One young resident, with the mayor coming out firmly on her side, received some good news when Iqaluit city council agreed Dec. 12 to an exception to its responsible pet ownership bylaw.
Six-year-old Drew Manning, whose mother Deatra Walsh made the appeal to council, sat on the edge of her seat as the mayor, deputy mayor and four city councillors decided Bear’s fate.
Bear is the young dog the family had been fostering for a week and – despite already having a pug named Peg, a terrier named Jake, and a Labrador cross named Tayl – the family decided they wanted to adopt Bear.
But the city’s bylaw only allows for three dogs over the age of four months per household.
Prior to addressing council, Walsh said Peg had come up to Iqaluit with the family, but it took in Jake and Tayl because they needed homes.
“We bumped into them in various places,” said Walsh, who explained to council her partner Gerald Manning similarly bumped into Bear.
“Needless to say, we’re dog lovers. Or crazy. Gerald drove by the Iqaluit Humane Society last week and he spied a puppy, a husky puppy named Bear. Bear, as we came to find out, was on her way to SPCA in Quebec.”
Manning went home, asked Walsh if they should get another dog. Walsh said OK.
“So she doesn’t have to leave Iqaluit,” said Walsh.
“But in trying to adopt her from the humane society, we found out we couldn’t because of the bylaw.”
Walsh then appealed on the basis of the name and spirit of the bylaw, outlining a variety of the family’s responsibilities towards their dogs: nursing them when they are sick or injured – one had been attacked by a loose dog – ensuring proper licensing and vaccination, general care, and limiting where the dogs can roam or not, and always walking them on leash.
“I want to assure you we’re responsible pet owners.” she said.
Councillors then discussed the matter.
Coun. Joanasie Akumalik had earlier noted the Walsh Mannings could have secretly kept an extra dog, but they came forward. He said when residents come forward, the city has opportunities to fix bylaws.
Coun. Simon Nattaq said he wanted to approve the request, and added he understood the family are responsible pet owners.
“Sometimes there are people out there who complain about dogs,” he said through a translator. “There are people with vicious dogs, tied outside all the time, neglected.”
Mayor Madeleine Redfern, who attended the meeting by phone, attested to the family being responsible, as she lives a couple of houses away. Redfern said she didn’t even know the Walsh Mannings had three dogs. And she said in a neighbourhood with a children’s playground, neighbours do complain about dogs regularly, but no one has complained about these dogs.
“And bylaw will also let me know. I can attest that without a doubt Deatra and Gerald are responsible dog owners,” said Redfern. “I wholeheartedly approve of the exception.”
Why yes to one family and no to another?
Council eventually got around to the crux of the matter, which centered around criteria for such exceptions.
“Without any castings of aspersions on pet owners in front of us, I’m interested in the process, what criteria it would take for council to decide upon making exceptions for one family and not for another. In this case we’ve had people attesting to their great pet ownership but I don’t know what it takes for us to say yes to one group and no to another group,” said deputy mayor Romeyn Stevenson.
He referred back to Akumalik’s comments about fixing bylaws, in this case adding criteria.
Redfern jumped in, saying she’d twice specifically requested that the chief municipal bylaw officer attend the Dec. 12 meeting and that if he wasn’t able to attend, that he provide information to council.
“Specifically about the bylaw, as well as information specific to these dog owners to verify there had been no complaints,” she said.
The particular staff member was in fact present, but Stevenson suggested an examination of the bylaw in question would be better carried out by the public safety committee rather than at the council level.
A motion was passed to make the exception for the family, but it was understood the public safety committee would pick up the matter in January.
Stevenson, who is on the public safety committee, seemed satisfied.
“We can look at the bylaw and clarifying it so that methods for exceptions to be made, and maybe criteria so it would be clearer than: we know you, so yes, or we don’t know you, so no,” he said.
Meanwhile, Drew, who patiently sat through the 30-minute discussion, had passed a message to her mother.
“It would be an honour for us to keep Bear,” she said, thus concluding the matter.