August 08, 2006

Dog Owner? Stand up and SAY SOMETHING!

Dogs are one of the most micro-managed properties that we own. The obvious others are cars and guns.

In 2005, in Toronto alone, there were 79 homicides. Of those, 52 people were murdered by criminals using guns.

In 2005, in Toronto alone, 59 people died as a result of car accidents and, as of the end of July 2006, we're almost 50% higher than the same time last year. In the Greater Toronto area, 229 people died in traffic accidents in 2005.

In 2005, there were no deaths in the city of Toronto from dog bites. In fact, there were no deaths from dogs in the entire country, period. This year, there have been three throughout the country, higher than the usual one per year, but still a minute number amongst the estimated six million or more dogs in Canada.

Despite this glaringly obvious lack of danger to society from dogs, Canadian dog owners are facing more breed-specific legislation and more restrictive all-breed laws than ever before.

If we actually have a "dog problem", which I don't believe we do, it is absolutely possible to manage it through the proper use of education, enforcement, and prosecution, without having to restrict the freedom of those people who have properly trained and socialized their dogs and whose pets are good citizens of society.

The city of Calgary, Alberta, has been upheld as a model of effective animal control. Some of their effectiveness in reducing dog bites has been attributed to an aggressive dog licensing policy. Although effective, this is not the sole reason for their success.

Calgary has a few other things that I believe have had a significant effect on their bite statistics:

  1. The city has dedicated education officers. Their city website has bite education information. Their animal control officers are educated and spend time educating others.

  2. The penalties for non-compliance, and particularly for allowing your dog to bite or attack, are very high.

  3. If your dog bites someone, it's very difficult to get your dog back. You have to pay high fines and you have to comply with detailed and expensive management requirements, such as an enclosure in your yard, spay/neuter, microchip, etc.

  4. Calgary has over 300 leash-free parks. Toronto, a city two and a half times the size, has 30. Off-leash parks, although definitely not for every dog or every owner, provide opportunities for dogs to interact with other dogs in an unrestrictive environment where dogs have the option of flight rather than just fight. Dogs learn bite inhibition and doggie manners through puppy play and this is extended into adult life through off-leash parks.
Here are some examples of current dog laws throughout Canada:

- mandatory city licence tag
- mandatory rabies tag
- mandatory microchip
- leash no longer than 2 metres (6.6 feet)
- maximum two or three dogs in a house
- length of tethers/chains and length of time tethered/chained
- prohibit tethers/chains
- fully fenced backyard if off leash
- walked by someone 16 or older
- not allowed within one metre of a person or a pet of a person who does not give consent
- not allowed within one metre of wild birds or animals
- not allowed in restaurants (or even on their patios)
- not allowed in stores
- no dogs over a certain size (condos especially, but also in some cities in the United States)
- no "threatening/menacing behaviour" or "apparent attitude of attack" towards people or animals

Here are some examples of the restrictions required by breed-specific laws in this country and in the U.S.:

- size-specific or breed-specific bans or restrictions
- muzzling and leashing in public
- muzzling and leashing in cars
- extra-short leash lengths
- automatic dangerous or vicious dog designation, without any bite history
- banning from city parks and beaches where other breeds are allowed
- banning from leash-free parks where other breeds are allowed
- banning completely from jurisdiction (although sometimes existing dogs are allowed to stay)
- special (i.e., more expensive) licensing and jurisdiction-wide registry
- special tags identifying the dog as a restricted dog
- mandatory microchipping and photograph
- mandatory insurance (often one million dollars) for each individual dog on the premises
- mandatory signage indicating the presence of the dog on the owner's property
- mandatory secure enclosures (in some cases, mandatory chaining)
- mandatory spay/neuter (to eventually eliminate the breed entirely)
- higher fines and/or jail time if a restricted breed bites or menaces
- fines and/or jail time for any infraction of any provision regarding restricted breeds
- age limit for walking the dog in public
- persons with criminal records not allowed to own a restricted breed
- ability of law enforcement to stop owners on the street just to check the dog's status
- ability of law enforcement to seize dogs without proof of wrongdoing
- ability of law enforcement to enter an owner's home, with or without a warrant, to investigate and/or seize a dog

Instead of all these micro-managing laws, whose authors must have tried to imagine every possible disaster that a dog could create, why not try the following?

You are responsible for all of your dog's actions, period. You are financially responsible for any damage, pain, or injury your dog may cause. If your dog bites, you're responsible for medical bills and for pain and suffering caused. Prior to its complete rewrite by the Ontario Liberals (which they termed an "amendment"), the Ontario Dog Owners' Liability Act already held dog owners financially responsible for damage or injury caused by their dog. Properly applied and prosecuted, it would have done its job well.

To expand on this approach, if your dog bites seriously, you should be charged with criminally causing bodily harm. In other words, your dog is an extension of your body. Anything your dog does is as if you did it. You should be charged with the same offence as if you personally had injured the person. Criminal charges should be laid if the injuries are serious or fatal or if you were negligent.

Your dog should be subject to the same trespassing, noise, and cleanliness bylaws that you are. We don't need dog-specific laws to deal with these issues. Repeated offences should result in more serious charges being laid. The charges of "public mischief" and "being a common nuisance" could be used.

Proper education lets people know what's expected of them, how to accomplish it, and what the penalties are for non-compliance. High penalties, combined with education, strongly encourage owner responsibility and accountability.

These invasive, meddling, picky little by-laws were created because of the occasional irresponsible owner, not because there were hoards of dogs roaming the streets, pooping on front lawns, and attacking children. These laws appear to have been created by dog-haters, or at least by people who don't have a clue what owning a dog is really about, and they certainly seem designed to make it as difficult, expensive, and unpleasant as possible to own a dog, especially ones that look a certain way.

Micro-management encourages underground circumvention of the law. We don't need individual, specific, hand-holding bylaws that remove any enjoyment responsible owners may get from their pet. We need consequences for people who allow their pets to hurt other people, interfere with other people's enjoyment of life, and damage other people's property. People need to become afraid to be careless with their dogs.

There is no "dog problem" in this city, in this province, in this country. Lawmakers are creating a dog problem by restricting every freedom that used to be the norm for dog owners. By taking every possible opportunity to reduce the interaction of dogs with other dogs, with children, and with life in general, they are causing these dogs to become undersocialized, neurotic, and defensive. Then, when the dogs do, inevitably, interact with someone, somewhere, they're not emotionally stable enough to handle it.

One of my favourite lines is from a book called "Dogs Bite, But Balloons And Slippers Are More Dangerous" by Janis Bradley. I have to paraphrase it because I don't have the book in front of me. She says, "Dogs almost never kill. They rarely bite and, when they do, they hardly ever injure, and when they do, it's seldom serious."

Her point is that the vast majority of dog bites in this country, even the ones that are reported, result in such minor injuries that, if it weren't a dog that had caused it, we would stick a band-aid on it and get on with our lives. Instead, an injury that is actually the equivalent of a minor kitchen knife cut becomes one more notch in a stack of unreliable statistics, which eventually are used to prove the danger of one particular breed or even of dogs in general.

This comment is absolutely not intended to trivialize those deaths or serious injuries that occasionally do happen. The point is that dog bites or attacks do not happen at anything close to the regularity or severity that is insinuated by the media, promoted by the politicians, and believed by the general TV-viewing, newspaper-reading public. The true frequency and nature of dog bites does not justify the intense scrunity and management that is being applied today.

If we applied today's laws to dogs of lore, Lassie would not be allowed to run loose to save her young master countless times and Petie from Our Gang would probably be dead (or at least muzzled) and he certainly would not be allowed to hang out with a bunch of five and six year olds.

Let's encourage our politicians to give us back our freedom. Approximately half of the people in this country own dogs or live with them. That is bigger than any other demographic and our lawmakers need to be made aware of this.

Once dog owners realize the power that they have, they will vote according to how politicians are willing to treat them as dog owners. Dogs are family members to many and politicians are going to learn, the easy way or the hard way, that MY DOG VOTES!

Visit to see how an increasing number of dog owners are fighting back.

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