Joburg Pet Limit By-Laws: Counter-Productive and Superfluous

I was asked to assist a welfare organisation and this was my response to Joburg Council, who insisted that the organisation in question obtain a permit as ‘kennels’ or reduce their current dogs from 14 to 4:

The original complaint seemed to be a shotgun approach, complaining about noise, health, and the number of dogs all at the same time. When the complaints related to health and noise turne out to be baseless, the Council then referred the matter to the Department of Development Planning, Transportation and Environment, because it turned out that Council did not have a permit for a changing number of animals as is the case with a foster/rescue facility. They subsequently came and did an inspection, and this was followed by the demand to comply issued on 18 Feb 2016.

With regard to the above, it’s important that the following be noted:

1. The reference to ‘kennels’ in the demand is irrelevant. The organisations is not a kennel and engages in NONE of the practices mentioned in the demand; They do not:

a) provide boarding facilities for dogs (These dogs have been rescued; nobody is paying for their kennelling)
b) dogs are not bred for commercial purposes. (All the dogs are sterilised and if any are not upon arrival they are sterilised within a very short time)
c) dogs are not kept for purposes of being trained or being hired out with ot without handlers
d) dogs are not kept for commercial security purposes

2. The Council does not have legislation that specifically refers to rescue organisations and they are now treating a rescue organisation like a private individual. There is no permit facility or process for changing numbers of dogs over a period of time. Only static (and arguably arbitrary) numbers have been provided for. This is prejudicial to organisations and individuals who are trying to help reduce the effects of the overpopulation crisis in companion animal welfare, and is most certainly counter-productive to the efforts of people who are trying to do ‘good’, to deliver a much-needed service to the public.

3. When these by-laws were originally promulgated, you may remember that I opposed them, as did hundreds of animal welfare organisations and thousands of individuals. In a meeting at Joburg I stated that my reservations with the by-laws included the following:

a) The by-laws introduce an arbitrary number with no reference to affordability, space, or know-how. In other words, they use numbers alone to define risk of neglect/health risk/noise, which should be self-evidently absurd.
b) The by-laws would be used as leverage when sufficient evidence cannot be found to support a case of neglect, health risk, or cruelty. (This case is on point)
c) Law-abiding citizens would be prejudiced in that they would fall foul of the law when they are in fact doing nothing wrong. (This case is on point)

When we raised these points in 2010, we were told that the intention of the by-laws was not to victimise people who had many animals; it was to provide a leverage point when confiscation was not possible because of a lack of evidence. What has happened, and this case is not an isolated one, is that in fact the numbers HAVE been used to victimise people who cannot be found guilty of health or noise nuisances. In this way, good people who look after their animals and pose no risk or harm to their local community, and in fact are part of the solution, are being maligned for no good reason.

If this is a strategy to counter hoarding (less than 2% of the population), it is one that prejudices most animal owners for the sake of attempting to combat a tiny percentage of the community. The fact is, the notion that reducing the numbers of animals in private homes will reduce neglect and cruelty is a claim without substance. and other laws already cover noise and health. These by-laws are superfluous.

4. The demand to get a permit in place for a boarding facility is both invalid (This organisation is not a boarding facility) as is the time-frame that was demanded.

5. Should Council continue with this vindictive harassment of this person, we will fight this case in court and in the public domain. Council should focus their attention on those who are truly problematic rather than victimise people who are doing their level best, against impossible odds, to be part of the solution

Derek du Toit