About 450 dogs are in Toronto’s dangerous dogs registry. With severe maulings in the news, what are the solutions?

It’s a cloudy spring day in Riverdale, and dog owners are gathered at Withrow Park’s off-leash dog area letting their four-legged friends burn off some energy.

Dogs off all different shapes and sizes are running around, from golden retrievers to Boston terriers, Australian shepherds and pugs.

They are getting along well, but some owners are still watching closely in case one of the dogs’ playful antics turns hostile.

“You just never know,” said Jason Kan, a freelance videographer, as his mutt, Mila, sprawls next to him.

“Especially when there are kids around. Some dogs might have a trigger.”

Claire Montgomery, a social worker who’s here with her goldendoodle, Eddie, agrees.

“Any dog can be pushed to biting if it’s irritated,” she said.

Hundreds of dangerous dogs in Toronto

Around 450 dogs are listed in Toronto’s dangerous dogs registry, and around 45 of those are registered for severe maulings, according to Shane Gerard, a spokesperson for Toronto Animal Services.

The issue has been at the forefront of public discussion this spring after a child suffered life-altering injuries after being attacked by an off-leash dog at a playground in Little Norway Park in downtown Toronto. The owner’s dogs had been previously involved in other attacks.

Gerard says that there were 2,726 service requests relating to dangerous dogs in 2023, up from 2,653 the previous year.

There were 135 dogs under dangerous dogs order (DDO) in 2023, 140 in 2022, and 117 in 2021, according to the department’s data.

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Gerard agrees. He says most dog attacks in the city can be prevented if the dogs are leashed in public.

“We strongly urge all dog owners to please keep their dogs on leashes when out in public (except when in designated dogs off-leash areas. Just the simple act of keeping dogs on leashes protects everyone in the community,” he said via email.

“We need all dog owners to step up and help prevent these horrific incidents by always leashing and keeping their dogs under control in public.”

Are pit bulls the problem?

A University of Guelph study released in 2020 found dogs in cities are almost twice as likely to bite than dogs in rural areas. More than half of all dog bites the researchers looked at happened while people were playing or interacting with the dog in question, while more than three-quarters of those dogs were unleashed.

Some Torontonians believe pit bulls are a top culprit for dog attacks, despite Toronto experiencing over twice the amount of reported dog-to-human bites in 2022 than in 2014, even with the Ontario pit bull ban having been in place since 2005.

While pit bulls have a reputation of being dangerous, they are not the only dogs in the news associated with serious dog attacks.

The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) published a research paper in 2019 on dog bite statistics in Canada using a sample of 475 dog bite cases on adults from 2013 to 2015. One of the researchers’ key findings was that pit bull type dogs were responsible for 27 per cent of the dog bite cases in their sample, more than any other breed. German shepherds were the second most common biters in their sample.

Ontario’s pit bull ban is part of Ontario’s Dog Owners Liability Act, which holds the dog owner accountable for damages in the case of dog attacks. The ban came into effect in 2005 after a series of serious pit bull attacks.

Jennifer Friedman, a lawyer who specializes in cases involving animals, believes the Ontario pit bull ban is “highly ineffective.” She points out that dog bites rose after its implementation, instead of going down.

“To me, getting rid of the pit bull ban is long overdue, but it’s still present,” she said.

“There’s this misconception about what type of dog bites, and in fact, having done these cases for so many years, you realize there is absolutely nothing to do with the breed, and it has to do with their environmental situation, who socialized them, who they live with, who they interact with, whether people in their neighbourhood are improperly letting their dogs run around off leash,” she said.

Many dog owners in Toronto share the “bad owners, not bad breeds” stance.

Montgomery, the owner of goldendoodle Eddie, thinks a lot of the problems with dogs have to do with ownership.

“We know that any dog can get pushed to biting if it’s irritated,” said Montgomery.

She believes there should be more follow-up on dogs known to be hostile, and more follow-up on owners known to be irresponsible.

“There are a lot of people that own dogs that have problems, and for whatever reason, they don’t manage their dog properly all the time.”

The Toronto Humane Society, a community of animal experts and animal lovers who advocate for animal welfare in Toronto, holds a firm stance against breed-specific legislation (BSL), and believe it is ineffective at reducing dog bites. They argue that BSL punishes dogs for their appearance over their behaviour, and believe it allows dangerous dogs of unbanned breeds to slip through the cracks.

They refer to a study done on 36 Canadian municipalities, and dog bites in all of them. They found no difference between municipalities that enforce BSL and those that do not.

Is leashing dogs the answer?

Calgary never implemented a pit bull ban. Instead, the city encourages responsible dog ownership, enforce strict fines, and promote dog safety education, which Toronto Humane Society says led to a decrease in dog attacks by five times in the past two decades.

Friedman, the animal lawyer, is a proponent for keeping dogs leashed, and calls it “a very simple way to address many of these attacks.”

She notes the Toronto Beltline Trail, and that many dog owners walking through the area refuse to keep their dogs on leash. “In a lot of the cases that I handle, the dog altercation happens because one of the dogs is off leash.” 

Friedman suggests having bylaw officers ticket dog owners for walking with their dogs off-leash.

“I would go out on a limb and say that you’re going to see an immediate reduction in dog bites and dog attacks, and aside from that, the city will also be turning revenue, which it’s complaining it needs, and hopefully, people will become more responsible.”

Friedman refers to the recent Toronto dog attack case with the dog attack in Little Norway Park earlier this year.

“Had she leashed that dog, the dog would never have been able to get to that child,” she said.

Are bully breeds bullies?

Hristo Gabrovski, who owns Deluxe Dogs Boarding And Daycare, breeds American bullies and French bulldogs. He considers American bullies to be one of the best dog breeds on the planet.

Gabrovski with two French bulldogs he bred: Mimi and Prince William. (Christian Zdravko/Toronto Observer)

When screening those looking to adopt, Gabrovski maintains a strict process to ensure that the dogs are always going to a good home.

“We do interviews with the new owners and if we find out for any reason that this puppy is not suitable for the new home, we have the right to decline,” he said.

Gabrovski has had people come to him with concerns about him breeding American bullies. He has had experiences of people talking to him about recent pit bull attacks, implying that his dogs are a danger.

He said such comments are “disrespectful” and believes complaints like this come from people who are uneducated on the breeds. He says he talks to them, and educates them on the breed, and that they are separate from pit bulls. He says Bullies are intended to be “family companions.”

“If they really want to educate themselves, they can come check out how ‘furious’ they are,” he said, with sarcasm.

Gabrovski says that he has never heard any instances of the dogs he bred injuring any humans. He calls his bully pups, “cuddle buddies” as he snuggles with one in his lap.

Gabrovski believes that the media focuses more on attacks from pit bull type dogs, as opposed to other breeds like golden retrievers, creating a negative public opinion of the breeds.

“When a Labrador or a goldendoodle bites someone, it doesn’t get reported. It doesn’t get announced. It’s not such a big deal, but when one of these guys does something, it’s all over the place,” he said.

Gabrovski believes that dog abuse or negligence is a significant factor in dangerous dog cases.

“They should ban people from owning dogs. They shouldn’t ban any breed, but they should ban people not capable of taking care of these dogs,” he said.

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Posted: Apr 21 2024 6:00 am
Filed under: News

About the Author

Christian Zdravko
The Big Chris here. I love music, shows, movies, video games, and learning about the world around me.