After dog attack, Yellowknife woman concerned about dog bylaw enforcement
City says officers required to exercise discretion when enforcing dog bylaw
Yellowknife resident Val Janz was walking her small schnoodle dog, Maggie, through a Frame Lake South neighbourhood last month when she says two medium-sized dogs approached from behind without warning and attacked her dog.
"She was taken by surprise, she yelped," recalled Janz. "One had its mouth on her neck, the other had her by the hindquarters."
The owner of the dogs, a few houses down the street, came out and tried to help stop the attack. Janz threw herself to the ground in an attempt to separate the dogs and was bitten twice. Maggie suffered numerous bite wounds and cuts to her head, neck and hindquarters and barely survived.
Janz said the traumatic incident was followed by an inadequate response from the city's municipal enforcement division, which is responsible for enforcing the city's dog bylaw. She said an officer showed up at the hospital where she was being treated for the bite wounds to ask questions about the incident, but there was very little after that.
"I felt my concerns about public safety were dismissed," she said. "There was no assessment of the viciousness of the attack. They didn't check to see how injured my dog was."
Janz said she eventually wrote the manager of municipal enforcement asking questions about their response, and was told all they could do is fine the owner for having his dogs at large.
"It seems bylaw is desensitized to this," she said.
Eric Bussey, the city's director of public safety, says the city does not talk about specific cases for privacy reasons. Bussey said the dog bylaw includes a range of options for dealing with vicious dogs, from requiring them to be muzzled whenever off their property to — in extreme situations — seeking a court order to have the dog killed.
He said municipal enforcement officers use their discretion when enforcing the dog bylaw.
"Discretion is not meant to imply that we just do the minimum," Bussey said. "It's meant to imply that we do what the officer considers the most reasonable based on the circumstances at the time."
SPCA raises concerns in letter
The SPCA agrees with Janz, saying the city is not doing as much as it could to protect dogs.
In a recent letter obtained by the CBC, the organization complained about a dog owner in Kam Lake it said has received only warnings for leaving some of his sled dogs tied to posts without shelter or water, walking in their own feces, and allowing new puppies to wander loose on the streets the property fronts on to.
The letter was addressed to a business in the Kam Lake area. Nobody at the SPCA was available to talk about the letter.
The dog owner is a former colleague of the manager of municipal enforcement, Jason Card. Bussey said he's impressed on staff the importance of treating everyone equally.
"He [the manager] wouldn't be making the decision on enforcement in any case," said Bussey. "Our manager did attend to the scene to observe, but there were other officers, more than half of our staff out there at different times in the last month."
According to city statistics, there were two complaints about cruelty to dogs up to the end of May so far this year. The city was not immediately able to say how many, if any, of those complaints resulted in charges or fines. In 2018, there were a total of three complaints.
Bussey said, ideally, bylaw officers get people to comply using the lowest form of enforcement, though he said that is not the approach officers take to enforce parking and traffic bylaws. He said violations such as speeding in a school zone or parking violations are more "black and white" than violations of the dog bylaw.
Asked if the incidents of neglect cited by the SPCA were "black and white" examples of violations of the dog bylaw, Bussey said that may not be the best phrase to use to make the distinction between the two types of enforcement.
"I'm a dog owner myself, I care for dogs," he said. "A lot of my staff in municipal enforcement are dog owners and care for dogs as well. They have investigated incidents in that area and taken some action by seeking compliance by talking to individuals who own dogs."
For her part, Janz says the city's response to her dog being attacked has not helped her get past the trauma of the event.
"It's going to be a while before I feel comfortable walking my dog in my own neighbourhood again."