The number of dog attacks in Edmonton is at a five-year high and resulted in the deaths of 30 pets in 2016, according to statistics obtained by the CBC.
There were 813 reported attacks on pets last year — a dramatic rise from the previous three-year average of 600 attacks, and more than double the number that occurred in 2012.
"It is a high number. It's a number we certainly want to reduce," said Keith Scott, co-ordinator of animal control for the City of Edmonton.
"We don't want to see anybody's pet die from an attack. We want to see dogs socialize. We want to see them interacting well together. We want to see responsible pet owners."
The city classifies attacks into six levels. A level-one attack encompasses intimidating behaviour but no physical contact, while a level-six attack means that a bite resulted in the death of an animal.
About 40 per cent of attacks in 2016 were classified as level one. That figure has stayed relatively consistent since 2013.
But the number of attacks that resulted in the death of another pet has been rising.
- 2012 - 0 deaths
- 2013 - 7 deaths
- 2014 - 21 deaths
- 2015 - 15 deaths
- 2016 - 30 deaths
Scott said he doesn't know why the numbers have changed so dramatically, especially last year.
He speculated it could be due to population growth, people not keeping their pets leashed or their yards secured, or more dogs coming into the city. Edmonton has long had relatively low levels of pet registration, so it can be hard to determine exactly how many dogs live in the city.
Scott dismissed the idea the rising numbers could be linked to changes enacted to Edmonton bylaws in 2012. Previously, the city required mixed-breed American Staffordshire and Staffordshire bull terriers — more commonly known as pit bulls — to be muzzled on public property, and tethered on private property. But Edmonton, along with many cities across the country, decided to veer away from "breed specific legislation."
Any breed can attack and any breed can be socialized, Scott said.
"We need to focus our efforts on responsible pet ownership. We need to get pet owners to understand it's their responsibility to ensure their dogs are well-behaved and positive additions to the community."
With the the number of fatal attacks doubling between 2015 and 2016, city staff are working on a dog attack reduction strategy, Scott said. But they're still trying to drill through the numbers to find any possible patterns — for example, whether most attacks occur in off-leash areas, if animals break through fences, or if attacks happen at night or during the day or in particular areas.
'Serious, close examination' is needed
Pet debates are always emotionally charged. And in an election year, it's unlikely city council will dive into any significant bylaw changes.
But the numbers seem "exceptionally high" and require the city to do "some serious, close examination" to find out what's happening, said Rebecca Ledger, an animal behaviourist who has acted as a witness in aggressive dog cases and has been a consultant to B.C. municipalities on their animal bylaws.
She noted that B.C. appears to have experienced a spike in "large aggressive dogs" being imported from other jurisdictions. Those dogs are causing "serious injury" in disproportionate numbers, Ledger said.
"We know enforcement and penalties are strong factors when it comes to making people act more responsibly around their dogs," she said.
Education is just as important, and owners need to recognize signs that their dogs might need help and know what steps to take to get that help.
If a dog attacks another dog, the owner can be issued fines or tickets under Edmonton's animal licensing and control bylaw. The fine for a fatal dog attack ranges from $500 to $2,500 and restrictions could be put on the dog, including a mandatory muzzle when it is in public. Investigators may determine the dog should be euthanized.
Fatal attack can lead to more dog deaths
But some people who've lost pets to dog attacks want stricter bylaws.
Danielle Leclerc was in the courtyard of her townhouse complex in early July when two dogs raced across the yard and attacked Kali, her tiny Yorkie-Pomeranian. At the time, Leclerc was holding her five-month-old daughter in one arm, and couldn't defend her pet against the attack.
Kali died in front of her. Almost two months later, Leclerc is still haunted by the image of her mauled dog.
"There needs to be stricter laws for aggressive breeds of dogs," she said.
"Even though you might think your dog would never do something like that. One day, if it does happen, you'd wish there was a law to wear a muzzle while you're out walking, or that there was a law that these dogs need to be on leashes at all times."
The dogs that killed Kali were euthanized following an investigation by Animal Care and Control.
Leclerc said that decision didn't make her happy. She's an animal lover, she said: "Not only was there one dog that's dead, now there's three."
The city data showed the top offenders in dog attacks by breed, included (in alphabetical order): American Staffordshire terrier; border collie; boxer; German shepherd; Labrador retriever; rottweiler.