NANAIMO — Experts say stronger laws and more resources, instead of breed-specific regulations, are needed to prevent dog attacks locally.
The reaction comes after two dogs were euthanized for attacking three people, including two young children, outside a home on Ranchview Dr. in the Cinnabar Valley on Saturday, May 12. One girl was reportedly left with significant injuries to her arm, while another suffered a loonie-sized puncture wound near her elbow.
Ian Fraser, senior officer with Nanaimo Animal Control Services, told NanaimoNewsNOW the dogs were back home when they arrived at the scene following the attack and the owner voluntarily agreed to give them up.
He said they appeared to be young pit bulls, one a brindle and the other some sort of mix, but he couldn’t be sure without DNA testing.
Fraser said in the past they responded to two complaints about those specific dogs getting loose and issued tickets. In response to questions of why the animals weren’t dealt with before the attack could happen, Fraser said animal control officers have very few mechanisms at their disposal.
Under the City’s bylaws, fines can be issued but dogs can only be impounded if they are found to be at-large without their owner. The Community Charter only allows for dogs to be seized from an owner if the animal is deemed dangerous and the owner agrees. If the owner does not, a warrant must be obtained.
Fraser said in his opinion animal control is largely underfunded, noting there are only two full-time officers to serve the entire city, making the restricted breed regulations “quite problematic.”
“It isn’t advertised widely and I don’t believe there’s sufficient abilities to enforce that section of the bylaw on every single dog that’s in Nanaimo. It’s on the books but there has to be a whole lot of education and ability to enforce.”
Pit bulls are a restricted breed in Nanaimo, meaning, among other things, they must be muzzled when not at home and kept in a secure enclosure.
Leon Davis, branch manager for the Nanaimo and District SPCA, said he doesn’t think the current breed restrictions in Nanaimo achieve the goal of making the community safer and only provide the “illusion of safety.”
“It’s ignoring all of the other problem dogs we might have in the community. What every community needs is just really strong dangerous dog legislation which means we target dogs and owners that are a problem and we hold them to account and we have enough laws with teeth that we can intervene before these kind of things happen,” Davis said.
Davis, who is the father of a young child and owns a pit bull which is certified as a Canine Good Citizen, said he completely empathizes with people lashing out against specific breeds following vicious attacks like the one in Cinnabar.
“You bring in tougher breed-specific legislation and owners still don’t follow these laws. So you feel safer because ‘Oh this breed isn’t allowed in the city.’ Well they will be in the city, they’ll be flying under the radar and because there’s a restriction they won’t be getting a licence. They’ll be hidden away and if they’re not socialized dogs, regardless of breed, they’re still a risk.”
Davis said widespread education campaigns for dog owners are critical, as well as boosted resources for animal control.
Fraser said in his 20 years of experience, the vast majority of dog bites go unreported. However, he said people are more inclined to report incidents involving so called “bully breeds.”
“I think pit bulls are misrepresented in a lot of cases and demonized in the media…It doesn’t really matter the breed of the dog. These bad incidents have occurred and will continue to because a lot of people aren’t very savvy in canine behaviour,” Fraser said.
Over the last two years, an average of 35 dog-on-human attacks were investigated in Nanaimo and Fraser said pit bulls haven’t been any more prevalent than any other dog in those incidents.
He said a lot more people are adopting rescue dogs nowadays without realizing the work involved.
“They all have baggage and it has to be addressed professionally. People aren’t consistent and vigilant in handling their dogs. They take chances and don’t know the dog.”