Calgary Sets the Stage

October 5, 2011  

Rather than go down the path of breed-discrimination, Calgary sets an example for the world with its effective and adaptive breed-neutral dog laws

By Micaela Myers

If breed-discriminatory legislation is not the answer, then what is? Perhaps the most shining example of a successful and adaptive set of breed-neutral policies can be found in Calgary, Canada. Their approach includes education and prevention, with a constant focus on owner responsibility – all paid for through licensing fees. Here, StubbyDog chats with Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services for the City of Calgary, about how the city’s dog policies work to create a safer and happier community for dogs and people alike.

Q: Calgary is often cited as an example of a city with successful breed-neutral dog laws. Were breed-discriminatory laws ever considered? How did the city come to adopt its current regulations?

A: After a great deal of careful consideration and consultation with our community canine experts, we came to a simple conclusion – the issue of canine aggression had to be taken seriously but had to be addressed against all dogs that display aggressive behaviors rather than selecting a few breeds whether or not they had been involved in any display of aggression. We keep up-to-date statistics on all activities around animals and found that the typical banned breeds were not necessarily the top biters. So, armed with this knowledge and the support of our community animal experts, we set out to address canine aggression from the standpoint of the act, regardless of the breed.

Q: How were the new regulations different than what the city had in place prior? Can you tell us some of the key aspects of the current regulations?

A: Initially, we treated a bite as a bite, regardless of the severity. We also had a policy of not adopting out any pit bull type dogs. We revamped our bites to three levels: minor, serious and attack, with increasing consequences. This was based on our understanding of aggressive behaviors escalating if they are not corrected quickly. We also started paying closer attention to situations that lead to more serious issues, such as dogs that are at large too often or have started displaying chasing and threatening behavior. We implemented a provision in our law to declare these dogs on their way to becoming a problem as a nuisance in the community. This order increased the license fee to $100 per year and automatically doubled any fines. Our behaviorist assessed the animal if it was involved in aggressive behavior and determined the actions needed to address the problem. The nuisance order can direct the owner to take the measure of containing the dog appropriately or even order them to take training from a certified trainer to correct the dog’s behavioral issues. After one year, if there are no further issues with the dog in the community, the order is lifted. About 90 percent of our orders are lifted after one year because the dog has ceased being a concern in the community.

(Photo above and below by Melissa Lipani)
Q: I hear that public safety and education are part of your overall strategy. Can you tell StubbyDog readers about these programs?

A: It starts with in-school training at an early age. We teach children about bite prevention and humane animal treatment. We also offer the bite prevention training to service providers like postal workers and meter readers. As mentioned in the previous question, we work directly with owners of dogs that are showing aggressive behavior to support them in getting professional help to correct their dog’s behavior. Our philosophy is that aggression is a human problem with respect to managing their dog more than it is a canine issue, and if we address the human side, the canine problem will take care of itself.

Q: When did the new regulations go into effect, and have you noticed a decrease in bites and other issues?

A: The whole process has been more of an evolution than one big “ah ha” moment. The major change in regulation came about in 2006. The downward trend [in bites] increased. In 2008 we added more behavior science into the incidents we investigated and offered more solutions at the early chase-threat and low-contact situations. As a result, in 2009 there was a drop in our bite rate to less than six bites per 100,000 people. In 2010 we had a surprising increase in in-home bites that pushed our bite rate up to just under 10 bites per 100,000 people. We have been working hard on that aspect, and so far this year we are experiencing about a 25 percent reduction in incidents since last year. (Calgary is a city of 1.1 million.)

This year, we are amending our legislation to mirror Ian Dunbar’s six level scale of canine aggression. We have found this useful in assessing and describing the severity of an incident as well as the opportunities to intervene before it gets more serious.

Q: In your opinion, how is Calgary’s approach more effective than breed-discriminatory laws?

A: I think it has been effective because it deals with the very core of the issue: unacceptable aggressive behavior. All dogs can bite and knowing the core of the issue is with the human side of the relationship, we believed that banning a breed would not reduce the bite rate because the human would simply select another bred that was not banned and create the same problem in the community – just with a different breed. We knew if we could change the human behavior then the canine side would correct itself. It really comes down to making the statement that any type of aggressive behavior will not be tolerated, and there will be significant consequences to the dog owner.

Q: I read that when a bite occurs, investigators try to find out why. What types of circumstances do you find are most likely to lead to bites?

A: We conduct extensive assessments on the dog and its situation. We look at everything from why they have a dog to socialization, training, experience with dogs, medical history, home situation (children, other animals), how are behaviors being corrected, exercise, any observed resource guarding issues and so on. Basically everything we can learn about the dog. We will do a standard behavior assessment to look at what triggers may be there and how the dog reacts to different situations. Invariably, it almost always comes back to something on the human side of the relationship. Perhaps they didn’t provide the proper training, socialization and exercise for their dog, or they failed to notice some of the early indicators that things are going wrong, such as chasing/threatening behaviors or resource guarding.

Q: I also read that while bites have gone down, the number of pit bulls in Calgary actually has risen. Is this true?

A: Yes, our number of pit bulls has increased probably due to the breed-neutral policies, and we have had many responsible owners choose Calgary as their home because they could keep their dog here. I would not be honest if I didn’t tell you that some that have moved here were not responsible owners with healthy, well-socialized dogs and have suffered some consequences as a result.

Q: In your opinion, do you think Calgary’s model is workable for most American cities?

A: Absolutely. The system works on supporting responsible owners and having consequences for owners who do not manage their dog in the community. The whole responsible pet ownership (or guardianship if you prefer that term) is based on four simple things we ask of all humans who have companion animals:

1. Provide a license and permanent ID on your pet.
2. Spay and neuter (unless you are a qualified breeder).
3. Provide the proper training, socialization, medical care, diet, exercise and grooming to keep your companion happy and comfortable.
4. Don’t let your pet become a threat or a nuisance in the community.

By supporting and, when necessary, enforcing these principles, we are able to maintain a safe community for people and animals with no breed restrictions or arbitrary pet limits.

NCRC’s video interview with Bill:

NCRC Interview with Bill Bruce on Ineffective Dog Laws from Kara Gilmore on Vimeo.

« « Ted Picks a Home | StubbyDog Trekkers – Pit Bull Lovers Hiking for Change » »

Comments

11 Responses to “Calgary Sets the Stage”
  1. TeresaParkerRincones says:

    All I can say is WOW!!!! Why can’t every city pass something like this? So much better than BSL.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @TeresaParkerRincones We agree! Hopefully Calgary will set the example for all other cities to follow.

  2. Anne says:

    Wow! Let’s spread this interview around the world. If Calgary had such a high success rate, the rest of the world should take notice and adopt similar follow through policies. I’m impressed.

  3. SandraAnholt says:

    I am a Calgarian that was very pleased to see this article posted, via one of my subscribed FB feeds. I regularly take my Boston Terrier to an offleash dog park (Calgary has more than a thousand hectares or approximately equivalent to 1000 acres of off leash areas – it really is a dog friendly city!) and my dog actually seeks out the pitties if any are there as she LOVES to play with them. At times there can be 50 or 60 dogs of every shape and size at “our” park and every last one of them is well socialized and playful. Many pitties come to this park to run off their excess energy and some of the best games of chase are played between them and my BT. I have never had a concern because I know them to be playful and loving dogs when they are in a good home. I wish you every success in your continued efforts to advocate for this maligned but absolutely wonderful breed.

  4. SandraAnholt says:

    I am a Calgarian that was very pleased to see this article posted, via one of my subscribed FB feeds. I regularly take my Boston Terrier to an offleash dog park (Calgary has more than a thousand hectares or approximately equivalent to 1000 acres of off leash areas – it really is a dog friendly city!) and my dog actually seeks out the pitties if any are there as she LOVES to play with them. At times there can be 50 or 60 dogs of every shape and size at “our” park and every last one of them is well socialized and playful. Many pitties come to this park to run off their excess energy and some of the best games of chase are played between them and my BT. I have never had a concern because I know them to be playful and loving dogs when they are in a good home. I wish you every success in your continued efforts to advocate for this maligned but absolutely wonderful breed.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @SandraAnholt Thanks Sandra, you are fortunate to live in such a dog-friendly, progressive city. And your Boston Terrier sounds like a terrific girl! Thanks for your support of StubbyDog!

  5. NMPetsALIVE says:

    Great article. For those in New Mexico, stay tuned at @newmexicopetsalive and nmpetsalive or also at: http://www.newmexicopetsalive.org/about.php . New Mexico Pets ALIVE! is in the process of coordinating a multi-city seminar schedule with Bill Bruce to introduce the Calgary Model for success in NM, benefiting NM pets and pet people.

  6. WandaBrune-Stuntz says:

    Yeah! I think this is howit should be EVERYWHERE! It’s about time someone is holding the owners responsible and not the dog! Good job!

  7. HeidiS says:

    I absolutely love dogs and have been fighting against the BSL since I first heard about it. Bruce is absolutely correct when he says that passing BSL makes most of the population your mortal enemy. It is so completely unfair, and targets animals most people consider a part of their family. The emotions run very high when it comes to this unfair discrimination. Bruce is a Godsend to our city and because of him I am proud to be a Calgarian.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @HeidiS Bruce is doing amazing work and you should be proud, now only if the rest of the world could follow. Thanks Heidi!