Updates to the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw

The updated Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) Bylaw went into effect on January 1, 2022.

The updates recognize that pet ownership in Calgary has evolved, including an urban hen program, and the expansion of licensing that will regulate bee and pigeon keeping in spring/summer 2022. New programs and licensing are anticipated to be introduced in spring 2022 and more information will be made available here.

The bylaw update was guided by input from comprehensive public engagement.

Changes now in effect

Expanded authority of Chief Bylaw Officer

Following a severe injury to a person, severe injury or death to another animal, or other significant safety risks, accused dogs currently wait months in The City of Calgary’s Animal Services shelter until the Provincial Court can hear the owner’s case. The expanded authority for the Chief Bylaw Officer to designate animals vicious will allow the dog to return home once designated, with safety conditions put in place.

Pet ownership limitations to curb issues

Challenges addressing smell and noise complaints in households with large numbers of cats and/or dogs  informed a new limitation to ownership of six cats and six dogs per household. The City of Calgary will provide excess animal permits to transition households that already have large numbers of cats and dogs into the new bylaw regulations, as well as accommodate breeders, animal foster households, etc. 

Increased fines

The updated RPO bylaw continues to create a safe environment for pets and Calgarians. The bylaw also includes increases to fines for aggressive pet behaviours. 

Expanded nuisance designation

Currently, an animal can be declared a nuisance when:

  • it has repeatedly threatened or committed aggressive behaviour,
  • has been found running at large more than once,
  • repeatedly causes noise that disturbs any person, or
  • the owner has demonstrated an inability to control the dog in an off-leash area.

The updated bylaw includes an expanded nuisance condition to help curb further concerning aggressive or nuisance behaviour. This would be determined on a case-by-case basis, where specific controls can be put in place to ensure community safety measures are available in a timely manner.

Number of off-leash dogs

Individuals will be limited to care for and control no more than six off-leash dogs in an off-leash area at once, for reasonable monitoring. There is no limit to the number of dogs that can be walked on-leash. The City of Calgary will consult with the dog walking industry on this item and report back to Council by the end of 2021 with any amendments following.

What isn’t changing

Enforcement of the bylaw

Community Peace Officers investigate through a lens of compassion and empathy while seeking to address the root cause of a problem. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis and officers consider the purpose and context of the situation. They apply objective standards during the application of enforcement to determine if there is an offence. 

Barking, biting or chasing behaviours

In the current RPO Bylaw, an owner of an animal must ensure that the animal does not bark, howl, make noise that causes a disturbance. The current bylaw also prohibits pet owners from allowing their animal to bite, bark at, or chase stock animals, bicycles, automobiles or other vehicles.

Complaints will continue to be investigated using objective criteria to determine if enforcement action is warranted.

New programs and licensing

Urban hen program

The City of Calgary has developed an urban hen program that will ensure proper housing, care conditions and address community-based concerns that are raised for backyard hen keeping. The program launches on March 21, 2022. Initial permits in 2022-2023 will be capped at 100 households. 

Urban bee keeping and licensing

Bee keeping is a successful and growing hobby in Calgary. Through regulation and licensing, The City of Calgary can help address any potential issues and create solutions for the benefit of the bees, keepers and neighbours. This will be introduced in spring 2022.

Frequently asked questions about this bylaw

Will limiting the number of six dogs off-leash in an off-leash park per person help with off-leash issues?

Through the research and engagement process, dog owners told us that they would like to see a limit on the number of dogs that can be walked off-leash by a person at one time. From a safety and animal welfare perspective, six off-leash dogs was considered a reasonable number for an individual to supervise and clean up after in an off-leash park. Other municipalities with off-leash limits in Alberta allow a maximum of six dogs.

No changes were made to the number of dogs that could be supervised on-leash by one person.

Why is The City of Calgary limiting the number of cats and dogs a household can have in the updated bylaw?

Calgarians widely supported a pet ownership limit of six dogs and six cats per household through engagement. Limiting the number of pets will help limit community concerns, including the accumulation of pet waste on a property or excessive noise due to barking. The proposed limit is higher than in many other cities to ensure that the introduction of limits is reasonable, balanced and addresses Calgary-specific issues.

For current pet owners that exceed the ownership limit, if all pets are licensed at the time the bylaw update goes into effect (January 1, 2022), they will not be subject to the new limitations with their existing pets. Additionally, the Chief Bylaw Officer will have the ability to grant permits for exemptions where reasonable.

What will urban bee keeping and licensing look like?

Bee keeping is a successful and growing hobby in Calgary and there can be public nuisance concerns. Through regulation and licensing, The City of Calgary can help address any problems and create solutions for the benefit of the bees, keepers and their neighbours. In spring 2022, The City of Calgary will introduce a program based on what has been working, expert perspectives, and what the licensing will regulate.

Under what conditions in the updated bylaw will the Chief Bylaw Officer designate an animal vicious?

In Calgary, a vicious dog is one that has chased, injured or bitten any other animal or human; damaged or destroyed public or private property; or, threatened or created the reasonable apprehension of a threat to a human, and which, in the opinion of a Justice, presents a threat of serious harm to other animals or humans. Currently 13 dogs in Calgary have this designation.

Through the updated bylaw, the Chief Bylaw Officer will be able to designate an animal vicious when there are reasonable grounds to believe the animal poses a risk to the health and safety of Calgarians. Seeking this designation through Provincial Court is often a long process during which the animal is held at Animal Services for months at a time. In overseeing vicious designations, the Chief Bylaw Officer can allow the animal to go home faster, with conditions that ensure public safety, which is a welfare benefit to the owner, animal and neighbouring community.

The decision of the Chief Bylaw Officer can be appealed to the Licence and Community Standards Appeal Board where an appellant has the right to a new hearing. Moving appeals to this administrative tribunal system should lead to more favourable outcomes and mitigate concerns more effectively as the Board is adding experts in animal health and animal behaviour onto the tribunal to adjudicate these matters.

What will the updated appeals process for nuisance/vicious declared pets look like?

Through the bylaw update, the scope and membership of the Licence and Community Standards Appeal Board will be expanded to hear appeals to vicious and nuisance animal designations and denials of excess animal permits. Expanded membership will include one veterinarian and one certified professional dog trainer as part of a tribunal system, including those with animal behaviour and behaviour rehabilitation expertise.

Why is ‘nuisance’ used broadly in the bylaw?

A nuisance designation is not a broad term. The changes to the pre-existing nuisance designation will only apply if a concern cannot be resolved. Multiple educational attempts and balancing the needs of pet owners and the community are looked at before any action is taken.

No dogs in Calgary currently have a nuisance designation.

Why is the nuisance animal designation expanding?

An animal can be declared a nuisance when it has repeatedly threatened or exhibited aggressive behaviour, has been found running at large more than once, repeatedly causes noise that disturbs any person, or the owner has demonstrated an inability to control the dog in an off-leash area. A nuisance designation will generally only be contemplated when other education and enforcement actions prove unsuccessful.

The only change proposed in the updated bylaw is expanding nuisance conditions to help curb further concerning aggressive or nuisance behaviour. This would be determined on a case-by-case basis. Specific controls can be placed on a dog owner through this process to ensure that a dog that is declared a nuisance meets community safety measures in a timely manner.

How is the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw enforced?

Community peace officers investigate bylaw complaints on a case-by-case basis where they consider what the bylaw states and the ‘spirit’ or purpose of the bylaw when evaluating a situation. A number of factors and objective criteria are considered to determine if an offence has occurred and what steps need to be taken. Officers use standard operating procedures to guide their work, along with our philosophy of compliance before enforcement. They apply guiding principles to evaluate complaints through a lens of compassion and empathy while addressing the root cause of the problem. Community peace officers work to achieve compliance through education, and this is successful 96 per cent of the time.

I heard that the updated bylaw stipulates that dogs can’t bark – is this true?

No changes were made to the noise section of the bylaw. The current bylaw (section 23) states that pet owners ensure barking, howling or any other excessive noise does not cause disturbance. There is a large difference between occasional and nuisance barking.

If a dog continued disruptive behavior (such as nonstop barking), a community peace officer would investigate and work to resolve the issue with the owner before corrective action was taken or a nuisance designation was considered. When responding to a complaint, peace officers apply objective standards such as the duration and frequency of barking, surrounding area, number of dogs and time of day.

Why are responsible pet owners more restricted with the activities they can do with our dogs?

The truth is they are not. The parameters around responsible dog ownership have existed in the bylaw since it was last updated 12 years ago. It is important that a bylaw is in place that allows Calgarians to enjoy public spaces with their dogs, while ensuring the safety and enjoyment of all others in parks and public spaces as well.