Montreal’s municipal election results showcased the city’s true desire for change. Newly elected mayor Valérie Plante and her party Projet Montréal ran a campaign based on promises that would greatly alter the status quo. One particularly popular pledge involved animal welfare.
Taking on this contentious issue obviously worked. Now, we animal advocates wait anxiously for Mayor Plante to take the helm, with hope that these more critical matters will get her immediate attention.
- How Valérie Plante proved the pundits wrong
- Montreal’s pit bull ban hits homeless the hardest
- Why does Montreal insist on reviving the cruel tradition of the urban rodeo?
The Calgary model
In their election program, Plante and her party pledged to “implement a bylaw that will truly enhance public safety and reduce the number of bites, regardless of the breed or appearance of the dog.”
Projet Montreal’s animal welfare critic, Verdun City Councillor Sterling Downey, has stated numerous times in the media that the party will repeal the city’s current breed-specific legislation, which is widely believed by experts to be unenforceable and ineffective at keeping the public safe.
The party plans to look toward Calgary’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw. Known internationally as the Calgary model, the bylaw puts greater focus on owner responsibility, including substantial fines for pets involved in attacks and widespread public education. The Montreal SPCA has publicly supported the Calgary model, which local veterinarian Dr. Judith Weissmann has described as the “gold standard” for municipal pet legislation.
But as of today, local animal shelters, rescues and transporters are still struggling with the fallout from former mayor Denis Coderre’s ban on pit bull-type dogs. Homeless dogs resembling the barred breed are being turned away by rescues and sent out of the province, while innocent pets continue to be unnecessarily discriminated against and muzzled in public. Thus, pit bull owners and advocates wait with hope that this issue will sit near the top of the mayor's new to-do list.
Extreme temperatures, cruel conditions
Another popular point of Plante’s plan is the promise to “replace calèches with activities free of cruelty to animals.” The calèche industry, which has already been banned in cities such as Toronto, Paris and London, has been under significant scrutiny in Montreal in recent years, following reports of animals being housed in neglectful conditions and suffering injuries on the job.
A particularly pressing concern for Montreal animal advocates is that the calèche horses are often forced to work in extreme temperatures. As winter approaches, advocates hope to see quick action by the new mayor that will allow these overworked animals to finally be free from their urban slavery and allowed to retire to refuges once and for all.
Long way to go
Advocates are also hoping for swift action for pets currently kept tied up outdoors, permanently or for long periods of time. Plante’s program includes a call to prohibit excessive tethering. A similar bylaw was passed in Toronto last spring.
And following in the steps of Vancouver, Projet Montréal plans to require that pet stores offer their animals for adoption (though it is unclear if this involves an actual ban on the retail sale of pets, as has been implemented in Vancouver, as well as Beaconsfield, Hudson, Mont Royal and Rosemont La-Petite Patrie in Quebec).
Other important actions Montreal advocates hope the new animal-friendly mayor will soon spend time considering include turning over all animal control responsibilities to the city and non-profit groups like the SPCA, rather than for-profit shelters like the infamous Berger Blanc; supporting the catch, sterilization, release and maintenance program for feral cats; banning commercial (mill) and backyard pet breeding operations; prohibiting cruel and exploitative events such as rodeos and exotic animal expos; and prohibiting the transfer of lost or abandoned animals to research labs.
Animal welfare concerns are increasingly becoming popular political issues, and voters are showing where their support lies. The city of Montreal has a long way to go to make things right for the animals, but now has a leader with the desire, ability and compassion to finally get us there. It's time to get to work.
Jessica Scott-Reid is a Canadian freelance writer and animal advocate.