Prohibited Pets and Where to Find Them – Researching Municipal By-laws

Can my neighbour keep ferrets as pets, and if so how many? This question about what animals are permitted as pets in the City of Toronto recently led us into the world of municipal by-law research.

The City of Toronto website provides three great tools for this type of research:

1. City of Toronto Municipal Code

The Code is an updated compilation of by-laws, divided into 3 parts – Administrative, General and Traffic and Parking By-laws, each organized by subject specific chapters.

You can browse the Code by chapter/subject, or use the separate search function. The table of contents includes links to any recent amendments made to a Code chapter since the last update.

(A quick note about scope – the Code contains administrative by-laws and by-laws that have general application to people and places across the City of Toronto, but it doesn’t include by-laws from decisions about specific people, places or things.)

2. City of Toronto By-laws

Annual by-laws made by the City of Toronto are available from the current year back to 1998 (the year of municipal amalgamation in Ontario). You can browse this collection by year or by-law number, or use the keyword search function.

3. By-law Status Registry

The Registry includes the history and status of by-laws, including older by-laws (many of which are still in force today) from the former municipalities of Toronto, Metropolitan Toronto, East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough and York back to 1834.

Now, back to the ferrets… our research in the City of Toronto Municipal Code led us to Chapter 349, Animals which sets out the rules for keeping and caring for animals in the city. The by-law also provides a long list of Prohibited Animals (Schedule A). We found that ferrets fall under the family of Mustelidae, a grouping of carnivorous mammals that also includes skunks, weasels, otters and badgers.  Ferrets are however specifically exempted in the Schedule.

While it appears ferrets are safe to keep as pets, we noted that a significant portion of the animal kingdom is not; residents are prohibited from keeping anteaters, elephants, fruit bats, hyenas, penguins, sloths and wallabies, to name a few. Interestingly, snakes are fine as long as they reach an adult length under 3 metres.

There is no mention of maximum ferret numbers per dwelling unit in Chapter 349 of the Code (although § 349-5 restricts the number of dogs to three and cats to six). Searching the City of Toronto annual by-laws, we found an earlier by-law (28-1999) which did provide that “no person shall keep in any dwelling unit more than six (6) of any combination of dogs, cats, ferrets and rabbits…” However checking in the By-law Status Registry confirmed that Chapter 349 of the Code superseded the earlier by-law.

Here are some other useful resources to assist with basic by-law research:

About Bills, By-laws and the Municipal Code – FAQs

By-law and Toronto Municipal Code Services – for questions and to obtain certified copies of by-laws

By-law Digitization Program – on-going scanning project of pre-1998 by-laws passed by the Toronto and former municipalities (Copies of by-laws not yet scanned can be requested from the City of Toronto Archives.)

A Brief History of Zoning Bylaws in Toronto, Toronto Reference Library Blog, Dec. 14, 2015

Rogers, The Law of Canadian Municipal Corporations (Thomson Reuters loose leaf) KF 5305 R63 / Practice Collection, 2nd Floor; also available on Proview – Chapter IX, By-laws provides background and commentary on drafting, enacting, enforcing, and repealing by-laws