The member newsletter of the Canada Safety Council
Aggressive Dogs Threaten Public Safety
The phrase “dog bite epidemic” appears on several US-based Web sites. Statistics show dog bites are on the rise in that country. In 1986, there were 585,000 dog bites
requiring medical attention. By 1994 the number had jumped to 800,000.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.7 million Americans — almost two per cent of the population — were bitten by dogs in 1998. One
out of six required medical treatment. The American Humane Association
calls dog bites the number one public health problem for children in the US,
surpassing measles, mumps, and whooping cough combined, and points to data showing 47 per cent of all dog-bite victims were school-aged children.
The Insurance Information Institute reported that claims related to dog bites have quadrupled in the past five years, from $250 million US in 1996 to about $1 billion in 2000. This increase has prompted some American insurers to take into account whether certain breeds of dogs have been spayed or neutered, or have passed an obedience class in deciding whether to write a homeowner’s policy.
Canadian Data Lacking Canada has no national data on canine population, dog-related deaths and injuries, or which breeds cause the most harm. In Canada, much of the
insurance-related liability is borne by our health care system. Dog bites are
a common reason for emergency room visits. Yet there is no mandatory reporting of these bites — not to mention the dogs’ ownership, breed, spay/neuter status or history of aggression.
The coroner’s report on a six year old girl killed by dogs in 1999 found that 117,000 Quebeckers claimed to have been bitten by a dog
between 1997 and 1998. Of these, 75 per cent were under the age of 10 and half were bitten by their own dogs. Extrapolating these numbers, the Canada Safety Council estimates that dogs bite 460,000 Canadians annually. Our problem is likely
almost as serious as that of our southern neighbor. All too often, the news carries
reports of unprovoked attacks by dogs. Some kill smaller pets. Others attack people. Injuries can be severe, sometimes requiring extensive surgery. Consider a few incidents this year:
• In January, murder charges were dropped against a Kingston, Ontario mother accused of killing her seven-year-old daughter. Forensic evidence showed the 80 wounds on
the child’s body were inflicted by a pit bull staying in the house.
• Also in January, a 16-year-old Toronto, Ontario girl was mauled by two Akita cross terriers in a vicious attack while delivering newspapers. She underwent three
hours of plastic surgery.
• In February, an elderly Coquitlam,
British Columbia woman was
attacked by a collie-shepherdRottweiler cross which had jumped
over a fence. She required stitches after suffering deep puncture wounds to both arms.
• In March, an attack by an unlicenced pit bull in Calgary, Alberta left a schnauzer badly
injured and its owner bitten. A passer-by had to repeatedly strike the larger dog with a hockey stick to make it let go.
• In July, a five-year-old girl in Owen Sound, Ontario received 39 cuts and a large area of flesh was torn from a buttock when a Rottweiler attacked her in her grandparents’ home. The girl was admitted into intensive care, and her mother was also injured while
fighting off the animal.
SAFETY CANADA, No. 4, 2001 6 Canada Safety Council
Good animal control by-laws, well enforced, are part of the solution.
Dogs, from page 1.
• Also in July, a pit bull chased terrified residents through the streets of St-Romuald, Quebec, injured a cyclist and chased a woman into her home, forcing her to slam the
front door on its head. It took five police bullets to kill the dog. Responsible Ownership
The right dog, well cared for, is a safe, reliable companion. However,
dogs must be properly socialized and trained. They become a threat if they
are abused, or deliberately bred or trained to attack people or animals.
Any dog may bite if it is threatened, angry, afraid or in pain. Dogs have an instinct to defend their territory, whether that is space, food or a toy. Most dog bite victims are
children. In many cases, teasing or unintentionally provoking an aggressive reaction from a dog leads to a bite, but occasionally an attack is unprovoked. That is why small children should never be left alone with a dog. Whether or not there is a dog in the family, parents need to teach their children how to behave around dogs.
Dogs trained or bred to be vicious are often owned by drug dealers, criminal groups, and violent or irresponsible individuals who wish to intimidate others. These dogs —
and their owners — present a serious threat to community safety. In the past few years, fear of crime has led more people to acquire a dog for protection. But if they cannot control the animal, they endanger themselves and the community. For those who feel
vulnerable, security devices available today offer much safer options. Lifestyle is another factor. Owning a dog demands a major time commitment, as they need a lot of
attention. Any owner who keeps a dog locked up (or chained outside) for 12 hours a day should not have a dog. Municipal Animal Control In Canada, animal control is largely a
municipal responsibility. Breeders fallunder provincial jurisdiction as a business. Import of animals, medical costs of treating bite injuries and collection of national injury data are federal matters. Good animal control by-laws, well enforced, are part of the solution.
In some areas, less than 20 per cent of dogs are licenced as required. Unlicenced animals are less likely to be spayed or neutered, a critical factor in preventing aggression. Ensuring the resources are in place to enforce animal control regulations will help a community protect its residents from aggressive dogs.
The National Companion Animal Coalition has a position paper which offers guidelines for animal control by-laws, including a sample by-law. The Coalition urges
municipalities to adopt legislation to prevent harmful situations, bearing
in mind that dangerous dogs are generally the result of irresponsible ownership, and that owners should be held responsible for their dog’s behaviour. The document is on the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Web site. Suggested criteria to identify
dangerous dogs include:
• a dog that has killed a person or domestic animal, regardless of the circumstances.
• a dog that has bitten or injured a person or domestic animal.
Exceptions may be made if the dog was teased, abused, assaulted or if the dog was reacting to a person trespassing on the property owned by the dog’s owner.
• a dog that has shown the disposition or tendency to be threatening or aggressive.
• an attack trained dog. In the interest of public safety, municipalities should either euthanize dangerous dogs, or demand their owners meet specific requirements for
their care. They should enforce strict penalties against owners who do not comply.
By-laws should require dangerous dogs to be sterilized. This helps reduce aggressive tendencies, and prevents owners from profiting by selling offspring that are also likely to
be dangerous. They should also requirethese dogs to be muzzled and leashed
when off the owner’s property and strictly confined when on the owner’s property. If an owner is unwilling or unable to meet these requirements, euthanasia should be mposed.
Dangerous Breeds Statistics show that some breeds are more likely to be involved in viciousattacks. European countries have banned or outlawed the import and breeding of breeds deemed dangerous. A few Canadian municipalities have taken this approach, often in the wake of a serious incident. Authorities should beware that breed bans may provoke people who want aggressive dogs to seek out other breeds and breed or train them to become vicious. After France passed legislation against certain breeds, Barbary apes were smuggled into the country to act as watchdogs. The apes have strong limbs, sharp teeth and short tempers; they attack humans on the head. Breed bans should not be used as a quick fix. The solution lies in a combination of effective animal control measures, reputable breeders, responsible owners, public education, backed up with enforcement and based on reliable data. @
FROM OUR MAILBOX
Last year, in the wake of several dog attacks including the deaths of two children, CSC publicized its concern about an apparent increase in dog bites. Since then, numerous victims have sent us stories such as these. Five years ago, my elderly mother was
mauled by a dog. Our family went throughmonths of agony, owing to her injuries, the
lack of responsibility on the part of the dog owner, an indifferent legal system, and
ineffective animal control response. The dog in question was an inappropriate breed for
negligent people to purchase with the intention of breeding. The humans involved
in the breeding of dogs, in my opinion, are the problem, and measures to ensure their
responsibility for their dogs would be far more to the point than banning particular dog
breeds. I wish you success in addressing this neglected and devastating public health and safety issue. M.C., Saskatchewan My three-year-old daughter was in the yard
when our neighbor’s red/brown lab came into the yard. She saw the dog and said Hi to him. He proceeded to walk up to her and bite her in the mouth, requiring five stitches to sew her lip together. Right away the neighbors stated they would put the dog to sleep. But as my daughter’s lip healed, it didn’t look so bad and the neighbor’s kids begged to keep him and make sure he didn’t get loose again. Therefore the dog lives, he has gotten in our yard again, my daughter was out and she ran in scared. When I was contacted by animal control they informed me I would have to go to court to put this dog to sleep. I now had all the onus on me to fix this situation, which was not my fault.