Barrister and Solicitor
Legal Writing and Research
Dog and Cat Control Law (Ontario)
Chapter 1 - Overview
This Dog and Cat Control Law (Ontario) Guide tries to integrate the several Ontario laws that deal with the control of dogs and cats into a comprehensive, coherent whole.
Given the significant interest in this area of law amongst cat and dog rescuers and private shelters out there, I have pondered a better name for it - one acknowledging that the law can be expected to develop towards accomodating those efforts. However the fact remains that the law on feral and stray cats and dogs is overwhelmingly that established by Ontario and by municipalities for their control, primarily for perceived nuisance and - in the case of dogs - also safety reasons.
This Guide does not address issues of animal welfare in the sense of care standards or anti-cruelty laws, except as a natural consequence of trying to keep them out of the nastier aspects of Ontario's pound system. I anticipate in the near future writing a sister Guide: "Animal Welfare Law in Ontario", as soon as Bill 50, which amends the OSPCA Act, is passed into law. That Bill will greatly expand both the range of substantive protections for animals in Ontario generally, and the procedural oppourtunities for its enforcement.
That said, I have already written a sister Guide on the topic of "Animals and the Criminal Law (Cruelty)(Canada)", which explores the primary federal criminal anti-cruelty laws. This topic is very much a foundation for understanding all Canadian animal laws.
As readers will soon realize, this Guide is overwhelmingly about the legal situation of dogs, as they have attracted the bulk of legal regulation. Consequently, I have addressed cats in their own specific chapter [Ch.9], to clarify issues that are unique to them, and to indicate which of the other legal regimes apply to them as well. That chapter is the best starting place for those interested in cats alone.
(b) Seizure and the Pound System
The heart of Ontario (and municipal) dog and cat control law is the nexus between seizure of animals under municipal by-laws or the Dog Owners Liability Act (DOLA), and their delivery to municipal pounds.
By this simple set of events, legal machinery of huge significance for the life and well-being of the animal moves quickly into operation, and we find ourselves driven inexorably onto the dangerous ground of the Animals for Research Act ["ARA"]. While many municipalities have established quite compassionate and progressive treatment of pound animals, this is not always the case. Some seized Ontario animals are still sent off to the uncertain fate of research, from which only very few return.
I address the law of seizure in Ch.2 and the law of pounds and research sale in Ch.3.
Shelters are also addressed in Ch.3. I distinguish shelters from pounds as they do not trigger the operation of the Animals for Research Act, leaving them very much in the same legal position as most "owners" of animals.
That said, the ownership status of 'found' animals is quite legally uncertain, and in most cases will remain practically uncertain for the time that the animal will be in shelter care before adoption. This is a topic of great importance to animal rescuers, uncertain as to whether a cat or dog "at large" is truly a stray, feral cat - or simply let run free by nearby owners.
(d) Pit Bulls
Readers are likely aware of the 2005 amendments to DOLA and the ARA, which imposed the pit bull ban [Ch.5]. While this ban grandparented into legality pre-existing pit bulls, it did so with strict requirements of leashing and muzzling while in public, and sterilization. The ban has numerous other aspects including limited bans on transfering such "restricted" pit bulls, bans on importation and breeding, and more.
"Banned" pit bulls on the other hand are simply illegal and subject to immediate seizure and delivery to a pound, where their options are few and mostly unhappy.
(e) Dog Control and Destruction Orders
The Dog Owners' Liability Act ["DOLA"] has a specific court application regime for addressing dogs (typically not "in custody") accused of biting, attacking or menacing - and for persons accused of otherwise violating DOLA provisions with respect to specific dogs.
This regime [see Ch.4] provides for court applications for dog control and destruction orders. As is the situation for pit bulls in pounds, pit bulls under this court order regime are treated very harshly.
Like most Ontario regulatory regimes, both DOLA and the ARA create prosecutable offences for violation of most of their provisions [see Ch.6].
That said, prosecutorial enforcement of the ARA is prohibited to any except ARA inspectors. On the other hand, DOLA offences may be privately prosecuted but are almost all designed to bolster control efforts - not to advance animal welfare goals.
Of course, it is still possible to lay criminal anti-cruelty charges - in a proper case - in relation to pound, research facility or other related activities.
(g) Other Topics
Also addressed in this Guide are traditional issues of dog trespass, mostly arising in agricultural food animal situations [see Ch.7].
As well the always important - and soon to be
expanded (into animal welfare) - role of municipalities in dog and cat control is addressed in Ch.8.