Dog owners — and anyone who's been bitten — face a ragbag of dog-control laws across New Brunswick, 13 years after a legislative committee investigating potentially dangerous dogs called for uniformity.

How dog owners or dog victims are treated depends on where they live, as a couple in Carrolls Crossing discovered when their eight-year-old daughter was attacked by a pit bull. 

'My thought was, 'Look, there seems to be two types of owners: folks who like these breeds because they can be, when raised right, lovable and intelligent, and those who almost seem to enjoy having them because they're scary to other people.' - Kelly Lamrock, former MLA

​Carrolls Crossing is in the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi, which has a dog control bylaw.

But Jamie and Hollie Warren say they were frustrated by how authorities responded after a neighbour's dog got its teeth into daughter Emma's arm and backside.

The owner was told to quarantine his dog for 10 days, in case it had rabies.

Under the rural community bylaw, the officer could have seized the dog, but only a judge could have ordered it destroyed — after a civil action by the Warrens. 

The people of Upper Miramichi shouldn't assume their law is better, worse or similar to laws found in cities or unincorporated areas or even other rural communities. 

Rural residents 'don't like rules'

Upper Miramichi Mayor Doug Munn said bylaws in rural areas tend to be vague, but the recent attack has put dog control on the agenda for council's next meeting, he said.

"A lot of people live in the country, they don't like a lot of rules and regulations, but definitely you've got to have rules and regulations when it's dealing with public safety," Munn said.

He said the rural community will look at options such as changing the job description for the dog control officer or requiring some dogs be muzzled at times.

New Brunswick's patchwork of dog control rules persists despite the debate that occurred in 2004, when former MLA Kelly Lamrock proposed the Restricted Dog Act.

The bill would have required owners of pit bulls, rottweilers and other powerful dogs to carry liability insurance and register with the province.

Weak appetite for change

Lamrock pushed for the change after four-year-old James Waddell was mauled to death by three rottweilers in 2003.

"At the time, my thought was, 'Look, there seems to be two types of owners: folks who like these breeds because they can be, when raised right, lovable and intelligent, and those who almost seem to enjoy having them because they're scary to other people,'" Lamrock said in an interview.

After reviewing the bill, a legislative committee removed the focus on specific breeds and instead said it should focus on ensuring animal control laws were uniform in the province, Lamrock said. 

Kelly Lamrock

Former Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock pushed for legislation that would have tightened up laws around ownership of certain breeds back in 2004. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

But municipalities resisted a move toward provincial standards, and the bill didn't go anywhere.

"And frankly, not a lot of public pressure the other way," Lamrock said. 

"I don't know if I've even had anyone raise the issue with me in a number of years."

Municipalities decide

The Municipalities Act covers animal control, but the law only applies to unincorporated areas and to rural communities that haven't adopted a dog bylaw.

Municipalities enact their own animal control laws and they do different things. 

In general, dogs can't run at large anywhere in the province except in special parks. It's rare that a community bans  specific breeds. Salisbury does not allow pit bulls, and Chipman tried banning them before settling instead on dangerous dogs, including dogs trained to attack.

In Fredericton, owners of "dangerous" dogs have to keep them muzzled when off property or confine them to a house or pen, with a warning sign.

No owner can permit a dog to "bite or attempt to bite a person: or act in a terrorizing manner to people on the street," the bylaw says. 

Judge's order to euthanize

If a dog in Fredericton does bite someone, the animal control officer can try to get a provincial court order to have it destroyed. 

One of the tougher bylaws is in Quispamsis, which has zero tolerance for infractions and gives the animal control or police officer authority to destroy an animal that's bitten a person or another animal.

Police can kill a dog on the spot if it can't be seized but has attacked, chased or bitten a person or other animal.

In unincorporated areas, a judge can force a dog owner to destroy an animal that has bitten someone, but generally, judges want to see a history of biting before making such decisions. 

Department of Environment and Local Government spokesperson Marc Andre Chiasson said no changes are planned.

Although he thinks dog bylaws could be clearer, Munn, of Upper Miramichi, thinks uniformity is unlikely.

"I find with any bylaw, one size doesn't work all the time either for everybody," he said.

"But when an incident happens like this, it wouldn't matter what bylaw you had. a person got bit. They're still going to get bit. It's just what do we do to try to minimize it."

Issue is enforcement 

Stephanie Shipley, owner and operator of Paw and Order in Fredericton, said it's not so much the differences among the laws that's a problem but the ability to enforce them.

"It's enforcement that we struggle with in our province," she said.

Sometimes issues with dogs, such as roaming at large, aren't enforced equally everywhere.

And after an incident with a dog, the dog is presumed to be at fault, even though a formal investigation almost never takes place, she said.

"But they're doing what they can as law enforcement professionals and that's what the law says should be done."

Corrections

  • An earlier version said no communities ban specific breeds. In fact, one community at least, Salisbury, bans ownership of dogs commonly known as pit bulls or bull terriers.
    Nov 14, 2017 1:17 PM AT
With files from Sarah Petz, Jordan Gill and Catherine Harrop