By Suzana Gartner & Cassandra Devenyi

Dangerous dog laws in Canada are regulated by provincial Acts, municipal by-laws, and criminal law provisions, and therefore vary across the country. The law aims to balance a dog owner’s interest in the wellbeing of their companion animal with the protection of public safety [1]. However, this balance is not always struck.

For instance, some jurisdictions have breed-specific legislation that bans or restricts specific breeds. Ontario has banned the ownership, breeding, abandonment, and importation of pit bulls since 2005, under the pretense of public security [2]. Breed bans are dangerous to dogs who may have no history of aggressive behavior and blame a breed of dog rather than irresponsible pet ownership, which may influence a dog becoming dangerous. Breed bans are ineffective and can lead to the killing of innocent animals who have not shown aggressive behavior[3]. 

Once a dog has been deemed dangerous, provincial statutes and local by-laws will determine the next steps. A court needs to be satisfied that the dog will not pose a future risk to public safety or that of other animals[4]. 

Earlier this year, Punky, the Australian cattle dog, was met with a heartbreaking ruling as the BC Court of Appeal decided he was a dangerous dog and must be euthanized. The Supreme Court refused an appeal. Punky had bitten a stranger at a park in 2017 and was placed in city custody ever since[5]. Punky was locked in a separate area of the animal shelter where his owner could only visit for 30 minutes once per week[6]. In British Columbia, once a dog is considered dangerous, the onus is on the owner to show that they are capable of being rehabilitated. In Punky’s case, his isolation and new stressful environment in the shelter were unlikely to be conducive to new healthier behaviors. Under the Vancouver Charter 1953 dangerous dog provisions, once the dog is found likely to kill or seriously injure, the court has no alternative but to order that the dog be put down[7]. 

Punky’s distressing case does not mean that hope for reactive or aggressive dogs across the country is lost. Many factors go into the judge’s decisions, including whether they have a history of aggression, whether the attack was provoked, the owner’s capability of teaching the dog, and the owner’s ability to demonstrate responsible pet ownership. In Vancouver, the court had no alternative once Punky was held to pose a future risk to the public. Advocacy for amending this legislation is crucial, as other provinces show that there are other effective ways to maintain public safety. 

For instance, under s. 4 of the Dog Owners’ Liability Act (DOLA) in Ontario, if a dog is found to pose some threat of future harm to the public, there may be an alternative to euthanasia if the owner is able to take specific measures to more effectively control the dog and protect public safety. The plan may include keeping a muzzle and leash on the dog in public places, posting warning signs outside of the home, or restricting the dog to the owner’s property[8].

A recent case in Alberta, Calgary (City) v. Peterson, is also encouraging. Alberta courts found Nubbs the pit bull to be a vicious dog under s. 29 of the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw and recognized that it would be unsafe to release the dog without a comprehensive plan to address public safety. The court agreed to a care plan for Nubbs, which stipulated that he would not live with other animals, would complete private behavioral training, and would only leave home leashed and muzzled [9]. The judge correctly recognized that with proper training and responsible pet ownership, any threat to society could be mitigated without costing Nubbs his life. 

If you have a dog that has been deemed dangerous, it can be crucial to obtain legal assistance early. Gartner & Associates recognizes that this is a difficult time and will defend you and your dog diligently and passionately. Gartner & Associates has successfully defended numerous dog bites and dog breed bans in Ontario. 

For more information, contact us by phone at 416-849-0944 or via email at reception@animallawyers.ca.

 

 

[1] Santics v. Vancouver (City) Animal Control Officer, 2019, BCCA 3342, par 10. 

[2] Dog Owners’ Liability Act, 1990, s.6-s.10

[3] ASPA, “What is Breed-Specific Legislation?” ASPCA, online: https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/dogfighting/what-breed-specific-legislation

[4] Santics, supra note 1 at para 17-18. 

[5] “It was sad. Really sad. Punky the dog destroyed after years-long legal battle. CBC News. Jan. 2020, online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/punky-dog-destroyed-1.5438365

[6] Yvette Brend, “Death Row Dog Loses Appeal.” CBC News. Aug. 2019, online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/punky-dog-death-row-bite-vancouver-off-leash-park-attack-1.5242054

[7] Santics, supra note 1 at para 7, 15. 

[8] Ibid, para 23. 

[9] Calgary (City) v Peterson, 2019, ABPC 319

 

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