In a small town with only one full-time doctor, withdrawing some services has a way of bringing attention to an issue.
That's how Dr. Mary Ann Bramstrup helped force a change to the dog bylaw in Nackawic, a town of 1,000 west of Fredericton where Rottweilers, pit bulls and some other breeds considered dangerous were forced to wear muzzles when off their owners' properties and be leashed or caged at all times.
All that is expected to change tonight, when the Nackawic town council gives third and final reading to a new bylaw scrapping blanket restrictions on certain breeds. Under the new regime, only individual dogs deemed vicious by a court would be subject to the old rules.
Although Dr. Bramstrup, 53, demurs when asked how her unorthodox campaign convinced council to change course - dozens of irate dog owners also railed against the rules, she says - her tactic helped draw publicity.
"I would've kept making a fuss until something happened," said Dr. Bramstrup, the owner of a Rottweiler-Labrador mix named Jessie.
Calling the bylaw akin to "racial profiling," the doctor decided this summer she would stop providing some extra services. She would no longer volunteer for committee work, participate in mock disaster exercises or see patients she did not know at her home office outside business hours.
The existence of the old bylaw had been a surprise to many local dog owners, including Dr. Bramstrup.
Dr. Bramstrup said the six-year-old bylaw had never been enforced. She was furious to find out this spring that the town considered her animal a vicious dog.
She only learned about the old bylaw when she was charged $250 for her dog licence, 10 times the price levied for most dogs. Worse, she was told that she could no longer let Jessie off leash to swim at her riverfront property, and could not walk her around town without a muzzle.
"She can't wear one because she can't pant with one," Dr. Bramstrup said. "In fact, the SPCA considers muzzling borderline animal cruelty."
Dr. Bramstrup also notes that she practises out of her home, in an area where there have been break-ins, and that she's "not very big."
"I said, 'If you are going to give [me]a hard time about having a dog then I won't be able to provide the service of having total strangers come into my home after hours and be looked at as if I'm the ER,' " she explained.
Within weeks the town was drafting a new bylaw. Neither the town's mayor nor deputy mayor were available for an interview late last week to discuss the changes in greater detail. But at a public meeting in August, attended by many local dog owners, one town official said they were "doing our best to make a better bylaw."
The proposed new bylaw in Nackawic, which is subject to last-minute change, focused on individual dogs deemed to be "vicious."
The draft bylaw defines a vicious dog as one who has bitten, has a tendency to attack without provocation, chases humans or animals, or is a continuing threat to cause serious harm.
Under the proposed new bylaw, the licence fee for a vicious dog - a designation that must be conferred by the courts - would still be $250.
Such a move would bring the community of about 1,000 into line with the opinion of many animal-care organizations, including the SPCA, which argues that the way a dog is treated has more effect on its behaviour than its breed. Opponents of breed-specific legislation note that Cocker Spaniels and Dalmatians lead North American bite statistics. Supporters of laws targeting breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers argue that some dogs, while perhaps not more likely to bite, inflict more damage when they do.
Ontario, for example, has banned pit bulls since 2005.Report Typo/Error