With the amount of dog attacks set to jump, it’s ideal timing that Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver has introduced a new bill which will include heightened penalties for dog owners.
Weaver tabled the bill in legislature last week, called the Animal Liability Act, which is modelled on a Manitoba legislation to make owners directly liable for any damages caused by their pets.
As it currently stands, when someone gets bitten by a dog the options available for legal recourse rely on the dog having a history of violence.
“That’s simply not enough,” said Weaver, leader of the provincial Green Party. “This legislation does not affect the vast majority of caring, responsible pet owners. It targets negligent pet owners, particularly dog owners, who are not appropriately socializing, training or restraining their animals in public places.”
It comes at the right time of year as it’s the busy season for dog attacks, said Saanich Pound inspector Susan Ryan.
“Once the weather gets warmer and the sun is out, we are inundated with dog attacks.”
In particular, the bill will target dogs as thousands of reported and unreported dog bites happen in B.C. each year, Weaver said.
That’s good news, said Sooke’s Denis Canuel, who was attacked by a dog in Saanich’s Broadmead area two weeks ago.
The professional gardener was attending to a property when a medium-sized terrier (not a pit bull) broke free from its owner and bit into Canuel’s jeans. It tore a hole in his pants and caused swelling and bruising in his leg.
Canuel was introduced by Weaver to the legislature gallery during the bill’s introduction on Wednesday.
“I’m not much of a poster boy, but better me than a kid disfigured for life, that’s the kind of poster boy you don’t want,” Canuel said. “These dogs are weapons and should be treated as such, in the same way a car is a weapon, and I hope Saanich will take inspiration from these new developments and take measures to protect citizens instead of dangerous dog owners.”
There are a variety of reasons that contribute to the spike in spring and summer dog attacks, Ryan explained.
“It’s everything from a boon in rescue groups that bring dogs from all over the world which aren’t behaviourally tested, or in general, dogs that haven’t bonded with the people they’re with.”
Another problem is the amount of dog owners unaware that their dog will display an aggressive type of behaviour.
“Attacks happen with owners who haven’t had a problem with their dog before,” Ryan said.
Dog-on-dog attacks are the most common but there are plenty of dog attacks on humans reported in Saanich, mostly minor, and almost always preventable, Ryan said.
“If dogs are controlled we won’t have these issues, it’s a preventable, fixable problem.”
Under the Animal Liability Act the first offence is a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than six months. Subsequent offences could earn a fine up to $10,000 or imprisonment up to one year. Similar acts are in place for Ontario and Manitoba, and Weaver says B.C. has fallen behind.
“In most instances I would expect this legislation to be used in situations where an irresponsible owner fails to take appropriate precautions and their violent dog attacks someone,” he said.
In Saanich, dog licences cost about $25, but the price jumps to $75 for dogs designated as aggressive and $150 for dogs designated as dangerous.
The Animal Liability Act would not apply to damages caused by livestock but would apply to situations where someone let a particularly aggressive llama or emu run around biting people, for example, Weaver added.
“We need clear liability legislation so that owners are required to ensure their pets behave safely and are held to account if their pet does behave in a dangerous manner,” Weaver said.