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A bridge too far

Summer students sent door knocking in search of unlicenced dogs
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As that old idiom goes, it's been raining cats and dogs this summer. For unlicenced pet owners of the latter who reside in St. Albert, this summer has also been soaked with bylaw notices.

Summer students swept the city over the past couple of months, knocking on doors, listening for illicit woofs and offering licences to those who answered the door and admitted that yes, they had a dog, and no, it wasn't licenced – those scofflaws. Suspected bylaw-breakers who weren't at home returned to find a notice instructing them to buy a licence or face a $250 fine.

"There is reason to believe" an unauthorized pooch had taken up residence at the offending homes, the notices read – although they did not go into detail beyond that.

As far as breaking the law goes, not licensing your dog ranks pretty low on the list. But the rules are in place for a reason: as St. Albert peace officer program supervisor Garnet Melnyk told the Gazette this week, dog licences help reunite lost pets with their owners. Melnyk also said the city works on an honesty-based system, trusting pet owners to pay for the correct licence.

If your pup loves the outdoors, people and honing their skills at escaping – as many dogs do – a licence is probably a good idea so it's easier for you to find your wayward mutt if they give you the slip one day. As an added bonus to the city, dog licences brought in $374,000 last year. But it's worth questioning what lengths the city should go to in making sure all dogs are licenced.

Whether we're talking about dog licences or any other of the city's many bylaws, there will always be someone around to complain that the rules aren't enforced stringently enough, or that they are enforced too stringently. We've all heard complaints from people whose neighbour has a dog that barks incessantly, or whose dog runs free when it should be on a leash. In 2018, St. Albert's bylaw enforcement received 846 calls for service regarding dogs.

Some bylaw enforcement represents time and money clearly well-spent: for example, the city's noxious weed rules help keep neighbourhoods free of invasive and sometimes harmful plants; and efforts to curb the tide of garbage flowing into the recycling bin (resulting in the "Oops!" stickers you or your neighbour may have received) have the added benefit of educating people about recent major changes to the city's recycling program.

Even some pet enforcement – for example, education or fines for dog owners who don't pick up after their pet – is resoundingly welcome by the majority of people; and when someone calls in a complaint, it's good those complaints can be acted upon.

Generally speaking, the dog licensing bylaw is a good idea and provides value – and some security – to pet owners in case their dog escapes. However, hiring summer students to knock on every door in the city and listen for barking dogs so they can issue infraction notices opens the city up to valid criticisms of municipal overreach.




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