Courtney Trempe of Stouffville, Ontario, just north of Toronto,
was as active an 8-year-old as you'd ever meet. She took music
and ballet lessons and played hockey and baseball. She loved
On April 29, 1998, Courtney came home with her school dinosaur
project. She went out to play at a neighbour’s house.
The children asked to play with the pet dog next door - a
120-pound bull mastiff.
The dog sniffed Courtney, sat back, and then lunged at her
neck. Courtney died from massive blood loss and asphyxiation.
"It devastated us," Courtney's mother, Donna Tempe,
told Marketplace. "She was just the love of
our lives. Honestly, we were probably in shock for a good
year and a half to two years after this happened."
The bull mastiff was put down. As a result of Courtney's
death, the local township passed a vicious dog bylaw. Among
its provisions, dogs designated vicious:
- Must be leashed and muzzled when off the owner's property
- Must be fenced in when on the owner's property
- Cannot be walked by anyone under 16-years-old
The bylaw defines vicious as any dog with a history of attacking
a human or another animal.
The bull mastiff that killed Courtney Trempe was owned by
Toronto lawyer Todd Reybroek. "I wish to God that it
never had happened," Reybroek told Marketplace.
"I feel responsible that it was certainly my dog that
did it and I feel terrible, sick to my stomach. "There
isn't a day goes by that I wish it didn't happen."
Attack was a shock
The attack has scarred Reybroek's family as well. His marriage
fell apart after Courtney's death. Reybroek says he'll never
own another dog. But he says he sees nothing he could have
done differently to prevent the tragedy.
Reybroek says his bull mastiff was well trained and obedient.
He concedes the dog had attacked a few
it had never shown any signs of aggression towards humans.
"I'd never seen him make a move to another person at
all, let alone a child," Reybroek remembers. "He
was really docile, not only with my own daughter who could
take food out of his bowl and she'd tug his ears in a playful
way and she'd follow him around. There was never a problem.
I trusted him absolutely or I wouldn't have had him in the
house with me."
Trust in dogs may be misplaced: study
Most people trust the family dog, but a federal study suggests
that trust is misplaced. The study finds dogs we know and
trust are the worst offenders for bites and attacks on people.
According to the study, the most common biters are
- German shepherds
- Cocker spaniels
- Golden retrievers
Other than rottweilers, the breeds named are among the most
common in Canadian homes.
Emile Therien has seen enough evidence to convince him that
more needs to be done to protect people from dogs. Therien
heads the Canada Safety Council, which is usually associated
with Elmer the Safety Elephant and road safety. The council
has launched a public awareness campaign on dog safety.
"We estimate, based on the American experience, and
our statistics, that reliably there are
500,000 bites in this country," Therien told Marketplace.
"It's a major, major public health problem. I think a
lot of people have really buried their heads in the sand and
it's about time we address it."
So how do you address the issue? How should we reduce dog
bites and attacks? Some Canadian cities and towns have taken
steps to try to reduce dog bites and attacks. They have enacted
vicious dog bylaws. Many others have not and will not.
Some argue that educating children and levying stiff fines
on owners who don't control their pets are the answer. But
some Canadians want vicious dogs outlawed.
The breed most often targeted for outright bans is the pit
bull. It was originally bred to fight other dogs. The pit
bull has powerful jaws; the injuries from a bite can be
In 1989, a pit bull attacked
of Winnipeg, leaving her permanently scarred.
A year later, Winnipeg banned pit bulls. It was the first
major Canadian city to do so. Pit bulls purchased prior
to the ban must be licensed, tagged as dangerous, leashed
and muzzled when they leave home. Owners must take out $300,000
in liability insurance.
Since the bylaw was enacted, the number of serious dog attacks
in the city has dropped from about 25 a year to one or two.
The neighbouring cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario
also banned pit bulls after a number of incidents. The results
Kitchener city councillor Jim Ziegler says despite opposition
from dog owners, the ban was only logical.
"I say you have to put people before dogs," Ziegler
told Marketplace. "If there's a breed that
can't be trusted, you have to get rid of that breed. And
if there's a specific dog that can't be trusted, you have
to get rid of the dog. And I don't care if your family
loves that animal; if it's a danger to other people you
have to get rid of it. It doesn't have human rights."
'People for Pit bulls'
Not everyone sees banning breeds as the way to go. Theresa
Dingsdale of Cobourg organized 'People for Pit bulls' to
lobby for the breed.
Dingsdale says crack down on breeders, muzzle dogs, increase
fines, license dogs and even dog owners, but don't ban breeds
based on headlines.
"Before we make decisions based on breed or make decisions
based on how it looks we really need to do some research,"
Dingsdale told Marketplace. "Let's find out
a little about these dogs, talk a little about the positive
attributes, or the breeds in general instead of listening
to isolated incidents."
Emile Therien of the Canada Safety Council would ban any
breed proven to be frequent and dangerous biters. But first
he wants proof: a nationwide database of dog bites.
"At some point you know some politician or some bureaucrat
is going to have to -pardon the pun- bite into this and say
we have a problem, let's look at it. If it requires doing
something let's do it."
But John and Donna Trempe, whose daughter Courtney was
killed by a dog in a neighbour’s backyard, aren't so
sure banning breeds is the answer.
"There's always going to be the good and the bad, I
think, in any breed," Donna Trempe said. "I don't
think you're ever going to ban every dog that's going to bite,
you should be responsible for it."
Todd Reybroek -whose bull mastiff killed Courtney- isn't
so sure either.
"When you look at the statistics of dog bites
bull mastiffs don't even sort of show up on the radar,"
Reybroek said. "They're below dogs like cocker spaniels
in terms of bites. The problem is it might be a lot like trying
to swat a fly with a sledgehammer. Once you start banning
breeds, where do you draw the line?"
Donna Trempe warns other mothers and fathers to be vigilant:
"Don't leave your kids alone with dogs ... If you think
that it has a tendency to bite, muzzle it. It's not worth
it. One child is not worth it. Any child's life is not worth