THE CANADIAN PRESS
HAMILTON — The City of Hamilton has hiked the fines it can lay against dog owners whose canine companions repeatedly bark up a storm.
The move, which allows a maximum fine of $25,000 for repeat offenders, is being made to better deal with the nearly 600 complaints about loud dogs the city receives every year, said bylaw director Ken Leendertse, who suggested Hamilton’s approach could provide an example for other communities.
The changes mean complaints about problematic barking will now be the responsibility of animal control officers instead of bylaw officers. Alleged offenders can get a visit from animal control officers immediately after a complaint, Leendertse said.
Previously, the onus would have been on a complainant — such as an angry neighbour — to keep a log of the noisy dog so a ticket could be issued. Under the new system, the city can issue a fine in a way similar to a parking ticket.
“We looked at everything we’ve done with barking dogs and said we haven’t been doing a very good job, how can we do it better,” said Leendertse. “So we assigned it to a animal services officer, and we wanted to empower that officer to have better tools.”
The officers will first try to educate owners and offer tips on how to get their pets to behave, Leendertse said, noting that the officers will also check if owners have dog licences.
“We give them a warning, we give them solutions, but if it continues and the neighbours have had enough then we look at charges,” he said.
Owners who don’t comply can first be fined $75 under the city’s responsible pet owner act. If an owner still doesn’t resolve the issue, it then becomes an offence under the city’s noise bylaws, where fines can escalate to $240, and eventually a maximum of $25,000.
London, Ont., is considering changes similar to Hamilton’s system.
Orest Katolyk, London’s chief municipal law enforcement officer, said the city is considering allowing violations like loud dogs to become part of a ticketing system similar to issuing parking tickets, as is the case in Hamilton. If that was to happen, Katolyk said the city could consider having animal control deal with loud dogs.
“What that does is put the onus on the person that receives a penalty to appeal to a hearing office,” he said, adding that it would be a more efficient way to deal with the issue.
Fines in London currently range from $175 for a first offence, to $5,000 dollars for a repeated offence, and a maximum of $10,000.
In Hamilton, Chris White, a dog owner and manager at The Urban Zoo pet store, said the city’s new rules had customers talking, with many concerned about animal control officers checking on pet licences that some may not have.
White also said he was worried disputes between neighbours could escalate and end up with animal control being called in as retaliation.
As for the high maximum fine, White said he doubted the city would ever actually issue the five-figure penalty for loud barking, noting that the fines of $75 and $240 seem reasonable.
“I think the $25,000 dollars is a shock-and-awe number,” he said. ”It would have to escalate into something pretty bad first.”
Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press