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?
With its fenced dog parks, beautiful green spaces, and riverside trails, New Westminster is a pretty good place to be a dog. That is, unless you have the misfortunate to be born with a big head, stocky body and short coat. If you resemble one of the “pit bull” or mastiff breeds targeted under the city’s animal control bylaw, you face a very different kind of lifestyle.
New Westminster is one of a handful of Lower Mainland municipalities that enforces breed-specific legislation (BSL). The bylaw lists three “pit bull” and five mastiff breeds that are considered “vicious dogs” and must be muzzled outside of their homes. Owners are required to take extra containment precautions on their property, and face increased fines if their dogs are impounded.
If you go by newspaper headlines, this might not seem outrageous – aren’t pit bulls inherently more dangerous? In a word, no. Despite the sensationalism, statistics simply don’t support the notion that any one breed is more aggressive, and BSL has never been shown to be successful.
99% of pit bulls are family pets
While dog fighting gets a lot of the press, pit bulls were family pets, farm dogs, and companions for the vast majority of their history. Their breed standards note their affectionate nature towards humans, and in the American Temperament Test, pit bull breeds have a pass rate higher than many common breeds like border collies, retrievers and boxers.
There are many poor owners out there, and some of them are drawn to “tough looking” dogs and a bad reputation. But they do not represent the majority of us. For the most part, we are normal people drawn to the breed for other reasons – their inquisitive and intelligent nature, their wash-and-wear coat, their cuddliness, and the fact that they are the most abused and surrendered breed in the shelter system, yet remain the most likely to rub up against the kennel bars, wildly licking your face.
Spotting a “pit bull”
“Pit bull” is not a breed, but a loose description of three breeds: the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the American Staffordshire Terrier. And breed identifications are notoriously subjective – studies show that even trained shelter workers are wrong up to 87% of the time when they guess at a dog’s breed. Try for yourself at http://www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html.
Even DNA tests are still in their infancy – there simply isn’t that much genetic variation between breeds. So consider the logistics of trying to enforce a law based entirely on visual clues. (And then what do we do about mixes?)
Inefficient use of tax dollars
In Delta, one factor in overturning BSL was the amount of time spent investigating “pit bull” complaints that were no actual threat to community safety. New West has one of the best animal control teams in the region, and fairer bylaws would serve them better by freeing up their time to investigate actual aggression incidences and nuisance behaviours, addressing problems before they start.
There is no city with breed restrictions that can show a substantial drop in bite rates. But the City of Calgary can. Their approach looks at proven risk factors for aggression like spay/neuter, early socialization and training, past behavior and – most importantly – ownership. With many pit bulls in their midst, they currently have the lowest bite rate and highest licensing compliance rate on the continent.
The New Westminster bylaws already address a number of risk factors by charging higher licensing rates for intact dogs, and applying a “vicious dog” declaration for unprovoked aggressive behavior to other animals or humans. I encourage our city leaders to build on these evidence-based approaches to community safety, and take breed out of the equation. It’s an outdated and knee-jerk reaction to animal control. Our community, our animal control officers, and our dogs deserve better.
Please talk to city council candidates about breed specific legislation and better animal welfare laws in our city, and vote with this in mind on November 19. Then join me in the New Year as I hope to start a conversation with City Council and encourage them to take a leadership role alongside Delta, Vancouver, Port Moody, Surrey, Port Coquitlam and many other cities that have opted for more progressive dog legislation.
Maybe you’re tired of paying $6 for free-range eggs (that might not be so free-range), or perhaps you want an unusual backyard inhabitant. Regardless, we seem to be in the age of the urban chicken, though to date it seems to be more talk than action; most backyards in New Westminster seem to be distressingly poultry free.
New Westminster, unlike Vancouver, has had a by-law on the books regulating the keeping of chickens since the late 1960s (bylaw 4271, drafted in 1967 and passed in 1968).
The by-laws are a little restrictive – your lot has to be 6000 square feet in size, the poultry house must be 50 feet from the nearest inhabited building, and the chicken coop must be more than 2 or more feet from the property line.
Obviously this doesn’t fit well with most urban lots, and is not nearly as relaxed as the new by-laws passed recently in Vancouver.
I’d hummed and hawed about talking to the city about possibly relaxing their by-laws, but then I’d heard that the city officials weren’t enforcing the letter of the (by-)law unless a neighbour complained, so I stopped worrying about getting the rules changed, and instead, focused on getting chickens.
Step one – select a breed of chicken. Like most domesticated animals, there are many breeds of chickens, with pros and cons for each, so you need to pick the breed that exemplifies the qualities you desire. I wanted a large, dual purpose chicken (eggs and meat) that was a good egg producer and would be somewhat personable. The Australorp fit the bill, and seemed very chicken-ish in looks.
Step two – try to find a breeder. I discovered that small specialty breeders are actually quite hard to find; many don’t seem to know much about the internet. I started checking Craigslist – in my mind, a cost-effective way for the small breeder to advertise – but there were few listings, fewer for the breed I wanted, and I didn’t get a warm-fuzzy-feeling from any of them.
I moved to searching online, to see if I could get chicks sent by parcel post; believe it or not, mail-order chicks are very popular (at least south of the border), and apparently the chicks will do just fine in a box for a day or two.
I was slightly relieved to not find any companies that were close enough to mail the chicks; I was hesitant about sending infant chickens by mail, and had a vision of a box of dead, fluffy yellow chickens showing up on my door step. If the kids caught sight of that, the therapy would continue for years.
Then I came across The Fraser Valley Poultry Fancier Association (http://www.fvpfa.org/), and discovered that they had a winter show where breeders and chicken keepers would show their prize livestock. I convinced family and friends that were interested in chickens to make an outing of it. The show was very interesting, but the real find turned out to be the show’s program, which had a long and varied list of breeders in and around Greater Vancouver.
I ended up contacting several breeders. Most didn’t want to part with their young chickens, and some were a delightful combination of rude and strange. We finally found a breeder who was willing to part with three chickens “on the point of lay”, but there was a catch – it would be 6-8 months.
Here’s a quick lesson on chicken terminology (and biology) before proceeding: female adult chickens are hens, male adult chickens are roosters, juvenile female chickens are called pullets, and their male equivalents are called cockerels. A chicken typically is considered to be “on the point of lay” at about 6 months. A hen does not need a rooster to lay an egg, but a rooster has to be involved if you want the egg to hatch.
Step three – figure out where to keep your chickens. The most common choice seems to be the chicken ark – a portable coop that has an area enclosed by wire mesh, and a wooden hut for sleeping and laying. I found plans for one on the internet (http://catawbacoops.com/) and spent a weekend (and a few evenings) gathering materials and building it.
The last thing you need to do before getting your chickens is to gather the supplies you’ll need. There isn’t much – food, grit, a feeder, and a water container. The food part is obvious, and Otter Co-Op (Aldergrove) sells an organic “laying feed” (designed to meet the nutritional requirements of a laying bird) – $15 for a 45lb bag, and that bag has feed our chickens for 3 months. You can also make your own – there is lots of information on the internet, but it can be complicated sourcing things. Grit is small, rough stones the birds keep in their gullets to help grind up their food (they are essentially a chicken’s teeth). A feeder is just a food holder – it’s less wasteful (and less likely to attract rodents) than scattering it on the ground, and a water container should be self explanatory.
Chickens also make quick work of some kitchen scraps – peelings from carrots, apples, pineapple, bananas and other fruit, especially berries (we feed them the leftovers, the brown bits that the kids won’t eat, etc). It’s fun to roll the berries around, and have the chickens chase them.
They also like pasta, crackers, and other grain products (but can get gummed up if they eat too much). We also add flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and finely crushed egg shell to their feed from time to time. Because there are free-range in the back yard, they also eat grass, seeds, worms and other bugs, and all the leaves off my wife’s prized beet crop.
The day we got the chickens, we immediately liberated them into the back yard. Unfortunately, when it came for them to roost at nightfall, they had no idea that their ark was their accommodations. We spent some time in the dark, chasing chickens, and pulling them out of rhododendron trees. It took two nights of us placing them in their ark at night before they figured it out, and they learned to put themselves to bed. I would recommend keeping them penned up under their ark for a couple of days to save yourself the joy of the chicken round-up.
If you are going to let your chickens free-range, you have to consider the risks from other animals. A full grown chicken can take on a cat, but don’t stand a chance against a dog. Raccoons are very real threat as well, and are the reason we secure the chickens every night. Our dog has a high prey-drive, so it took a few weeks to teach her that the chickens (like the cat) were off limits. She’s pretty good now.
And now to the reason (presumably) you want chickens – the eggs. The Australorp was a famed egg producer prior to the industrial-farming movement. The average Australorp will produce 250-300 eggs, and one Australorp set a world record, laying 364 eggs in 365 days. The production of eggs is linked to the amount of light the chicken gets over the day (modern egg producers cheat with artificial light), and the colour of the egg is determined by the colour of the chickens ear lobes
A chicken will lay heavily for about 2 years, and then the production of eggs will start to decline. A domestic chicken can live for 17 years, however. You need to decide what you will do with your chickens when they hit menopause (or as I like to think of it, egg-o-pause). If they are pets, then eggs are a side benefit. But if food is the idea, then you’ll have a hard decision to make a few years down the road.
A piece of advice – don’t run around promising your neighbours the excess from your anticipated glut of eggs – it takes a while to for them to get up to speed. So far, of our three chickens, one is laying, and in the last 3 months, we’ve gotten 2 dozen eggs. We should get 2-3 eggs a day in the spring and summer, but you never know.
When I get asked the inevitable, four-times-a-week, question of when they will lay, or why they aren’t laying more, I grumpily answer, “I’m not sure – perhaps you should go ask them.” The point of all this is, it’s unlikely that you will be awash in eggs when you first get your chickens, even if your chickens are at the so-called “point-of-lay.”
Should you decide to get chickens, you’ll be inevitably be asked these questions:
Will they get avian flu? It’s unlikely in a small, isolated flock, not nearly as likely as in industrial setting with thousands of birds crammed into cages.
Will they attract rats? If you leave the food out, you get pests, just like if you left the remains of a picnic outside.
Don’t they smell? Not really. You do need to clean out their ark once a week. We lay newspaper, and put it straight in the compost.
Are they noisy? Chickens are pretty quiet, certainly quieter than a barking dog, or fighting cat. Just don’t get a rooster (it’s against the by-laws).
What do you do with them in the winter? Chickens can handle subzero temperatures– they puff up their feathers, and huddle together. We are looking at getting a small light bulb in a can to provide some supplementary heat if it gets really cold.
There are a few down-sides that we’ve noticed,
They will eat unprotected fruit; we have 3 blueberry plants, and half-a-dozen strawberry plants. By the time we got the chickens, the fruit season was mostly over, but I would sometimes find a chicken standing on top of a strawberry plant, eating the berries (apples seem to be safe, but I wonder what happens when our grape vine produces). A solution would be to keep them enclosed in a pen on the grass
They make a lot of poop. Some of the morning “deposits” are as large as our dogs. Fortunately, it’s excellent for the compost – it doesn’t have the same dangerous pathogens as cat and dog poop. It’s still not fun to step in, however, and they seem to like to poop on the sidewalks. Again, an enclosure on the grass would fix the issue. The poop is great for the lawn.
When going on vacation, you need someone to chicken-sit; this means someone to let them out in the morning, put out food, and then secure them at night and put away the food. Simpler than a dog, but still a complication.
You have to be careful with food; one of the kids was feeding large handfuls of wheat berries to the chickens, which constipated one of the chickens. It was an experience, giving the chicken an enema.
If you are thinking about chickens, here’s what I’ve experienced so far: you won’t be struggling under a glut of eggs, they are easier to easy to look after than expected (but difficult to acquire), and they’re fun to watch parade around the lawn, pecking at anything that catches their fancy.
This is a guest post by Remo Pistor. Remo grew up in South Burnaby. He moved to the West End of New West in 2003. He’s passionate about the community he lives in and is interested in seeing New West have successful growth in areas such as small business and development while staying true to its heritage and character of its neighbourhoods. Remo is an IT Manager for a small software development company, the tech guy behind his girlfriend’s fashion blog www.prairiegirlinthecity.com and all around tech wizard. You can find Remo on twitter @remop
I bought a house in New West about 8 years ago, just as the housing prices were starting to rise and just before the market ballooned and went crazy. I bought in the West End of New Westminster which I always describe to people as a mini Queens Park; a quaint, quiet neighbourhood with large lots and a lot of old character homes. Even now you can find a nice house with a large yard for around $600,000.
In spite of City council being as progressive as a community of Amish, there are lots of positives to living in New West and I have really enjoyed living here. You’re 30 minutes from everything, and you don’t need to cross a bridge or tunnel to get to Vancouver. The neighbourhoods have lots of character, they’re quiet, and there are lots of parks and community areas.
I felt New West has always remained somewhat of a hidden gem, until lately. Seems the word has gotten out to those interested in building new homes, and the word is that New West has reasonably priced lots (relative to other areas) and their building codes are far more lax than anywhere else.
Now I don’t want you to get me wrong; I’m not against new houses being built. There are some absolutely beautiful homes being built, in keeping with the style of the neighbourhood. My problem is with the character destroyers or urban monsters that are being erected. They have foundations wide and deep enough to support a small condo high-rise and even though you are legally allowed only one rental suite the basement has 2 entrances. The giant wood cube structure built on top are built to their maximum allowable height with flat roofs and every window boxed out to avoid violating the maximum square footage bylaw. They make no consideration for the character of the neighbourhood or their neighbours.
In my case, the house next to me, although it was built not long before I bought my house, it was built to maximize every last square inch. On top of being a giant ugly box that destroys the character of the neighbourhood, it was built so close to the property line and so tall that even at the peak of summer it casts a shadow covering a quarter of my backyard. In the winter my “lawn” has enough moss growing in it that I could keep the local craft stores supplied through to the next season.
What bugs me is that all the while that this destruction of our neighbourhoods is happening, the city does nothing to curb it (bad pun not intended). Compounding the situation is an Official Community Plan that is disjointed and poorly put together. In section 2.6 Heritage and Neighbourhood Character, New West identifies the importance of its heritage but really that’s it. It states that residents and community need to be involved in the conservation of New West’s history and heritage buildings. But, once again the city falls short in doing anything about the most important part, and that’s making sure there’s a policy that addresses new developments and construction staying true to the neighbourhood’s character.
It states in goal 3 that, “Residential neighbourhoods are important sub-units of the City. They serve as ‘building blocks’ creating a community through their diverse and distinctive characteristics.” It goes on to state in the final point that, “Future plans for residential development, as they relate to residential neighborhoods, need to recognize the following… new development should respect the character of the neighborhood and protect those aspects that make each area unique.”
Why New Westminster is unable to take the same approach to protect the character of their neighbourhoods, which they so prominently display on their website, is beyond me.
At the end of the day, I don’t mind you building a large new house; I hope to be able to do the same one day, just have a little respect for your neighbours and your neighbourhood.
In the mean time, another house on my block has been knocked down and replaced with another Vancouver Special.
We have luxuriated in the lovely pine scent of our Christmas tree for the last month, but the time has come to lift the ornaments from its weary branches and pack it off to the annual firefighters’ tree-chipping fundraiser on Saturday Jan. 9 & Sunday Jan. 10. from 11-4 in the parking lot at Canada Games Pool. To my toddler, the tree-chipping is a fitting crescendo finish for the holiday season: firefighters, face-painting, loud machines, BBQ and music from the NWSS Jazz Band. The tree-chipping is by donation.
This year there’s no easy way out of hauling your tree out to be recycled. There will be no curbside pickup, to keep within the Zero Waste Challenge (though to my mind, not picking it up doesn’t mean it’s not there …). If you miss the fun times at the firefighters’ event, the city’s recycling depot at Sixth & McBride will take your tree.