A Castlegar bylaw requiring owners of pit bulls or Staffordshire terriers to pay $1,000 per year for a licence is deterring at least one couple from moving to the city, and former Mayor Mike O’Connor says that’s exactly why the exorbitant fee was implemented a decade ago.
“They’re dangerous dogs and if they want to have them in Castlegar they cost $1,000,” O’Connor said. “People can say what they want about them but their reputation is not good and I don’t want my young grandchildren ripped apart by a pit bull.”
But the bylaw came as a shock to Theresa Hodge, who commutes daily from Salmo to Castlegar for work.
With her children now grown up and living away from home, she and her husband recently started looking into moving to Castlegar.
In Salmo, her year-and-a-half-old Staffordshire terrier/lab cross, Jessie, only costs $15 a year to license, so Hodge decided to find out about Castlegar’s fees.
“Someone told me to check into Castlegar’s because they heard it was expensive,” she said.
When she found out how much it would be, she said moving to the city wouldn’t be an option anymore.
“I’m sorry but I’m not getting rid of my dog,” Hodge said. “We were going to move to Castlegar but not now.”
Hodge said it isn’t fair to give an entire breed a bad name based on a few horror stories of vicious animals.
“They’re not all the same,” she said. “I really think it’s how they’re raised and how you treat them. Any dog can be mean and get in trouble.”
The dog licence fees were implemented in November 2001 and passed through city council with a unanimous vote, O’Connor said.
“There were a lot of problems with [vicious dogs] at the time,” he said.
After the bylaw was passed, O’Connor said a couple of people moved out of the city because they didn’t want to pay the licence fee or get rid of their dogs.
“It was effective while I was mayor but I think it’s less effective now,” he said.
A total of 217 dogs were registered in Castlegar in 2002, according to city records, compared with 277 in 2010.
A city official said the numbers haven’t fluctuated too much since the bylaw passed.
Currently, there are no pit bull or Staffordshire terriers registered in Castlegar. As of March 24, a total of 215 dogs were registered across the city.
O’Connor believes people have become complacent and the bylaw isn’t being enforced.
Bylaw officer Rick Smith said this isn’t the case.
He said he does random checks and also investigates complaints, and has been regularly patrolling the area around the Millennium Walkway recently.
“I would say probably, if I recognize the dog as a pit bull I’m going to question it for sure,” he said.
Smith added that, compared to surrounding areas, there aren’t a lot of pit bull or Staffordshire terriers to be found in Castlegar.
This may be because Castlegar’s licence fees for these types of dogs is the highest out of any West Kootenay community.
In Trail and Nelson, it costs $300 annually to register a pit bull. Grand Forks charges $30 for any kind of dog, and in Salmo it’s $15. Licence fees for other dogs range from $25 to $45, depending on where you live and if your dog is neutered or spayed.
O’Connor doesn’t think $1,000 is unreasonable.
“$1,000 is prohibitive,” he said. “If you want to have the dog and think it’s the greatest dog in the world, then buck up the money.”
Current city councillors Gord Turner and Kirk Duff were also on council in 2001 and helped pass the bylaw.
“It was a pre-emptive strike,” Duff said, explaining that the bylaw came to the table because there were many dog attacks throughout B.C. at the time, and council wanted to send a clear message that people would have to be very serious about wanting a pit bull or Staffordshire terrier if they lived in Castlegar.
Both Turner and Duff believe the $1,000 price tag should stay, although neither had an idea of how effective the bylaw has been over the last 10 years.
Current Mayor Lawrence Chernoff said the bylaw may be one to revisit.
“Maybe it doesn’t have viability,” he said. “A bylaw is only as good as you enforce it.”
He did agree that it should cost more to license certain dogs over others, though.
“It’s a safety issue we’ve found,” he said. “I know each dog is individual but we need to set the parameters.”