Register Monday | June 24 | 2019

Barking up the Wrong Tree

Does Montreal discriminate against pets?

July 1 is quickly approaching. For most Canadian cities, July 1 signifies Canada Day, the day in which proud Canadians come together, drink Labatt Blue and go to a live outdoor concert in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Glass Tiger performing their hit song "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)" for a polite yet enthusiastic crowd. In Montreal, however, July 1 means something else entirely. It's moving day; the day of waiting for moving vans to arrive; the day of hauling fridges up three flights of narrow, winding staircases; the day of saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new.

Sadly, many people are also saying goodbye to their loyal and lovable canine and feline friends because their new landlords simply don't allow pets. Every year, heartbroken dogs and cats around the city howl and meow the lyrics of "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)" all the way to the SPCA.

A few years ago, a dog-owning friend of mine had so much trouble finding a place to live where pets were allowed that, after no less than eighteen rejections, she resorted to lying. Fearing the worst (being caught red-handed and consequently getting kicked out of her apartment), she kept her dog-an adorable little schnoodle named Chico-in "hiding." For months, the duo scurried in and out of the building like escaped cons on the lam. Our nickname for the dog became "Chico Anne Frank."

That was four years ago-Chico and his owner still live in the same apartment. They have never been discovered because, luckily, their landlord doesn't actually live in the building and he rarely visits. Charmed by the charismatic pooch, all of my friends' fellow tenants (including the building's concierge) agreed to keep her secret.

Other dogs aren't as lucky. According to the Société Québécoise pour la defense des animaux (SQDA), 45 percent of households in Quebec own a pet. "Statistics show that they tend to keep the pet for an average of two years. Thousands of cats and dogs are abandoned each year, most notably during the moving period," said Patricia Tulasne, spokesperson for the SQDA. "In July, it is not uncommon to find cats or dogs in empty apartments, on the streets or even in parks. Sadly, Montreal is one of the cities in North America with the highest number of stray cats."
On June 8, the SQDA issued a press release, "calling on citizens to be responsible and show a sense of civic duty in order to curtail the abandonment of household pets that occurs during the moving period ... A significant proportion of the animals that are received (at pounds) are euthanized in the days following their arrival because of the difficulty in finding them welcoming homes."

Landlords aren't the only people who show animosity towards dogs, cats, and their owners. Many parks in the city have no-dogs-allowed signs, even if the dogs are on a leash. Dog owners are forced to pay steep fines if they dare cross the grassy line and bring their dogs into the sacred ground of a Montreal park.

Christine Champagne, a New York writer who visits Montreal frequently, is shocked by our city's attitude toward dogs. "In New York, dogs are known as man's (and woman's) best friend. We have a number of dog parks and dogs can go into regular parks too. If you try to ban a dog from a park here-or if you even talk shit about a dog-you'll have hell to pay. In Montreal, dogs are treated like lepers. I was shocked when I first began visiting Montreal and noticed all of those signs banning dogs, the ones with a picture of a dog with a red circle and a red line through the dog's body. I saw them on parks, on fences, even on a church on Bernard! Are you telling me that God hates dogs? I don't think so."

"Anyway," she goes on, "there are hardly any dog parks in Montreal. Why shouldn't dogs be allowed to enjoy all of the other parks as long as they are kept on leash?"

That's a good question-why shouldn't dogs be allowed to enjoy the simple pleasures of doggie life? Living in the city with so much concrete can be tough; shouldn't they be able to stop and smell the flowers once in a while?

My sister's dog Lula, a squishy-faced boxer, was doing just that the other day while my sister leisurely walked her down a sidewalk in Outremont. A woman pushing a double stroller was so afraid of the unassuming pooch that she ran out into oncoming traffic with her two babies in order to avoid any potential contact with this "scary" creature. Call me crazy, but this is taking dog phobia a bit too far.

Every dog owner has a similar story to tell-people yelling at them because their dog put a paw on their lawn, dirty looks from passers-by or scared pedestrians who cross the street at the very sight of a canine.

"There is a stigma attached to dogs," says Jenny Sousa, owner of the soon-to-be-open Centre Holistique Brandy's (469 Marie-Anne E.), a holistic dog-and-cat-food store/doggie cafe on the Plateau. "A lot of people who don't own pets are ignorant."

Sousa had trouble finding a location for her pet-friendly business. At first she wanted to rent a space but landlords didn't want to be involved in an animal-related store. She then looked into buying a store that was part of a condo association but they wanted nothing to do with that either. She finally bought a space of her own.

"Owners hear 'dogs' and they think 'dirty, bad conditions.' They just don't like animals."

Sure, there are bad dog owners who don't clean up after their pets and who let their animals run free off the leash at inappropriate times and places, but most dog owners are responsible and most dogs are gentle creatures. Of course, one shouldn't assume that all dogs are lovable and friendly-some breeds, such as pit bulls and rottweilers, are known for exhibiting aggressive behaviour. But they shouldn't give all dogs a bad name.

Maybe some education is in order. Some last words of advice from Christine, our dog-loving New Yorker: "I think dog owners in Montreal need to unite and fight for their dogs' rights. People are way too laid back-they need to organize and battle landlords who refuse to allow people to have pets and those who ban dogs from parks. Fido can't do it on his own."