Veteran Toronto Councillor Paula Fletcher has been “on the dog file,” as she calls it, for a long time.
But it was a dog mauling in late July on Mortimer Ave., which left a woman with serious injuries, that prompted her to successfully call on city council on Sept. 21 to demand municipal officials review how the city reacts to serious dog attacks.
“I am very concerned about maulings by dangerous dogs,” said Fletcher.
“(I want city officials) to report back in 2024 on how well (Toronto Animal Services are) responding to serious dog attacks and if there can be improvements. So, I’m waiting to hear how they’re doing it because I do think there could be some improvements there.”
There have been 243 dog attacks on humans so far this year, compared to 223 for the entirety of 2022. In cases of a dog attacking another canine or animal, there were 202 incidents as of Oct. 31, compared to 186 in all of 2022.
During a recent interview with The Toronto Sun, Jasmine Herzog-Evans, manager of Toronto Animal Service’s mobile response enforcement unit, blamed the increase in dog attacks on “the theory they were dogs that people got just before or during COVID which probably impacted their socialization because (the owners) would not have been able to access proper training.”
Fletcher said given there are approximately 300,000 dogs in Toronto, and just “a sliver” of badly behaved ones, the focus is dealing with truly dangerous canines.
“We do have to deal with dogs that are truly a menace and can really hurt people and have really hurt people in a very life-altering way. Everybody always says, ‘Oh, my dog is so good. They don’t usually do that.’ … I think that the really extreme cases have to be dealt with in not a run-of-the mill manner.”
Fletcher wrote in a Sept. 6, 2023 letter about the Mortimer incident that she was concerned “the dogs involved were already under a dangerous dog order. The owner was not required to surrender the dogs in question to Animal Services, which was terrifying for the surrounding neighbours. Animal Services did not take immediate steps to get a removal order from a justice of the peace. These two dogs, which were under a Dangerous Dog order, were left in the care of the owner along with two other dogs that were also under Dangerous Dog orders.”
Fletcher added that she’s concerned people are too casual about dangerous dog orders.
“My goal is to determine if the process for dog attacks is as tight and clear as it should be? And if it really meets the test of managing the attack?” she said. “Getting mauled by a dog, and not having a clear process to act immediately, that’s what’s what I’m looking for.”
Victims wanting justice can plead their case before the city’s Dangerous Dog Review Tribunal and Fletcher said that’s an improvement given you used to have to go to court.
“Now we have a tribunal that makes those decisions,” said Fletcher. “So that’s kind of a step-up, it takes the pressure off a lot of individuals to be going to court. The tribunal will hear both sides of the story.”
The Ontario government brought in legislation banning pit bulls in Ontario in 2005 and yet some of the animals in recent attacks, including the Mortimer attack, have been described as either pit bulls or mixes.
“Everybody should be working with that,” agreed Fletcher.
In an emailed statement, Herzog-Evans said the city does enforce the provincial Dog Owners’ Liability Act (DOLA), including restricted breeds in Toronto.
“If the city receives complaints about an individual owning a pitbull, officers will investigate to verify whether the dog meets the DOLA definition of a pit bull. The Act places the onus on the dog owner to prove their dog is not prohibited pit bull.”
Accepted documentation includes certified breed registration papers, a signed statement from a veterinarian, or valid documents such as adoption records.
“If a dog is determined to be prohibited, the city initiates legal proceedings in the Ontario Court of Justice, including laying charges,” said Herzog-Evans. “The final decision regarding the dog is determined by the courts.”
As for how effective the provincial pit bull ban has been, neither the solicitor general or the premier’s office immediately responded to a request for comment.