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Hamilton Issues Barking Dog Fee Increase Fines Now Capped at $25,000

Hamilton residents with barking dogs were in for an unpleasant surprise with recent changes made to ordinances that seek to decrease noise levels. Residents are already issued a fine for excessive barking. However, the fines have increased to a maximum of $25,000 for repeat offenders.

According to bylaw director Ken Leendertse, the fines were increased as a result of the city’s nearly 600 complaints received annually. Furthermore, handling incidents of excessive barking will be the responsibility of animal control, rather than officials. The burden of proof will also no longer be on the complainant, as animal control officers could report to the homes of alleged offenders immediately after a complaint has been made. The new bylaws group barking dog violations into a ticketing system similar to that of parking tickets.

 

Leendertse discussed the rationale behind the move. “We looked at everything we’ve done with barking dogs and said, ‘We haven’t been doing a very good job. How can we do it better?’ So, we assigned it to an animal services officer, and we wanted to empower that officer to have better tools.”

However, residents should not worry. Although the new system allows for immediate action to be taken upon receipt of a complaint, animal control officers will not be removing the canine companion or issuing fines right away. They will first attempt to educate owners and offer tips on training their pets to behave, while also checking to see if owners have dog licenses.

“We give them a warning. We give them solutions, but if it continues and the neighbours have had enough, then we look at charges,” said Leendertse.

Non-compliance can result in a fine of $75 under the Responsible Pet Owner Act. Further issues will be considered an offence under the noise bylaws, resulting in fines of around $240, eventually escalating to a maximum of $25,000.

 

Other cities have begun to consider similar changes. Among these is London, Ontario. London’s chief municipal law enforcement officer, Orest Katolyk, stated that the system is a more efficient way to deal with the issue. “What that does is put the onus on the person that receives a penalty to appeal to a hearing office,” said Katolyk.

Fines start out much higher in London than in Hamilton, with a $175 fee for first offenders and $5,000 for a second offence. However, the current maximum for the city is $10,000.

Many residents have expressed concerns regarding these changes, particularly where animal control is concerned, especially now that the burden of proof no longer lies with the person filing a complaint. According to Chris White, owner and manager at The Urban Zoo pet store, owners’ biggest fears center around animal control and their involvement with the new system, especially knowing that they will be checking for licenses that some may not have. The new rules also open the door for people to report their neighbours in retaliation for a dispute.

While the changes to the system and the enormously large maximum fine have residents worried, White states that he does not believe the city will actually issue the fine. “I think the $25,000 is a shock-and-awe number. It would have to escalate into something pretty bad first.”

 

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