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Have a dangerous dog? Expect a visit from city staff

Owners of dogs deemed dangerous in Toronto can expect a visit from city staff under tough new measures being implemented in the wake of a number of severe dog attacks in the last two years.

Starting this week, staff are expected to visit all dog owners who have received dangerous dog orders, the city said in a news release on Wednesday. The visits, which will continue into May, will be prioritized according to the severity of the behaviour of the dog in question. There are currently 373 dangerous dog orders in place in Toronto.

Owners will receive a standardized warning sign that must be posted on their property and will be reminded of the requirements of dangerous dog orders.

According to the city, owners of dangerous dogs must muzzle their dogs when they are in public, obtain a dangerous dog tag, ensure their dogs are socialized properly, make their dogs undergo obedience training and not allow their dogs to go into off-leash areas in Toronto.

The sign that must be posted, which includes a QR code, reads in part: “Warning. Dangerous Dog on Premises.” The QR code leads to the city’s webpage on dog bites or attacks.

The city has also created a public list of dangerous dogs� on its open data portal. The list includes the first three digits of the dog owner’s postal code, their ward number, the dog’s name, breed and colour and the date of the dog attack that led to the order.

A sign reading "No dogs allowed in playground" sits on the fence of Little Norway Park, where a child was mauled by a dog and left with "life-altering injuries" on Saturday, March 23.
A sign reading ‘No dogs allowed in playground’ sits on the fence of Little Norway Park, where a child was mauled by a dog and left with ‘life-altering injuries’ on March 23. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, said on Wednesday that she pushed for a review of how Toronto Animal Services handles dog attacks after a woman in East York was seriously injured in a mauling by two dogs last July.

The woman was out for an evening walk when she was attacked. The dog owner was charged and the dogs were put down, according to the city.

Since that mauling, there have been two more high profile dog attacks this year. In March, a boy was left with life-altering injuries after being bitten and dragged by a dog in Little Norway Park playground in Toronto’s Harbourfront area, and a woman now faces charges. In February, a woman was seriously injured after being attacked by two dogs while she was waiting at a bus stop in Rexdale. A man now faces charges in connection with that attack.

“I think what we found after these three attacks was that many owners were not taking these very seriously,” Fletcher said.

‘A serious matter’

The message now, said Fletcher: “This is a serious matter. If your dog has one of these orders, you are required to keep the public safe from your dog.”

Toronto City Councillor, Paula Fletcher (Ward 14) speaking at the city's budget meeting on February 15, 2023.
Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, speaks in council chambers. Fletcher pushed for a review of how the city handles dog attacks after a woman in her ward was seriously injured in a mauling. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Fletcher said the city hopes that the public list, along with enforcement and compliance, will increase public safety.

“It’s the eyes and ears of the public that will help maintain safety with these dogs,” she said. “If the requirements are followed, that should make the public safer.”

City council decided in March to increase enforcement, create a public list of dangerous dogs, provide a warning sign to owners and provide access to discounted training for owners with dangerous dogs who cannot afford training.

In the release, the city said prevention is key.

“Most dog attacks can be prevented if dogs are kept on a leash. Residents are reminded that it is a bylaw requirement for all dog owners to keep their dogs on leashes when out in public (except when in designated dogs off-leash areas).”

'Aggressive dogs' are defined in the Fraser Valley Regional District by their behaviour, not their breed.
A Chihuahua bares its teeth in this photo. The city says: ‘Most dog attacks can be prevented if dogs are kept on a leash.’ (Shutterstock)

Andrea Dinan, founder of City Dogs Training and Behaviour, said on Wednesday that training is important and one key issue is owners lacking understanding of dog behaviour.

“I really think the root of the problem is just not seeing the subtle signs of fear, stress or anxiety before it turns into such a big issue or such an aggressive response,” Dinan said. 

“City dogs have a really hard time between the sights, the sounds, the noises, the passing by people and dogs. A lot of the owners don’t realize it until it becomes this problem.”

Dinan said more public education, with tips for dog owners, would help owners to build a good relationship with their canines.

Owners to be fined if they fail to comply

The city said if dog owners fail to comply any part of with a dangerous dog order, they could be fined up to $615 or up to $100,000 if the fine is issued by the court upon conviction.

City staff will conduct regular checks to ensure dog owners are complying with orders and to respond to complaints.

Toronto Animal Services is expected to report to the city’s economic and community development committee on the issue in October. 

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