2 owners of small dogs killed by larger breeds call for separate areas in Vancouver off-leash parks

Two owners of small dogs recently killed by larger ones in Vancouver are calling on the city to create safe spaces for small dogs in all off-leash parks. 

Vanessa Tom started an online petition after her eight-pound dog Zooey was killed July 12 at New Brighton Park. According to the petition, Zooey was playing with another small dog in the off-leash area when a large dog approached and started biting her.

“Unprovoked, the larger dog decided to attack Zooey,” Tom wrote. “Within seconds she was dead.”

The petition calls for separate areas for smaller dogs at all the city’s off-leash dog areas. 

The Vancouver Park Board says staff were unaware of the petition, but its People, Parks, and Dogs strategy does include a recommendation to include more separate areas for small or shy dogs.

The city does have one gated off-leash park with a separate section for smaller breeds in Olympic Village, called Hinge Park. 

According to Tom’s petition, the other dog was labelled as aggressive for two years by animal services in North Vancouver, where the dog is licensed. She wonders what will happen when that time is up. 

‘Murdered right in front of your eyes’

Jonna Lepeska supports the petition. Her five-month-old Chihuahua, Milo, was killed by another dog at Jericho Beach one week after Tom’s dog died. 

Adopting a companion dog had been in the works for more than a year for Lepeska and her husband, who wanted a smaller breed they could travel with easily and would suit their lifestyle. 

“You build your hopes up for so many years and you give everything you possibly can to them, and they’re just brutally attacked and murdered right in front of your eyes like a piece of steak,” she said, crying.

Lepeska says she and her husband were walking her three-pound puppy on a leash in Jericho Beach Park when an off-leash, medium-size hound ran from behind, snapped up Milo, and shook him. The area is not designated as off-leash.

Over the next few frantic minutes, the couple, who didn’t have a car nearby, rushed into a stranger’s vehicle and were driven to a nearby veterinary clinic. They discovered Milo had a fracture in two sections of his spine and a punctured lung. They decided to put the dog down.

“We were just both in a state of shock because everything happened so quickly,” Lepeska said.  

She says animal services is still deciding what will happen to the other dog, which had been visiting from outside the Lower Mainland at the time.

Right to a ‘safe environment’

Although Milo was attacked in a park where all dogs should be on a leash, Lepeska welcomes the idea of a separate section for smaller dogs at off-leash parks.

“A small dog has the exact right as a big dog to have a safe environment to enjoy the outdoors without being afraid that it is going to be hunted for prey or attacked because they remind the dog of a squirrel,” she said. 

Lepeska says she also thinks it’s important for all dog owners to realize that although their pets may interact well with some of their furry friends, they may behave differently around different sized breeds.

Canine behaviour consultant Annika McDade agrees.

Canine behaviour consultant Annika McDade says dog owners should supervise their pets carefully before letting them off-leash around dogs of different sizes. (Annika McDade)

McDade says larger dogs play and interact differently with smaller dogs and can be too forceful with them, potentially causing injury. In some rare instances, larger dogs can mistake smaller ones for prey if they get too riled up in a game of chase. 

“People don’t understand that the more excited a dog gets in play, the easier it is for them to make mistakes,” she said. 

“It’s really important that we know a dog very well in a controlled environment both with small dogs and large dogs before we put them in a circumstance that’s a free-for-all, like a public dog park.” 

Dealing with the root of the problem

Violence between dogs, and sometimes death, is more common than people think, McDade says. 

She thinks all dog owners should socialize their puppies with dogs of all sizes so they can become accustomed to them.

Animal lawyer Rebeka Breder, who often defends dogs labelled as aggressive, agrees that owners should be responsible for their dog’s behaviour and actions. 

Breder says most often the attacker is labelled as an aggressive dog, which she doesn’t think deals with the root of the problem. 

“All it does is that you have to keep the dog leashed and muzzled without requiring the dog guardian to take more training lessons or to really look into what the cause of the problem was,” she said.

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