BOWDEN — Community residents concerned about amendments to the municipality’s animal bylaw as it affects dogs plan to present a petition calling for those changes to be rescinded or at least for further dialogue on the issue.
They hope to obtain about 300 signatures and present the petition to council by the July 9 deadline.
However, there’s a chance that petition might not need to be presented.
In an interview with the Albertan, Mayor Robb Stuart said it’s clear to him that those changes might have to be re-thought after several dog owners registered their concern at an open house at the Friendship Centre and again during town council’s June 13 meeting.
He said that proposed amendments could be presented during council’s next meeting. Asked when that next council meeting was, he was not sure.
The revised bylaw changed the number of dogs allowed without a hobby licence from three to two.
And the fee for a hobby licence was raised five-fold to $250 from $50.
Those wishing to obtain that licence have to apply for it and neighbours have 30 days to provide their response to that idea.
Local resident and dog owner Sharman Baldry as well as dog groomer Jessica Caldwell object to the changes and say the municipality didn’t give them proper notice.
During an interview, Baldry said the new fee is far higher than those charged in larger communities.
She said she only learned about the changes “inadvertently” via social media.
When told about that, town officials said word of the changes had been posted on the municipality's website.
Baldry told them that’s not good enough because not everyone in Bowden checks out the town's website.
She did some research, including the Municipal Government Act, which governs how municipalities are supposed to operate.
Baldry was told she was one of six who would be affected by the changes.
“I said, 'Why weren’t one of six – or any of us – contacted?'” Baldry said.
“We’re responsible pet owners. We get our dogs licensed every year, we vet them, they’re vaccinated, they’re microchipped – everything.
“You would think if it has some kind of change, especially to a bylaw, that we would be notified (before the revised bylaw was given third and final reading)."
“I did say, ‘Was this a cash grab or personal prejudice from councillor or councillors?’” she later added.
Baldry said several times she and others asked what prompted council to change the bylaw in this way. She said councillors said it was merely deemed time to change it.
Stuart gave the same answer when that same question was posed to him. He said council has updated several bylaws in recent months, some of which were 20 years old.
Stuart said councillors weren’t prompted by any complaints from residents to change the number of dogs allowed before a hobby licence would have to be purchased.
“We just picked a number – three or two – we discussed and said two. And now with the people that are – we’re going to review it again, because maybe we did make a mistake,” he said.
“We directed administration to review the concerns and they will take that into account and present us with another revised bylaw.”
Stuart was asked if as a result of that review, council might change the bylaw so that owners would have to have more than three dogs before they would have to obtain a hobby licence.
“Could be," he said. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is, but we’re not – not until it’s actually passed by council, right?”
Stuart said the municipality did not adequately inform residents of the changes to the bylaw.
He said part of that falls on him because he believes he forgot to tell town staff to include information on those changes in their regular newsletter.
"They shouldn’t have to search for it,” he said.
However, Stuart also said to be informed, residents need to get more involved in things like public meetings. He noted that only about a dozen people came out to the open house.
And last year, only 10 people came out to a public meeting on crime held by RCMP, also in the Friendship Centre. And of that 10, five were elected officials.