Dogs running without leashes in Thunder Bay sparked hundreds of complaints to the city's Animal Services in the past year.

The issue has become front and centre after a loose dog mauled an 11-year-old boy in Tarbutt Park on the weekend.

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Jackie Willson only lets her dog run free in Thunder Bay's off-leash parks. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Jackie Willson brings her dog Kona to the off-leash park on Neebing Avenue a couple of times a week — one of three places in the city where dogs are allowed to run free.

Willson was horrified to hear about the attack in Tarbutt Park. 

"I've owned a dog my whole life and I'd never take him anywhere off leash," she said. "I just don't think that's right."

Willson also takes Kona to Boulevard Lake on a leash, but she noted many other owners aren't as responsible with their dogs.

Digging in to dog complaints

  • In the past year, there have been 516 complaints of dogs running loose — 88 of which involved an incident of biting, attacking or other aggressive behaviour.
  • The city has either laid charges or given restraint orders (muzzles or leashes) for about 50 per cent of the bite or attack incidents reported. 
  • In some cases, dogs have had to be euthanized.
  • The city's statistics don't break down the severity of the bites, but Jody Kondrat, supervisor of Animal Services, estimates about six of the bites have required significant medical intervention.
  • Animal Services tends to get the most complaints from high-profile parks like Friendship Gardens, Marina Park, Boulevard Lake.
  • Dogs must be on a leash in all areas of city parks, and enclosed skating rink areas are no exception.
  • The City of Thunder Bay runs three off-leash dog parks.

Source: Animal Services for the City of Thunder Bay

"I don't like it because they come up to my dog and I don't know how they're going to react. It scares me sometimes," she said, adding the situation can be equally threatening for the dogs too.

"I mean, even at Vickers Park they'll have their dogs off leash and there's people driving around that area.  [Their] dog can run out and get smucked by a car."

In the last year, the city of Thunder Bay has received more than 500 complaints about unleashed dogs. 

In nearly 90 of those complaints, the dog either bit someone or showed other aggressive behaviour. 

"The complaints are generally around parks because, of course, people frequent parks with their children," said Jody Kondrat, supervisor of Animal Services.

"So those are the areas where people obviously don't want to be confronted by a loose dog."

Kondrat added keeping a dog on leash — in public — is the law. That includes parks, like Tarbutt, where there are enclosed areas for skating rinks. The only exception is if the dogs are in one of the off-leash dog parks.

"You cannot ... bring your dog to any city park where there are boards up and think that that's permitted use, because it certainly is not," she said.

If people break it they risk receiving a fine of up to $10,000, or up to six months in jail. Those penalties apply if an owner is charged and found guilty under provincial pet owner responsibility legislation.