Dog owners at odds over alleged pit bull attack at Winnipeg off-leash park
One owner says banned breed shouldn't be in city, while the other says her dog wasn't at fault
A Winnipeg woman is swearing off city dog parks after a two-year-old goldendoodle was attacked by what she believes to be a pit bull over the weekend.
Jan Serverloh took her son's dog, Margo, to the off-leash Kilcona Dog Park on Sunday morning.
Margo was playing with another dog when what appeared to be a pit bull came across their path.
"When Margo went down to interact with it, it just lunged at her throat," said Severloh.
The city has had a ban on pit bulls and their associated breeds for nearly 30 years.
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Severloh is wondering how the dog came to be in a city park.
She describes the attack as a surreal experience that happened quickly and says the woman walking the pit bull couldn't control it.
"She was trying to pull the dog off. It wasn't coming," she said. "I was hitting at the dog — in fact I have a bruise on my arm from just trying to hammer the dog's head to get it to let go."
Jan Serverloh describes Margo's injuries after dog park incident:
Severloh also had her three-year-old grandson, Jack, with her at the time.
"I was fearing the worst of course. What if the dog lets go of Margo and then grabs Jack?" she said. "After what seemed like forever, the dog let go and Margo just took off."
Severloh says the woman with the other dog offered to exchange identification with her, but she was preoccupied with her grandson and Margo, who had bolted from the area.
"She said 'Oh I'm really sorry, this dog has never done anything like this before.'"
Severloh says other dog owners at the park helped her search for Margo for nearly four hours before the dog was found in a residential area west of Lagimodiere Boulevard.
Dog owner disputes claims
CBC News tracked down the owner of the dog. She disputes Severloh's version of events.
Megan Moldwon says her dog Meeka, a 10-year-old pit bull mix, was playing with the goldendoodle when the doodle began to nip Meeka.
When her boyfriend, Cam Jennings, tried to pull Meeka out of the situation, she says Margo bit Jennings' hand, and Meeka defended him and the dogs began biting each other.
"The moment the dog bit me, just out of instinct, I let go of Meeka. The moment I let go of Meeka, Meeka went into protection mode," said Jennings.
"I grabbed [Severloh's] dog because she didn't, and was trying to pull her dog off of ours, so the moment I got her dog off of ours, we were able to get our dog to release her dog," he said.
The couple say Severloh was on her phone at the time and didn't see what led up to the altercation.
Megan Moldwon says her pit bull mix dog was provoked:
When asked why she had a pit bull within city limits, Moldwon said Meeka is not a purebred and that there are thousands of other dogs like hers in the city.
"My understanding if it is a purebred pit bull it is banned. She however is not a purebred, she is a mix," said Moldwon, who lives in Selkirk, which also lists pit bulls as prohibited.
"She's never bit another dog, she's never bit a human, she's never showed any type of aggression to anything," she said.
Animal services investigating
The city says its animal services department is investigating the incident but couldn't comment on this specific case.
They say officers do visit dog parks to ensure compliance with city bylaws and provide public education.
They said when animal services officers become aware of a pet owner who is not in compliance, they must enforce the bylaw.
"If an individual is found in possession of a prohibited animal, they may be issued an order to remove it from Winnipeg and a fine," a city spokesperson said.
So far this year the city says it has received 14 complaints to 311 about prohibited dogs, but they don't track the incidents by breed.
Dogs that look like pit bulls banned
The city-wide ban includes American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terrier breeds, and any dog that looks like or has physical characteristics that meet accepted standards to be defined as such.
Opponents of breed specific legislation (BSL) say that while the incident is unfortunate, it's ultimately not possible to prove the dog was a pit bull.
Pit bull advocate Jessa Page says the city labels a dog a pit bull based on its appearance, and that the term pit bull is a blanket term used on dogs with similar characteristics.
"They shouldn't visually look at a dog and say that's a pit bull, when it might be a mastiff cross, it could be a Lab cross. There's potentially 23 breeds that could be identified as a pit bull," said Page, who started a petition to lift the ban in 2016.
The city would not comment on how the breed is determined.
Many opponents of BSL, including Page, would prefer to see a breed-neutral law, similar to the model used in Calgary, that holds pet owners more accountable for the behaviour of their pets.
"The ban itself pushes the pit bull group underground," said Page.
Jennings and Moldwon agree and worry their dog will be punished based on its breed and not on its behaviour.
"To sit here and tell me that Megan's dog is at fault because of the breed it is — I don't think is correct. You have to look at the situation and you have to decide whether or not it's an aggressive dog," said Jennings.
They both say that if Meeka is deemed a pit bull and is banned from the city, they would comply.
Dogs, owners, recovering
Both Severloh and Moldwon had cuts to their hands, and Jennings sought treatment at a hospital for the bite wound he sustained.
Meeka sustained bites to her face but did not need to go to a vet. Margo suffered a wound to her neck and needed surgery, costing Severloh $500 so far.
"The pads of her feet, from how long she'd been running, are just all shredded," said Severloh.
Severloh would like to be compensated for the vet bills and thinks the dog shouldn't have been at the park in the first place.
"It was made a law that these pit bulls, they shouldn't be in the city and if you're flouting the law and bringing your dog, regardless of what [the law] says, then that's unfortunate because that might mean you lose your dog," she said.
Dog parks not safe
Severloh says she will never take Margo back to a dog park again because there's no way to know what kinds of dogs, and owners, will be there.
"It's a beautiful space, but there is just no way of being able stop these people from coming," she said.
Severloh says while she has nothing against pit bulls, she believes the ban is in place for a reason and wants it to stay in place.
"Margo had to bear the brunt of this incident, but you never know, it could be somebody's child next time, and that would be disastrous."
Jennings says he also would think twice before visiting a dog park again.
"Your dog could be the greatest dog in the world. You don't know the other owners or the other dogs in that park," he said.