Monday, March 20, 2006

Pit Bull Licence Renewal Lagging

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hundreds of unlicensed pit bulls could be living in London despite a provincial ban and strict regulations backed by steep fines.

Jay Stanford, the city's manager of environmental services, says London could have 340 unlicensed pit bulls based on the number of owners who haven't renewed their dogs' licences from last year.

"We really don't know how many are out there, but we know there are 340 owners who haven't come in for licence renewals," he said.

About 500 pit bulls in London are licensed, he said. "Our plan now is to get back to these folks (who don't have licences). We've given them a lot of time to register and they've had lots of notification. Now it's a matter of finding out if they need a fine to convince them we're serious."

Stanford said the city will crack down on the owners of unlicensed dogs at the end of the month with letters, phone calls, visits and possibly fines.

When the province amended the Dog Owners' Liability Act banning pit bulls last fall, the city followed up with a supporting bylaw.

Existing pit bulls were grandfathered under the law.

The new laws require owners to have their pit bulls sterilized and microchipped. The dogs must be leashed and muzzled in public. The licensing fee is $50 plus an application fee of $10.

A judge recently approved the fine schedule of $70 to $500 for a dog running at large.

A judge recently approved the city's fine schedule that ranges from $70 to $500 for a dog running at large. Not licensing a dog carries a fine of up to $200.

The city also adopted a policy to pursue the maximum court sentence -- a $10,000 fine and six months in jail -- under the Dog Owners' Liability Act for owners of dogs that bite a person or domestic animal in the city.

Beth Sayler, past president of the London Dog Owners' Association, said she's not surprised many owners haven't licensed their pit bulls.

"I think a lot of them are scared to death to license their pets because they feel they're being targeted," Sayler said.

Others may have sent their pets to new owners out of province, or even had their dogs euthanized.

With the cost of licensing, not to mention the estimated $200 to $300 for sterilization and microchipping, some owners may not be able to afford licences, Sayler said.

"I also think some are waiting for the outcome of a court challenge to see if the law is overturned before they pay and others simply don't agree with the law," she said.

Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby has launched a constitutional court challenge of the provincial law. The issue is expected to return to court in May.

Stanford said the city is being "extremely cautious" enforcing the bylaw because of the court challenge.

Fears that hundreds of pit bulls would turn up at shelters and be euthanized haven't been realized, Stanford said.

This year, 28 pit bulls have been euthanized, about the same rate of 10 a month as last year. There are 24 pit bulls now impounded waiting to be claimed by owners.

"There were fears pit bulls would be abandoned, but we're not seeing any of that here in London," Stanford said. "But it has been unusually quiet, although that's probably in part because it's winter and many dogs are indoors."

The province imposed the ban after a number of vicious attacks by pit bulls on people and pets.


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