from the Calgary Sun, January 4th 2010
Last month, it was a woman whose face was torn open by the family Rottweiler.
In August, three members of the same family were sent for stitches after their Staffordshire terrier intervened in a domestic dispute.
On May 22, a seven-year-old boy visiting friends was mauled by a startled 70-kg English mastiff after the animal was bumped by a door.
Last year was a bloody one for dog bites in Calgary, and while the hand that feeds sometimes gets the teeth, the victims are increasingly family and friends of the dog owner.
“It’s a cause for alarm — the most disturbing aspect is the rise of bites happening in the home and with immediate neighbours,” said Bill Bruce, Calgary’s chief Animal Services officer.
“We’ve had some really bad ones this year. We had one just before Christmas where a rotti grabbed a lady’s face — she was the wife. It was ugly.”
While aggressive incidents involving dogs remain virtually the same — 159 in 2009, as compared to 158 in 2010 — the number of actual bites recorded by Calgary Animal Services has jumped from 58 to 102.
Of those 102 puncture-wound victims, 54 were strangers, 34 were neighbours and friends, eight were immediate family and six were service providers like postal workers.
Even more frightening is the age of the bitten: 20 of the victims were children aged nine and under.
Bruce suspects the rise in bites from trusted dogs is a matter of poorly trained people — those who don’t recognize early signs of aggression and who fail to properly socialize and handle their pets.
“These behaviours don’t just pop up, and there are always indicators before an attack, and if they’re not checked or corrected it will escalate,” said Bruce. “Any dog can and will bite — it’s not about size and breed, it’s about people doing the right thing with their dogs.”
If children, friends and family feeling the wrath of rotten ownership is a scary trend, Bruce is also disturbed by the breeds doing the biting.
After years with Labrador retrievers at the top of Calgary’s most-likely to bite list, pitbull and pitbull-type terriers have suddenly taken a dubious lead, passing both shepherds and retrievers.
Bruce is concerned to see pitbulls as champions of the chomp because the knee-jerk reaction is usually the call for a breed ban — a tactic he declares a total failure wherever it’s been tried.
“You ban one breed and people just get another dog that’s got the same issues,” said Bruce. “Breed legislation doesn’t work because it’s not a dog problem, it’s a people problem and it’s getting owners to understand the need to properly train and socialize their dog.”
Last year, the Toronto Humane Society released statistics showing no significant drop in dog bites since a breed ban became law in 2005.
And Italy repealed a ban on 17 supposedly dangerous dogs breeds, including Rottweilers and pitbulls after evidence showed restrictions don’t work.
Instead, Italy will focus on new laws holding owners accountable for their dogs — including proper training.
Animal Services officials in Calgary, which still boasts the lowest bite-per-population ratio in North America, say enforced training may also help solve the current rash of bites in this city.
Bruce says he is preparing to take the matter to city council where he will ask that less severe dog incidents such as chasing and nipping be subject to enforced training.
Instead of a stand-alone fine for aggressive animals, owners will also be required to complete a training course on canine handling and behaviour. “It’s an opportunity to turn that dog’s behaviour around with the help of a professional trainer,” said Bruce.
At the same time, Animal Services may seek to increase the aggressive-pet penalty for dogs trained to be surly, whether as a guard dog or status symbol.
Bruce says better owners should mean fewer bites for Calgary. “There is absolutely no reason for dogs under the proper care of an owner to bite somebody,” he said.
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TEETHING - Bited by breed group, 2010
1. Terriers (pitbulls account for half of total terrier bites) - 26 bites
2. Working dogs (includes Rottweilers and mastiffs) - 22 bites
3. Herding dogs (includes shepherds) - 17 bites
4. Sporting dogs (includes retrievers) - 16 bites
5. Non-sporting - 14 bites
6. Toys - 5 bites
7. Hounds - 2 bites