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Firing up bylaw services

Volunteer firefighter and current bylaw officer Kyle Lowe distributes photos to social media in hopes of finding the owner of this beautiful pup he picked up in Rankin Inlet this past week. - photo courtesy of Mark Wyatt

The hamlet of Rankin Inlet's bylaw services has a new look after being transferred to the local fire department under the direction of Fire Chief Mark Wyatt.

The new phone number for the Rankin Inlet Bylaw Services will be 645-2598 during business hours, with the bylaw emergency line being 645-2525.

Wyatt said the goal of bylaw services is to improve animal control and the enforcement of other Rankin bylaws.

He said making the move was an ongoing process for the better part of the past year.

“SAO Justin Merritt had asked me my thoughts on taking the bylaw on shortly after taking the fire chief's position, but I thought, at the time, I was pretty new to the job for that responsibility,” said Wyatt.

“We continued to talk, and I gave him my report on it, and, after I'd been on the job about a year, or so, the hamlet came back to me and asked again if I'd be interested in doing it.

ur bylaw services.”

The previous two bylaw officers have resigned for personal reasons, so Wyatt is in the process of hiring new officers for the service.

He is using a volunteer firefighter to perform the bylaw duties during business hours until suitable candidates can be found.

Wyatt said the jobs have been posted, with the cutoff date for applications being this coming Friday, May 5.

He said one of his priorities is to change how bylaw officers in the community have been looked upon during much of the past.

“I'd like to change the perception of bylaw in this town and make it a respected position that people look up to, as opposed to here comes this guy who's going to take my dog and shoot it, which, incidently, we're not going to do anymore.

“We're going to get our officers very involved in enforcing all aspects of our bylaws, including traffic violations, helmet violations and noise complaints.

“Our ultimate goal is complience, with enforcement only when necessary.

“If the community understands what the rules are, then it's very easy to play by them, so improved communication leading to more compliance is the direction we're taking.”

Wyatt said the majority of the loose dogs being picked up are not bad animals.

He said some just like to roam, while others find ways to get free of their leashes.

“Our goal is to pick these dogs up and return them to their owners, not take them to the dump, tie them up, and shoot them after two days, because that's something I don't really want to see happening.

“Occassionaly, some people will bring their dog to us after they've decided they don't want a dog anymore for whatever reasons.

“Sometimes, in the past, the process has been to uthenize the dog, but it's far better if we can place those dogs in other homes here, or ship some of them down to Winnipeg and have them placed.

“We're not going to be in the practice of killing dogs if we can avoid it – aggressive dogs who bite, are a danger to the community or have rabies are a different story – because killing a perfectly healthy, affectionate dog just doesn't make any sense to me.”

Wyatt said the department is hiring bylaw enforcement officers to be a whole lot more than glorified dog catchers or animal control officers.

That being said, he added, animal control is a big deal in Rankin and he wants a system in place that is fair to all parties, including the dogs, themselves.

“We've all ready received some very positive feedback from our placing photos of dogs that we pick up onto Facebook as a way to find their owners.

“We picked up six dogs the first day; with five of them going back to their owners, and it taking me about 90 minutes to find a good home willing to adopt a beautiful black-and-white puppy we had.

“We have our work cut-out for us and we won't be perfect, but we're certainly going to work harder to provide good service to the community, and, by approaching it with a positive attitude, I feel we're going to get positive results.

“We're going to build a dog pound, rather than just tie the dogs at the dump, and the healing facility is currently building us six dog houses for the pound, once we find a proper, safe location.”

SAO Merritt said Wyatt's proposal was brought to hamlet council and approved after a few changes were implemented.

He said the hamlet council will monitor the change going forward and, hopefully, the arrangement will turn out to be a permanent one.

“There were some synergies there, with having two vehicles and bylaw officers, for the most part, having always helped the fire department when fires broke out in the community by co-ordinating streets being shutdown and things of that nature,” said Merritt.

“We've never really enforced all of our bylaws in the past, but, with this setup, we hope to begin actually doing that by slowly implementing each one with bylaw -- Hondas and ATVs, people not wearing helmets, and dealing with the RCMP -- and trying to enforce them a little bit more.

“We're also looking at the possibility of giving volunteer firefighters some additional training to be able to cover shifts for bylaw officers when they're out of town on vacation, or whatever.

“So, if everything falls into place the way we hope, this arrangement will work much better.”

Merritt said it remains to be seen how the community will react to the coming changes with bylaw services.

He said the hamlet will monitor the situation and evaluate it as it goes along, and it won't hesitate to have the officers ramp their efforts up, or tone them down, depending on the department's performance and the community's response.

“I think the biggest thing is education with our bylaws.

“The new dog bylaw has been given its third reading and is now official, and there were things added to it from the public consultation we held, but the biggest message we got from the community was the importance of communication so that everyone knows what dog owners are responsible for and what the hamlet is responsible for.

“As part of that, we're working with Page Burt to have a three-page brochure produced like the one we saw in Yellowknife that highlights important facts for dog owners to know.

“We're going to have it translated and sent out to every home owner so they know their responibilities, we know ours, and the process involved when dogs are picked up is clearly defined so it's easily understood by the community.”