Every neighbourhood seems to have one: a dog that barks, snaps, jumps and growls at everyone that comes within lunging distance of his property.
There used to be one such dog just a few streets over from my own house on a walking route I frequented with my own canines. The poor guy was tied to a post in his yard, which only heightened his agitation and frustration and led to aggression. I became certain he would eventually break away from his tie-out, jump the fence and get into a whole lot of trouble.
Concerned, I reported the situation to Toronto Animal Services and, before you could say “Down Boy!”, the dog and his people moved out.
Just before they left the area, however, another neighbour told me the last time she saw that dog, he was wearing a muzzle because he’d bitten a child who had been visiting the dog’s family.
I never discovered if the muzzle had been ordered by the city or if the owners took it upon themselves in order to prevent another biting incident. Given their lack of concern for their dog and their neighbours, however, it’s probably safe to say that decision was made by the city when the child was injured.
What prompts the city to issue an order for a dog to be muzzled?
Toronto Municipal Code No. 349-14 states:
A. Where the executive director has reason to believe that a dog has bitten a person or domestic animal, the executive director shall:
(1) Where the bite is the first bite on record with the City, and where the bite occurred on the owner’s premises, serve the owner with a notice of caution.
(2) Serve the owner with a notice to muzzle if, in his or her opinion, the bite referred to in subsection A(1) is severe.
(3) Where the bite is a second or subsequent bite on record with the City, serve the owner with a notice to muzzle.
B. Where the executive director has reason to believe that a dog has bitten a person or domestic animal in the City other than on the owner’s premises, the executive director shall serve the owner with a notice to muzzle.
Whether the bite results in a notice of caution or a muzzle order, the owner can appeal within 30 days and, if a hearing is granted, the executive director may either uphold the notice or exempt the owner from the muzzling requirement.
I never spoke with the owner of the dog that prompted this column, but judging from that dog’s increasing state of agitation, nothing had been done to address the issue before the muzzle was placed on the dog. Or maybe that person did try to correct the problem but gave up. Or maybe that person didn’t know or care there was a problem.
Whatever the case, when a dog bites someone, it’s a problem that could have been prevented.
According to a website dedicated to dog owners’ rights, www.dogsownersrights.com, public education is key to avoiding dog bites. It states 50 per cent of all children will be bitten before their 12th birthday and 90 per cent of those will be from dogs they own or know.
It goes on to say children need to be taught dog bite awareness in school and suggests schools invite visitors such as police, veterinarians and dog trainers to hold seminars.
I would add that adults need to educate themselves, too, on safe ways to interact with dogs, how to approach them and how to supervise their kids around them.
It’s not always an unsocialized or untrained dog that bites. It can be the nicest dog in the world that’s feeling cranky due to illness or injury. Or it can be a fearful dog, startled by a stranger’s hand suddenly thrust too close to its face.
Dog owners need to do their part, too.
According to a press release from the Toronto Humane Society (THS), “Fear and anxiety are the source of aggression and biting is the worst possible ending for aggression. Dog bites can be prevented by setting your dog up for success with proper socialization, exercise and training.”
More tips on how to prevent dog bites can be found at www.torontohumanesociety.com/press.htm (under the heading “Dog Bite Prevention Week begins May 15”).