Calgary dog attacks fall to lowest level in 25 years
City a leader in reducing canine problems, says top bylaw officer
Attacks by aggressive dogs are at the lowest level they've been in 25 years despite a steady population growth and the absence of breed-specific legislation brought in to tackle canine issues in other jurisdictions.
Despite the low numbers, Calgary's top bylaw officer plans to delve deeper into the causes of dog attacks to try to bring the incidents even lower.
"This is exactly what we've been targeting," said Bill Bruce. "Our ultimate goal, of course, is to get it to zero, or as close to that as possible."
Bruce said Calgary is a leader in reducing dog attacks in Canada, noting that he often receives invitations from animal services around the world to talk about the work done here to reduce dog bites.
Calgary bylaw officers recorded 340 reported aggressive dog incidents in 2008 which included chases, bites and damage to property.
Of those, 145 complaints were bites.
In 2007, 374 aggressive dog calls were made, including 137 bites, and in 2006, of 402 aggressive dog complaints, 199 were for bites.
By comparison, back in 1985, the city received a whopping 1,938 aggressive dog complaints, including 621 bites, at a time when Calgary had a population of just over 600,000.
A new pet owner bylaw was brought in three years ago that included stiffer fines and a recognition that aggressive behaviour in dogs is normally traced back to irresponsible owners. Bruce said both the heavier penalties -- ranging from $350 to $1,500, to euthanizing the dog--and the philosophy of blaming bad owners rather than pets has helped reduce incidents.
This year, Bruce is launching a pilot project where he'll have six officers dedicated to following up every aggressive dog complaint to identify common factors in attacks that can be addressed in future bylaw enforcement and public education campaigns.
"We want to look at everything that led up to an aggressive dog attack," said Bruce. "We're hoping to find four to six common things that people do that causes dogs to bite. Our goal is not to have anyone bitten by a dog."
At the same time Bruce investigates softer approaches to addressing pet owner issues, he's also been given a bigger stick with which to penalize chronically non-compliant dog owners.
In the fall, bylaw enforcement gained the right to tag a dog as a nuisance pet, which means doubling the fines on the owner.
One dog has already received this designation, according to Bruce.
Brandy Campbell-Biggs, president of Pit Bulls For Life, a non-profit animal rescue operation geared specifically toward pit bulls, said targeting bad owners instead of stigmatizing entire breeds is the key to reducing aggressive incidents.
While dog bites have been going down, the number of pit bulls coming to the city has been increasing, she said.
She doesn't know how many there are in the city, but her organization has placed 160 pit bulls in foster homes or with permanent adoptive owners in Calgary over the past three and a half years.
Pit Bulls For Life brings the dogs in from jurisdictions with breed-specific legislation that sees many breeds deemed dangers, including pit bulls, targeted for euthanasia. She said 20 per cent of the dogs they help come from Ontario.