How Alberta communities deal with vicious dogs varies from the pit bull bans proposed elsewhere

The mauling death of a Quebec woman in June has reignited the debate over pit bull ownership with two of the province's largest cities considering banning the breed — but some Alberta communities take a different approach that's drawn attention from as far away as Australia.

Alberta regulations centre on behaviour rather than breed

As officials in Montreal and Quebec City consider pit bull bans, rules are much different in Alberta cities. (Vancouver Animal Control)

The mauling death of a Quebec woman in June has reignited the debate over pit bull ownership with two of the province's largest cities considering banning the breed — but some Alberta communities take a different approach that's drawn attention from as far away as Australia.

In the wake of the tragedy, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre announced he hopes to have a ban on new pit bulls in place by the fall — existing dogs will be allowed under certain conditions —  while Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume posted a video to Facebook declaring pit bulls, Staffordshire terriers and similar breeds will be banned outright beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

The announcements have fuelled online outrage and debate, so much so that police in Quebec City said they were concerned  for Labeaume's safety. The mayor later backtracked on his initial comments, saying he now wants to start a debate on pit bull ownership in the city. 

Pit bulls are banned in all of Ontario as well as Winnipeg, and a handful of towns and cities in Saskatchewan and B.C.

But in Alberta, several municipalities have crafted language around vicious dog behaviour — chasing, attacking, biting or injuring a person or animal — rather than specific breeds.

"We encourage education, training, socialization," said Doug Frizzell, superintendent with community standards for the city of Calgary.

"Any dog can and will bite so we found that it's best to really focus on the education end of it and really have people understand what type of dog they're getting and why they're getting it. The majority of it goes down to knowing your dog and making sure your dog is under control at all times no matter what the breed is."

The situation is a similar one in Brooks.

"Personally I think it's down to the owner of the animal," said peace officer Logan Grant.

"I've interacted with many pit bulls, German shepherds and rottweilers that are just as tame as any other animal. I've also dealt with shih tzus and Pomeranian that are just as vicious as any pit bull could ever be."

Any dog that attacks or bites someone is considered vicious in several Alberta cities, meaning owners must follow rigorous procedures to own them. (CBC)

Grande Prairie is the only municipality in Alberta with breed-specific language in its animal bylaw, where pit bulls, American pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers are considered restricted.

Any dog that bites or attacks a person or animal is also deemed vicious under the Grande Prairie bylaw, meaning owners must take added steps to own either, including:

  • Paying an annual $100 licencing fee.
  • Having $1 million in liability insurance.
  • Muzzling the dog while out in public.
  • Keeping it either indoors or in an enclosed pen when on their property.
  • Ensuring the animal isn't in the care or control of anyone under 16.

Edmonton rules eased

Pit bulls were restricted in Edmonton until 2012, when rules were changed to apply to any dog, which is considered vicious if it chases or attacks a person or animal or bites and causes an injury.

Owners there of any dog that has been deemed vicious also have to pay an annual $250 licencing fee and the dog has to be muzzled while in public and be kept indoors or an enclosed pen on their property. Vicious dogs can be on a chain while outside, but have to be muzzled and can't go within two metres of the property line.

Similar rules are in place in Brooks, which has the added provision of requiring a sign warning that a vicious dog lives on a property.

There have been a "handful" of bites in Brooks over the last two years, said Grant, none requiring an animal to be put down.

"Typically the dog biting incidents we have are with smaller breeds," he said.

Bites up in Calgary, but reporting has changed

According to numbers released by officials in Calgary, there were 243 bites reported in 2015, nearly the same as 2014 when there were 244. That's a jump from 2013 when there were 198.

"There's two things that's going on, we're really encouraging more people to report, so through 311 we made it easier," said Frizzell on the increase.

"As well we're now looking at and including in-house bites, so dogs that have injured people within their own home, so owners. Before those stats weren't calculated."

Herding dogs — such as shelties, Australian shepherds and collies — were responsible for the most bites in Calgary in 2015, being involved in 25 per cent of incidents.

They were followed by terriers — which includes American Staffordshires and Jack Russells — at 23 per cent. Sporting dogs — such as retrievers, pointers and spaniels — were third at 18 per cent.

Here is an interactive graph of Calgary's dog-bite incidents over the past four years. Run your mouse over the graph or, on mobile, tap it to find more information:

The city defines "sporting" dogs as including pointer, retriever, setter, and spaniel breeds. "Non-sporting" dogs include bulldogs, poodles, shih tzus, chow chows, and dalmatians.

"Toy" dogs include chihuahuas, pomeranian, Pekingese and pugs. And "hounds" include greyhound, bloodhounds, daschunds, basset hounds, and Rhodesian ridgebacks.

Alberta model

The Alberta model one being looked at by other centres around North America.

"Right across Canada and into the States, we'll have phone calls and the odd time, people will come up to see what we're doing here and just see what the Calgary model is all about," he said.

"Last year we spoke to the Australian government: they're looking at putting in some breed-specific legislation."