Saanich Chickens – Keeping the feathers from flying

Animal lovers thrilled by new Saanich bylaws
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
By Kim Westad, timescolonist

Saanich council had dogs, deer, rabbits and chickens on their agenda this week, with results that have thrilled animal lovers.

A special meeting was held solely to deal with proposed amendments to several animal bylaws. Politicians received hundreds of emails and letters, some from people who don’t even live in Canada, and residents packed council chambers for the lengthy meeting that saw all amendments unanimously approved.

“Talk about pets and … you will get passion,” Coun. Dean Murdock said Wednesday. “People were very thoughtful and articulate on their definite points of view, but the feathers didn’t fly.”

After hours of input and debate, those at Tuesday’s meeting gave Saanich’s director of legislative services, Carrie MacPhee, who had written the majority of animal reports and recommendations, a round of applause.

Once municipal staff amend the bylaws, Saanich residents will be:

— allowed to have five hens on property larger than 557 square metres;

— prohibited from feeding deer;

— prohibited from feeding rabbits in parks or public spaces, and prohibited from selling or adopting rabbits that haven’t been spayed or neutered;

— required to have rabbits on private property in secure, enclosed structures;

— prohibited from abandoning rabbits on private or public property;

— allowed to have dogs on Cordova Bay Beach until 9 a.m. from May to August.

The changes still have to be given a final reading by the council, but are expected to be in place by summer.

About 90 per cent of Saanich residents will now be allowed to have up to five hens. Saanich joins several other municipalities in the region that allow hens on urban lots, with some restrictions.

“This is a step towards food security in Saanich,” said Murdock, who brought forward the idea of allowing more urban chickens. More people are interested in food security and want the chance to be more self-sufficient by having hens for their eggs, he said.

Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt and Central Saanich all allow hens on smaller, residential-sized lots.

Current Saanich bylaws allow chickens on lots larger than 1,114.8 square metres, which exclude most urban lots. Municipal staff recommended it be amended to allow up to five hens — no roosters — on lots as small as 560 square metres. That would allow almost 89 per cent of homes in the municipality to have the birds if they wanted.

However, councillors heard from residents of a cul-de-sac whose lots were a tiny bit smaller, and who wanted to have the opportunity to have chickens, so it was reduced to allow five hens on lots 557 square metres or larger.

Feral and abandoned rabbits in the region have long been a problem. A regionwide approach is needed, said several councillors.

While SPCA spokeswoman Sarah Dubois applauded Saanich’s move to ban the sale of rabbits that have not been neutered nor spayed, she said it would be better to ban the sale of all rabbits.

“We have an ample supply at the SPCA to adopt for years to come,” she said.

Although most people spoke in favour of raising chickens, some warned about the smell and noise, and worried about liability if a dog was to kill a bird.

Municipal staff said if a dog kills a chicken on the dog owner’s property, the dog is not at risk of being declared a dangerous animal. However, that would change if it happened on public property.

Even though the vast majority of lots would allow chickens, it’s unlikely there will be a surge.

“While there is a lot of opportunity for people to have chickens, I think the uptake won’t be enormous,” said Coun. Susan Brice.