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Ville Marie calling dog owners to heel

The Gazette

Dog owners downtown are soon going to find themselves on a much shorter leash - probably facing stiff new rules by April or May.

Visitors or homeless people with unruly pooches will also be called to heel, at least if the Ville Marie borough has its way.

Owners will be limited to two dogs outdoors at a time, whether walking on sidewalks,
playing in parks or elsewhere.

Pit bulls will be barred from the downtown borough.

Muzzles will also be made obligatory for particularly ill-behaved canines in public spaces.

For the first time, police will be specifically empowered to shoot on sight dogs considered very dangerous.

The far-reaching crackdown - aimed at controlling an increasing number of problem pooches in the city's core - has been under quiet study by borough mayor Benoît Labonté, council members and other officials since last September, Ville Marie spokes-person Jean-Yves Duthel said yesterday.

The changes will extend far beyond a simple tightening of leash laws, he added:

n Pit bulls and pit-bull crossbreeds are to be banned from Ville Marie, which covers 14.5 square kilometres and has 78,876 human residents but, with dog-licensing laws ignored by many, is also home for an unknown number of dogs.

n Professional dog-walkers might be exempted from the new two-pooch limit. "We are considering" whether such dog-walkers could be provided with a licence allowing them to take out more than two at a time, Duthel said, but "no decision on this has been made."

n Muzzles would be made mandatory outdoors for ill-behaved dogs, although he refused to provide a precise standard.

n Police officers would be granted explicit authority to shoot - "on the spot" - dogs that show "very dangerous" behaviour. Such life or death power for police is currently restricted to dealing with out-of-control dogs that appear to have rabies, Duthel said. Officers could resort to either conventional weapons or tranquilizer darts, he added.

The measures, Duthel said, are all designed to protect increasingly uncomfortable pedestrians from dogs accompanied by negligent, careless or discourteous owners, particularly during the summer.

He cited a sharp rise in dog bites - 19 were reported to police downtown last year, up almost fourfold from the five reported in 2006 - as well as an upsurge in other public complaints about dogs.

An increasing number of homeless people, many of them young, have been camping out in the city's centre during recent summers accompanied by packs of dogs.

These new measures are not aimed solely that those dog owners, Duthel said - but they are being equally targeted.

"Even the homeless," Duthel added, "are saying we should do something about this."

The changes will mark the first significant overhaul of pet bylaws since the 1950s, he added.
Precise wording is being scrutinized by borough lawyers in an effort to remove ambiguities or other grounds for legal challenges, he said, including possible challenges from homeless persons or groups arguing discrimination.

Existing bylaws don't even make it explicit that dogs on the streets or sidewalks must be leashed, according to Duthel.

Each Montreal household is already limited to two mature dogs; newborn puppies can't be kept longer than three months.

Fines for those who are caught breaking the toughened bylaws will be increased, Duthel said, from the current $100 plus costs for a first offence, although "I can't say now by how much."

The changes could be presented to the borough council as early as March 4, its next meeting, Duthel said.

They would then be voted on at the council's subsequent meeting, scheduled for April 1.

While police issue a ticket to dog-owners whenever a bite is reported to them, Duthel said, an unknown number of bites never show up in statistics because they aren't reported.

Police issued a total of 43 tickets for unruly pet behaviour - including dog bites - across Ville Marie in 2007, Duthel said, more than double the 2006 total of 18.

Even when they don't result in a ticket, he said, "incidents are multiplying. "

More than 200 dog complaints were phoned to the Access Ville Marie service between last April and October, Duthel said, either about unruly dogs or absent owners.

Pit bulls are already banned in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, Duthel said.

"To restrict people to two (dogs at a time on walks) is unfair," said Rona Dermer, who owns two poodles and frequently exercises three of four dogs at a time for friends and neighbours in the Shaughnessy Village neighbourhood on the west side of Ville Marie.

"Some people can handle four or more," Dermer argued.

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