to make an application in the courts to get a court order for removal. No police/peace officer can arbitrarily remove the animal from the community. This application would be made if the offender is found guilty in the courts after several violations.”
The Responsible Pet Owners Bylaw 12-2015 says, “no person shall permit his or her dog to bark or howl excessively or in any other manner disturb the peace, quiet or repose of a person; and when a dog barks, howls or in any other manner disturbs the quiet of a person, the owner shall be deemed to have failed or refused to comply with this section.”
by Pearl Lorentzen