Planning to breed a lot of rabbits? You might be the target of a City of Toronto crackdown

If you’re thinking of breeding rabbits and guinea pigs, or feeding wild animals, or you’re just a dog owner who scoops your pooch’s poop every day, then you’ll want to know about a new set of rules the City of Toronto is considered.

After two years of study, municipal licensing staff are recommending sweeping changes to parts of the municipal code that concern animals. Getting special attention: the number of fast-breeding pets you’ll be allowed to keep.

“Some people don’t know if they’ve got boys and girls and when boys and girls are together, then you end up with many more,” said Esther Attard, the director of Toronto Animal Services (TAS). She’s also one of the contributors to a new report.

“Guinea pigs and rabbits reproduce really quickly, and so you can end up with a lot … more pets than you bargained for.”

The suggested changes are based on proposals from city councilors, the public and city staff, Attard said. Councilors will take their first look at the proposals when the community development committee meets next month. Council will likely hold a final vote on the plan by the end of the year.

Attard says animals like rabbits can quickly produce enough offspring to overwhelm an average pet owner. She cites the case of one Toronto household that saw its rabbit population grow from a handful to more than 80 in a matter of months. (Mike Smee/CBC)

City staff are recommending each household be limited to four rabbits, or four guinea pigs. Why? Attard cites the example of one Toronto family who decided earlier this year to breed rabbits and sell them as pets.

“It’s a lot harder to do than you think,” she said. “And so then they end up in a crisis.”

What crisis is Attard referring to? Well, eventually, their home was overrun with 80 rabbits.

Haviva Porter, executive director of a group called Rabbit Rescue Inc., supports the limits. She says she hears similar stories to the one Attard described all the time.

“They thought they were the same gender, and all of a sudden, behold, there are a dozen baby bunnies,” she said.

“Nothing can be done once you have a household with so many animals, so many rabbits that aren’t being looked after properly. So limits are important.”

Another proposal would limit pigeon fanciers to 30 birds, except during breeding season, when they’ll be allowed 50.

Haviva Porter, executive director of Rabbit Rescue Inc., says she’s in favor of limits on fast-breeding pets like rabbits and guinea pigs. (Submitted by Haviva Porter)

There’s also a proposal for a blanket ban on the feeding of wildlife. Right now, it’s only illegal to feed wild animals in city parks. The new rules will disallow the practice city-wide.

Last weekend, in Westlake Park, near Weston Road and Black Creek Drive, a coyote bit a child, prompting the city to warn residents not to feed wild animals — a practice Attard says leads to a lot of problems..

“It conditions wild animals to expect food from people. And then a person can have a bad interaction with a wild animal.”

As well, staff are suggesting the city codify a practice that has long been tacitly allowed: pet cats and pigeons roaming the city freely.

A coyote walks past a playground in Alberta last year. One of the new proposals would make it illegal for the pubic to feed wild animals anywhere in the city as a way of cutting down on interactions with humans. (Scott Sugden/University of Alberta)

But once that becomes law, the city will also require that city shelters stop accepting stray, nuisance cats. At present, felines that roam can be dropped off at the local city shelter by annoyed neighbors. It’s then up to TAS to try to reunite the animal with its owner, which can be a long, complicated and sometimes fruitless task, she said.

Although she’s generally supportive of the changes, Rabbit Rescue Inc.’s Porter says she’s got some questions for counselors before the new rules are passed.

“What would happen in situations where really good owners have six rabbits? Are they going to be grandfathered in? Would they have to get rid of the rabbits when shelters or rescues are already full?” she said.

“I think there’s a lot of concern that foster homes be exempt. Will shelters, pet stores be exempt? Who’s going to be monitoring it and who’s going to be enforcing it?”

The Municipal Licensing and Standards report includes a recommendation that three new bylaw officers be hired at a cost of $347,000 a year.

One of the new rules would bar people from dropping off neighborhood strays, so-called nuisance cats, such as this one at the city’s animal shelter on Progress Avenue in Scarborough. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC )

But Attard says she expects enforcement to be done in a measured way. For instance, she says people won’t be banned from using backyard bird feeders provided excess feed doesn’t spill over onto the ground where other animals, like rats, can get at it.

But she admits that enforcement could be difficult, when it comes to identifying individual bird feeders.

Several other changes to the municipal code are also included in the report: Right now, dog owners have to remove excrement from their own property immediately. The report recommends that giving them 24 hours to get the job done is “a more realistic timeframe.”

The report also suggests pledging support for any move by the province to ban cosmetic surgeries for pets — things like tail docking and ear cropping for dogs and declawing cats, Attard said.

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