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Riley, an Irish terrier with his licence his owner must carry in a dog park in Westmount, a suburb of Montreal, June 14, 2011. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)
Riley, an Irish terrier with his licence his owner must carry in a dog park in Westmount, a suburb of Montreal, June 14, 2011. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

Animal Control

Are your dog's papers in order? Add to ...

City tags dog? Nothing new there, but what if the city licenses the dog's keeper instead?

Montreal's wealthy town-within-the-city called Westmount has found a novel way to impose on residents and outsiders alike while, to hear locals tell it, chipping away at personal liberty and neighbourliness. Since May, the town has required dog walkers to carry their own licence if they intend to have their pooch set a paw in Westmount.

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Westmount has a long history of discouraging outsiders from using public services. And the small plastic card, obtained with the usual dog tags, carries an annual fee of $20 for Westmounters, $40 for everyone else. The tag must be carried by the human walker at all times, even while traversing the small enclave in canine accompaniment, at risk of a fine of $75 to $300 for a first offence.

"So I'm supposed to put a tag around my neck every time I want to go outside with my dog? It's a very authoritarian, dictatorial way of treating taxpayers," said Catherine Anne Kierans, a Westmount resident with three dogs. "It's really quite incredible. I think it's ludicrous. It's actually very sad that these people don't have more worthwhile tasks to do in their life."

Westmount doesn't actually want Ms. Kierans to wear it around her neck, but the town does expect her to tie it to the dog's leash or put it in her pocket. City officials, who did not return calls Tuesday, say the card is intended to prevent bylaw officers from possibly being bitten by having to bend down too close to dogs.

The dogs that dominate Westmount Park seem to be fluffy white ones. A dog walker said actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, who summers in the Laurentians, has set off a trend by buying one of the adorable breeds, the Coton de Tulear. If Ms. Zeta-Jones visits any of her upscale friends in Westmount with the pup, she'll need to carry her tag.

"It's silly. They told me I have to carry this at all times," said Dan Watkin, who reached for his plastic card while sunning in Westmount Park with a friend's Westie named Molly. "Looks like just another way to control people."

Westmount is surrounded by Montreal but is renowned for being an island of its own. The town has kept its boundaries long after Montreal swallowed dozens of other onetime municipalities.

Extra fees are levied on outsiders by the exquisitely renovated public library and other leisure services, such as pools. Westmount taxpayers, the city's argument goes, pay good money for their services. But the lines between most of Westmount and Montreal are invisible to the outside eye, causing poorer neighbours to look with envy across arbitrary boundaries.

Westmount is taking it to a new level with the crackdown on dog-accompanied pedestrians. Initially, owners in Westmount's parks seemed to take the news as a silly intrusion. But upon reflection, many note their neighbourhood has the best dog-friendly parks, runs and wooded areas in the western part of Montreal.

"A lot of this stems from the Summit [hilltop wooded area] It's a beautiful area where people come from everywhere, nobody picks up, and it's out of control," said Mr. Watkin, who himself lives just west of Westmount.

Roslyn Rowat, who lives in the town with her Irish terrier, Riley, said councillors are trying to raise revenue for parks. But she is skeptical money will go toward improvements.

Janice Hodgson, who owns a dog-walking service called Paws & Pals, says the law poses a big headache for her. She has to decide what to do with dog owners who won't go along with the law. She also has to keep the tags straight for the 25 dogs her company walks almost every day.

She noted that people walking dogs in Westmount are now required to carry papers while going about their lawful business, an unusual state of affairs in a free country. "There's a reason dog tags go around the dog's neck, not the person's," she said. "This is redundant, and a big pain."

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