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Abuse a police horse and expect a fine in Canadian city

In Hamilton, Canada, if you interfere with a police horse (or dog), you may be fined with a $250 ticket. On Tuesday, June 17, the city planning committee voted to endorse the request from police to protect working horse and dog partners from abusers, usually drunk or showing off for friends, who think nothing about hurling beer bottles or physically boxing the animals.

Hamilton's Mounted Patrol logo
Hamilton's Mounted Patrol logo
Facebook from Hamilton Police Service page
Hamilton Police Service - Mounted Patrol
Facebook from Hamilton Police Service page

The Hamilton City Council is expected to take a final vote on June 25, 2014, on this new bylaw. Councilors originally wanted to raise the fine to $1,000 since $250 was rather low, the thought being that a ticket for hitting a police horse of $250 might be a pittance when compared to the cost of the resulting entertainment. Many revelers spend more than $250 on drinks alone. The councilors eventually settled on the $250 ticket.

The law will prohibit harassing, startling, taunting, striking, or physical interference of police horses (and dogs). It will also be illegal to touch or feed police horses unless permission is given by the officer. Finally, pets must be controlled and prevented from attacking police animals.

Mounted unit Sergeant Brad Adams of the Hamilton Police Service says that the bylaw will not forbid touching or petting a police horse. It becomes a question of common courtesy. Adams suggests, “Ask to touch the horse, by all means. But if I'm in the middle of dealing with someone resisting arrest, please don't walk up and try to feed my horse."

According to the Hamilton Spectator, problems exist from drunk regulars at Hess Village that torment the horses in order to annoy police officers while others wing bottles or strike the horses to impress their friends. Nights often become especially rowdy at Hess Village and putting this law into effect is merely one way to curb partiers’ inclinations to whack the horses around. Individuals have gone so far as to aim bottles at the horses’ heads, grope a horse for “heehaws,” or throw lighters at a horse’s hooves.

At this time, without the new law, animal cruelty laws covered by criminal code are effective only if a horse becomes injured seriously or worse. However, committing an attack on a police horse or dog “is not equated with assaulting an officer in Canada” – a difference from some U.S. jurisdictions. (Assaulting a police horse or dog in the United States carries the same consequence as if a police officer was assaulted.)

Hamilton Police Service puts a lot of effort into training its five horses. Horse and officer are an imposing “tool” in patrolling unruly people. The horses perform strict crowd control, are exceedingly well mannered and are most responsive to their riders. Their very size commands respect.

It is certain that other cities with mounted horse patrols will observe the progress of Hamilton’s proposed bylaw closely.

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