PORT HAWKESBURY: The town is grappling with allowing service or therapy animals in places like the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.

Town Councillor Jason Aucoin told the Jan. 17 regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council that the decision has been made by town staff not to allow any animals into the Civic Centre until they get some direction.

“Since the last three or four weeks, we’ve had some concerns, we’ll call it, with dogs in the Civic Centre and in the rink,” he said. “

Presently, there is a sign on the front doors of the Civic Centre that says “Service Animals Only,” Aucoin said, noting that registered therapy animals should also be allowed there, as well as at Granville Green and the town’s playground.

“I’d like put a motion on the table that we ask that only service and/or therapy animals, which are registered and identified, can be allowed into the Civic Centre, and also with Granville Green,” he stated. “We have a sign right now down at Granville Green with ‘No Dogs Permitted,’ we also have a sign at the playground with ‘No Dogs Permitted.’”

After Recreation Director Gordie Snook said they looked at what other facilities are doing, Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton suggested that any direction from the town mandate that such animals be leashed and registered.

“Should we have staff provide maybe some research on how we can accommodate that at all three locations?” she asked. “How do we police that; are we allowed to ask for proof that they are service or therapy?”

CAO Terry Doyle said provincial and federal laws override town policy, and they cannot prohibit such animals from their premises since it is a human rights issue. He said many businesses in the Halifax Regional Municipality allow such animals.

“Anyone who doesn’t have a card, they should have a card, but they can also complain to human rights as well, so there’s a very clear avenue for them,” he stated. “This is an issue that’s progressing right across the country. We’re seeing tonnes of businesses that are open to dogs.”

Deputy Mayor Hughie MacDougall asked where the line will be drawn, specifically if people are permitted to register any kind of animal.

“Do they have to be registered?” he asked.

As far as enforcement, Snook said the town does not have much authority, and Town Councillor Mark MacIver said there could be resistance from people refusing to provide documents.

MacIver wants any policy to put responsibility on the owner, not force the town to assume liability.

“I think if we’re going to allow it in our policy, that the person that has that dog would take full responsibility; and no liability from the town,” he said. “Whatever happens, you’re in a public building and I don’t think the town should carry any liability by saying, ‘yes, you can bring your dog,’ whether it’s a service dog or not. The liability has to lie with the owner.”

To make sure the town avoids any human rights infringements and to have enough time to research best practices, council approved a motion from the mayor to discuss the matter at the February council meeting.