Calgary to revise pet ownership bylaw for first time in more than a decade

There’s a city survey collecting information on the birds, the bees and much more.

Questions like: how many dogs should one person walk at once? What’s a reasonable number of cats to one household? Should Calgary join the ranks of other urban hen communities — and what about the backyard bees?

And that’s because the city hasn’t reviewed its responsible pet ownership bylaw in more than a decade.

Jennifer Lawlor, a business strategist with the City of Calgary, said while the rules seem to work, a lot has changed since they were written.

“We know that there are some trends that have changed around some of the animals that people like to keep in cities and urban agriculture is an example of that,” Lawlor said. “That could be things like beekeeping, or hens in the backyard, and we’re trying to get Calgarians’ opinions on those animals.”

She said the themes the city wants to hear about were developed from citizen concerns, either from councillor offices or through 311 complaints. 

“These are things that we know that citizens are already concerned about, and we’re looking for some more information on it from [the] broader public.”

Urban beekeeping

Currently, the city doesn’t have rules about urban beekeeping — bees fall under provincial regulations. But the survey does touch on the pollinators, as they’ve become a popular hobby in recent years.

Liz Goldie has a backyard hive and she’s happy to see the bees alive and well. Sometimes it can be tough to make it through the winter.

Liz Goldie, director of the Calgary and District Beekeepers Association, says her group puts a lot of emphasis on educating the public. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Goldie is the director of the Calgary and District Beekeepers Association and says the group has worked with the city on urban beekeeping guidelines. Those include registering beehives with Alberta Agriculture, recommendations on a number of hives depending on yard size and how to be a good neighbour with bees. 

“I don’t suspect that there’ll be any major changes,” she said. 

Her group already puts a lot of emphasis into public outreach to try and educate the public about how to properly keep bees. 

“There are wrong ways,” Goldie said. “There’s also a lot of myths that are associated with bees. And the main one is that a lot of people mistake a honey bee, or bees, for wasps and wasps are just a totally different animal.”

Urban beekeeping has become a popular hobby in recent years. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Goldie said education is key when it comes to beekeeping, and many who take one of her group’s courses decide it’s too much work, and not for them.

Another consideration she says she made herself was for her neighbours. 

“Obviously, your neighbours have to be able to enjoy their property, their backyards … they’re allowed to enjoy it the way they want and that has to always be respected.”

Backyard hens

The idea of having hens in yards is also exciting for some Calgarians, especially those who have watched communities around the city like Okotoks and Edmonton complete urban hen pilots and build programs to regulate backyard hens.

Online, in gardening and urban agriculture groups, this survey is being touted as a way to let the city know it’s time to let hens strut in urban yards.

Calgary last debated a pilot in 2015 but the idea never went forward. Recently, the city created a Livestock Emotional Support Animal (LESA) licensing system under the responsible pet ownership bylaw. 

The idea was hatched by Coun. Jyoti Gondek after a woman’s illegal coop was reported to bylaw officers. The woman was keeping the pets to help with her anxiety and depression. 

Lawlor said the point of the city’s responsible pet ownership bylaws are to keep citizens, and pets, happy and safe.

“Some people might think that it’s just for pet owners, and those are the ones that might be interested. But it’s really all Calgarians that are affected by this file,” Lawlor said. “So whether or not you own pets or not, I encourage you to fill out our survey or come to one of our events. “

The city will be holding in-person input sessions and focus group engagement through March. There will be another set of feedback sessions after the city has released its recommendations in June. 

Finally, by March 2021 council members should debate and vote on bylaw amendments.

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