Shelter operator: passing Rimbey pet bylaw before public forum would be a ‘huge mistake’

It is an offence under the proposed bylaw to own more than three cats over four months old

(Photo submitted by Melanie Crehan)

(Photo submitted by Melanie Crehan)

The Town of Rimbey’s proposed Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw that includes both cats and dogs is proving to be contentious as residents continue to speak out against it online and voice their feedback to the town.

The bylaw received second reading on Dec. 8, 2020, but residents are calling for a town hall meeting before the bylaw reaches third and final reading.

First reading of the bylaw passed over a year ago and a public meeting was to follow in March 2020, but it was cancelled due to the onset of COVID-19 in Alberta.

Melanie Crehan, founder of Serenity Pet Shelter Society says it would be a “huge mistake” if town council passed the bylaw without a public meeting first for concerned parties to give their input in person.

Most of the people she’s spoken to are very angry about the proposed bylaw, she says.

“I don’t see this becoming a reality without a huge backlash,” said Crehan.

The Sylvan Lake-based society runs a system of foster homes and does a lot of work in the Rimbey area.

READ MORE: Rural Rimbey overrun with abandoned cats

Crehan is also concerned that there is no grandfather clause exempting those who have been helping to care for and feed stray cats for years because there were no supports available, from owning only three cats.

Section 3.2 of the bylaw states that “No more than three cats over four months old shall be kept or harboured at one time on land or premise occupied by their owners.”

“It’s impossible to choose” which cat to keep and which one to “throw out” said Crehan.

“The tone of the document is punitive so I don’t think that’s the best way to go about things,” she said, adding she feels the proposed fines are very high.

Fines can be found under Schedule A of the bylaw.

Rather than a punitive bylaw, Crehan says what’s needed is a low-cost spay and neuter program.

Crehan adds she feels the powers the bylaw gives to the bylaw officer are “intrusive,” as it allows a bylaw officer to go into a person’s yard.

Section 10.3 states a bylaw officer may enter privately owned property, other than a dwelling house, at any time for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of the bylaw.

“Which I’m not comfortable at all with … I think it’s wrong,” said Crehan.

“There’s no need to go into a yard unless an animal is in distress.”

Jim Mulek, who has lived in Rimbey since 1988, has some concerns about the bylaw and is pleased it will be reviewed again by the bylaw committee.

“There’s room for improvement,” said Mulek.

“The whole thing … is in need of refinement.”

He has concerns about the content of the proposed bylaw and the way it was prepared and says the clauses need some tweaking and some definitions need to be added. He feels some of the methods of control are “somewhat concerning.”

Mulek feels the bylaw could benefit from using the universally used, vet-developed scale for aggression that is used by the City of Lacombe in its bylaw, rather than leaving the defining of what amounts to an aggressive dog up to the discretion of the bylaw officer.

He also questions why a start date of April 1, 2o21 was included for when the bylaw would come into effect when it hasn’t been approved by council yet.

“I hope they don’t plan to have it passed by that original date they put in.”

The town put out a call to residents to send in letters for or against the bylaw with a Jan. 29, 2021 deadline. According to the town, that feedback will be presented to the bylaw committee at their next meeting, as per their request. The meeting will be on March 2, 2021.

The agenda with the feedback will be posted on the town’s website by Friday, Feb. 26 by 4 p.m.

Forming a new animal control bylaw has been something council has been discussing for over eight years, says Town of Rimbey Mayor Rick Pankiw.

Pankiw assures that nothing will come before council before the bylaw committee has a chance to review all the feedback that was received by residents.

His personal stance on the issue is that third reading should not be passed until a public, in-person gathering has been held, with the author of the bylaw in attendance, so he can answer all of the residents’ questions.

As no one knows when public gatherings will be allowed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is no set timeline for when that may happen, he says.

Pankiw says animal control bylaws tend to be contentious issues for any municipality, and have been for other central Alberta communities who have passed them in recent years.

He added that people’s natural reaction to the introduction of a proposed animal control bylaw is for residents to say that council must hate animals.

“It’s unfair to say that we hate animals … every single one of us (on council) owns one.”

Animal control measures outlined in the byline wouldn’t be enforced until the bylaw is passed by council. If the bylaw is passed sometime in 2021, the license fees would then become due but will not be pro-rated, he explained.

The bylaw draft included a date of April 1, 2021 for third reading of the bylaw, however Pankiw says he believes that was just a benchmark set by the bylaw committee and wasn’t determined by council.

“It’s just day on a piece of paper,” he said.

“Until it is passed, it will not be going into force.”

Personally, Pankiw says he will not vote to pass the bylaw before a public meeting has been held.

The full bylaw can be viewed at rimbey.com/administration/bylaws.

READ MORE: Town of Rimbey defers decision on off-leash dog park