The BC SPCA wants to change these 5 local pet laws

Policy wonk Amy Morris on how Vancouver could be more pet-friendly

March 22, 2016

By Trevor Melanson

Last week, we published No Pet City, our story about the difficulty pet-owners who rent face in this city when it comes to finding a place to live. We spoke with Amy Morris, policy and outreach officer at the BC SPCA, about these critical issues (including a couple we didn’t have room for in our April magazine). Here, in Morris’s own words, are five policy changes that would benefit pet owners.

1. With reasonable exceptions, B.C. landlords shouldn’t be able to ban pets (like in Ontario)

“We would be in favour of it, definitely. As an organization, anything that promotes equality and not discriminating against a certain segment of the population. If there was a law that said you cannot discriminate against people who have pets, we would support that…. Many can’t find affordable housing—there might be pet-friendly housing that’s $400 above what they can pay—or they’re getting evicted because they couldn’t pay rent, and there’s nowhere else to go that would allow pets.”

2. B.C.’s Strata Property Act shouldn’t limit the number of pets to just one per tenant

“Stratas have this standard strata bylaw that says one pet allowed, which means anyone who has companion pets wouldn’t be able to move into the average condo building out there…. Often, rental housing is coming from stratas—condos. So there’s two layers of governance on a tenant: they have strata rules they have to follow and then they have the landlord rule they have to follow. I’ve found places where the landlord says I don’t care, but the strata cares. One place I found, for example, said yeah, that’s fine, two dogs, and then I looked into the strata rules before I signed the lease, and the strata rules said, no, you can only have one pet. So, if I were to move into that place, the strata could continually fine my landlord until I moved out basically…. A lot of animals serve as companions for each other. For example, my beagle was really sensitive and wanted another being around, and so he would cry if he was ever left totally alone versus if he had his companion.”

3. TransLink should allow leashed dogs on the SkyTrain and buses

“I spoke to TransLink in 2011 on this topic, to the board of directors, and at the time it was when everything fell apart financially, so it was bad timing on my part. But somebody else went again last year and spoke to TransLink and asked for this, so they actually put a survey out in their have-your-say TransLink panel asking about whether people would be open to it, and it’s something we would absolutely be in favour of, as long as it’s hinged on responsible pet guardianship. Calgary does a really good job of this: they allow pets on transit, and they haven’t had any problems because their entire model of communication is based on responsible pet guardianship and defining what that means.

“[The current situation] is a real problem for people who are physically disabled, who can’t drive a car and have companion pets. I have a friend that’s in a wheelchair. She has a companion pet, it’s not a therapy dog, but she can’t get anywhere with her dog because she can’t drive a car, so she’s restricted in where she can bring her dog, in access to veterinarians. It’s not a therapy dog, so the argument is that the dog could be left at home, but when it comes to actually trying to get to a vet, it can be really challenging.

“[As for allergies,] there was a study done in Helsinki, and what they found was that the allergens that were on people’s clothes are already enough that bringing a pet on transit wouldn’t significantly increase the amount of allergens on transit, so a lot of the arguments around allergens aren’t scientifically grounded.”

4. Restaurants should have the option to allow leashed dogs on patios

“In Portland, there are restaurants you can bring your pets to, whereas in B.C. you can’t bring a dog onto any kind of patio where they’re serving food…. I have a scarf from a restaurant in Portland that I went to called the Tin Shed, and it’s a really neat place that you go and have your lunch, and people bring their dogs. Tons of people have their dogs there, and they’re all just laying there. They’re mellow, not doing anything wrong, but there’s some real fear associated with bringing animals into shared spaces with people. I think that when it actually happens and people experience it, they realize there’s not the harm in it that they thought there would be…. We have cities elsewhere in the northwest that allow pets on transit, allow pets in areas where you’re being served food, and that’s not something that we have here.”

5. The city should help re-home cats, not just dogs

“In Vancouver, the municipal bylaw only covers dogs. If you lose your cat, they aren’t going to take in your cat or help find your cat, so that ends up being left to the SPCA. So it’s a grey area, where the municipality provides services to take in stray dogs, help them get back to their owners, and to re-home dogs, but they don’t do the same with cats. What that creates is this divide of value, where dogs are valued higher because they’re being invested in by the municipality, whereas cats are seen as more disposable because the municipality isn’t willing to invest in them…. More cities have dog policies than dog and cat policies, but there are a large number of cities that do have policies related to getting cats back into their homes.”

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