While my list of pie-in-the-sky wishes for our city includes a complete overhaul of our city’s animal services*, the reality is any city’s animal services department is going to be low on the priority list if the powers that be don’t get told it should be a priority.
Do you know how municipalities determine how important animal services are? In part, they use the data collected by the number of licenses purchased to tell them what kinds of dogs are living in the city and where those dogs are. (I’m saying dogs because in New Westminster, cats do not really factor into the bylaws other than a brief mention of maximum allowable numbers – my opinion is that all pets should be accounted for in the bylaws). This helps City decision makers allocate where to build services like dog parks, water fountains that are dog accessible, cycling or jogging routes that consider users may bring their pets by placing waste receptacles along the way, etc. The data collected from licensing also helps municipalities determine staffing and resources such as shelters and fleet vehicles. I have had direct experience with the animal control officers in our city, and for the most part, they are caring, sensible people, who are working as best they can within the parameters of what they are allocated.
New Westminster has a high number of dog parks relative to the size and population of our city. Some of them come with a bit of controversy. The one downtown, for example, is on the Chinese Benevolent Society’s former land, and was built primarily to reduce the visibility of an empty crime-inviting lot right beside the Skytrain station long before the Plaza 88 development was underway, and there is a chance that dog park will be removed when the Reconciliation Process currently underway is complete. As well, when the province rebuilt the portion of road that connects the Queensborough Bridge to the mainland, and allowed for the through road to Marine Way in Burnaby, the once magnificent dog park on the hill below 22nd Street Skytrain Station was removed and the replacement is, to put it mildly, disappointing – I have yet to see anyone actually using it. But have you been to Hume Park dog park? Or Queens Park? They are well maintained, large, and have developed a strong sense of community with the dog owners who frequent them.
License renewal forms are rolling out today and tomorrow from the City. New licenses are available at the City or by mail – a form is online. It is critical that if you have a dog you purchase one. They are inexpensive – a first time license for a spayed or neutered dog is $20 if its purchased before March 1st. An extremely discounted rate is also available if you move into the community and want to transfer your license from another municipality. Back when I lived in Vancouver for a year, the cost to transfer Mooki’s license back to New Westminster was a measly $1.
Many people don’t see the value in a dog license. Here’s what you get: a small tag (that you can get engraved with your pet’s name on the reverse – how convenient!) and the ability to get your lost dog back should animal control pick it up. Doesn’t seem like much right? But what you also get by choosing to buy a license is to be included in the data the city uses to make choices that will have a direct impact on you as a resident. The more dogs a city’s decision makers are aware of, the more importance they can place on offering services for our beloved pets. This is not about “the man” knowing too much about you, this is about you being able to offer your beloved pet a chance to count in the city, too. And you want your pet to count, right?
* The short(er) version of my overhaul pie in the sky wish list: Animal Services needs to be made its own department, not fall under Engineering Operations and share resources with the people who tow vehicles and issue parking tickets. The animal control officers need to be empowered and encouraged to be proactive instead of responding to complaints only and need to increase their visibility to deal with nuisance pet owners. I think New Westminster needs to get rid of BSL, adopt a licensing system for cats (as in Calgary’s much lauded animal welfare system that pays for itself), revamp their chicken bylaws (which currently falls under health bylaws, and not animal control), to make it simpler to keep chickens on city lots for those who wish to do so, reevaluate their bylaws that deal with exotic pets and the sales of pets, plan for a new shelter in the near future, and implement bite education in our local schools. Phew. Not much, eh?