Bylaw chief defends hefty fees for wayward canines

Ruff justice: impounded pooch costs couple $490

By JOHN BIRD

Call it a tale of two dogs – or more accurately, two tales of one dog.

One tale is Betty Ann and Randy Eaton's, who want Iqaluit council to tell them why their dog Ruff keeps getting picked up and impounded by the city's bylaw officers?

The frustrated couple told council last week that Ruff is just a big, friendly galoot who has learned how to get loose with surprising regularity.

He loves to play with kids, they said. Sometimes it's the kids who let Ruff loose.

"All the neighbours love him," Randy claimed.

Each time Ruff is impounded it costs more to get him back, Betty Ann said. The last time, with all the fees, it came to $490.

"I feel like we're being targeted," an emotional Randy told council. "It looks like it's because he's an easy dog to catch, so they can say: ‘Look, we got another dog.'"

The other tale comes from Rod Mugford, Iqaluit's chief bylaw enforcement officer, who is adamant that he and his staff do not target certain dogs.

Mugford told Nunatsiaq News he could not comment on the Eatons' specific case. He will report on it to council for an in-camera discussion, he said, before council makes its own response to the Eatons.

But public safety is the bylaw officers' first priority when it comes to dogs, Mugford said. If someone says a dog chased them, the bylaw officers will act on the complaint even if the owner claims his dog doesn't do that.

He said there have already been 42 dog bites reported this year by mid-November, a more than 60 per cent jump over the 26 bites reported for all of last year.

"One thing I've learned," Mugford said. "A dog at home can be completely different than the same dog running out in the community."

"If we catch the dog, we'll impound it," he said, adding they'll do it even if they find the dog sitting back on its own front steps, if they know it has been running loose.

"We can't go against our own legislation," he said.

He also explained the graduated fee for getting your dog back once bylaw officers have picked it up.

The first time, it costs $40 – if the dog has a city tag. If not, it costs $75, plus $25 to buy the tag you must have before they'll release the animal.

The second time the dog is impounded within the same 12-month period, the cost is $150. The third time it's $300.

"That's a deterrent," Mugford said. Individuals need to learn they have to keep their dog chained.

There are also boarding fees of $10 a day the dog has to be held.

"You have to have money to own a dog in this community," Betty Ann Eaton told council. Paying so much to get your dog back, she said, is like taking food off the table for your family.

The dog issue in Iqaluit may be yet another symptom of a society that has grown from a traditional community where working dogs to pull qamotiqs were a necessity for survival, to a capital city where people have to live together in more formally regulated ways, and where even sled dogs have now become largely pets.

"We're definitely getting more breeds from the south now," says Janine Budgell, who runs the animal shelter as a volunteer with the Iqaluit Humane Society. Many of these dogs, she says, just aren't adapted to the northern climate.

Nor are the cats, now arriving at the shelter in increasing numbers, says Budgell. Or the two turtles and an iguana that were left to die in an apartment last week by someone moving back south.

The shelter takes animals from owners no longer able to care for them, as well as those abandoned by their owners, and those not claimed back from bylaw officers.

Budgell said one of the puppies she had at the shelter last week was found abandoned in a dumpster.

Of the 232 dogs impounded by the city so far this year, Mugford said, only 86 were claimed by their owners.

Of the rest, 53 were euthanized. Some were killed because they were deemed dangerous, like the dog that bit Astro Theatre owner Bryan Pearson recently, after he found it hungry and tied up, frozen into the mud and its own feces.

But that number is less than half the 112 dogs killed last year, before the humane society started taking them.

Now, says Budgell, if the dogs are not adopted back into the community, every Tuesday anywhere between five and 13 dogs are shipped out to Ottawa for adoption through the humane society there.

It saves a lot of doggy lives.

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