Loose Standards On Loose Dogs

After that brief interlude of drunken stupidity, here’s another serious post.

Jen sent me this, and it said we were free to circulate it, so here’s my attempt to circulate. I remember Helen McFadyen. I found her blog when I was talking about that horrible letter-writing campaign from CNIB that had Jim Sanders’s name falsely signed to it. Hmmm. I wonder how she’s doing. Maybe I should pop by. Anyway, her article is below. She’s trying to get it sent to newspapers. I wonder who will run with it.

BLIND WOMAN’S GUIDE DOG ATTACKED: CITY OF OTTAWA RESPONSE LACKS TEETH

By Helen McFadyen (Halifax)

Erie is a well-mannered yellow Lab and a superbly trained guide dog. You’d think she’d have enough to watch out for in her job as Christine Duport’s eyes. But Erie has been attacked four times in the past 18 months by off-leash dogs as she and Christine walked along a residential West-end Ottawa street; same street, same unleashed dogs, same owner, to whom the City of Ottawa continues to turn its same blind eye.

Erie’s calm disposition and intense training paid off in 2008 when the first swarming occurred. A pair of yappy, aggressive, un-leashed dogs swarmed the guide dog on Seymour Street. Christine and Erie were left shaken, but unhurt. Chris even had a civil conversation with the dogs’ owner who claimed he always allowed his dogs off leash and was unaware of any dog bylaws. A second similar incident occurred soon after, with the owner of the dogs becoming less ‘friendly’.

This winter, the same off-leash dogs interfered for a third time as they passed by, approaching an intersection. Chris describes her dog, Erie’s response: “She did her job…didn’t bark, tried to move away from them… focused on crossing the street with one dog jumping by her left hip and one at her front. She veered left, then right as we tried to cross Charkay and Seymour. We got stuck in the middle of the street with those crazy dogs jumping around us. I was lucky that a woman stopped her car to help”.

The Good Samaritan also gave Chris the dog owner’s address. Chris phoned the City of Ottawa, eventually speaking with a bylaw officer. Records showed that since 2003, over twenty complaints have been called in about the same dogs and owner, yet no fines have been levied or any action taken.

The obvious question is, ‘Why’? How can so many complaints about a potentially dangerous threat go without action being taken?

Chris’ voice shudders as she recollects a fourth attack. “I heard the teeth as they snapped at Erie, not biting… but still… I fussed, in hopes of scaring them off…then the guy came out and screamed at me, called me a pain in the ass. I called the City again.” This time, Chris made a formal, written complaint. She was asked by city officials if she would agree to going to court if challenged by the resident being charged (Bylaw 2003- 77-9 Dogs Running at Large). The maximum fine a ‘dogs at large’ first offense is $120.00. It seems that most complaints don’t stick, if indeed there is follow up.

When Chris spoke to city staff, all expressed their shock over the situation and agreed that “something must be done”. There is no reasonable explanation why this issue persists. Christine’s frustration and disbelief is evident, “In this case… with 20 complaints, going back years….someone should have investigated…there’s lack of diligence on their part”, she said.

Jane Thornton, Director of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, the local center which trained Erie and Chris, said, “It is unfortunate that irresponsible pet owners enable dog attacks to occur. Most pet owners are responsible, but for those of whom aren’t, we hope that the City of Ottawa will strongly enforce existing bylaws and consider the harshest penalties possible in cases where bylaws are ignored. Strong enforcement, especially of keeping dogs on leash at all times in public places, is imperative to protect all dogs, whether they are pet dogs or Assistance Dogs.”

Attempts to get an official statement from the City of Ottawa have been unsuccessful. Officials promised to “get to the bottom of it” and many added sympathetically, “That’s horrible”.

Horrible indeed. London, England takes this kind of thing seriously; a woman’s guide dog was viciously attacked in a North London subway station in February by an unleashed dog. The guide dog received severe injuries, but recovered. Both dog and its blind handler were traumatized. The attack dog’s owner probably wishes he lived in Ottawa, with its unenforced dog at large bylaw and small potato fines: He was banned from owning dogs for 10 years, jailed for three months (suspended two years), ordered to perform 150 hours of community work, to compensate the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association 1200.00 pounds and to pay the guide dog’s owner 500 pounds.

The issue of dogs at large is annoying for many, but has very serious implications for service dogs and their handlers. For Christine Duport, a 48- year old former high school teacher, life changed significantly when she lost her vision in 2005. She rose to the challenge, learning new orientation and mobility skills, Braille and how to use adaptive technology. She got back into life instead of , as Christine says, “sitting back, doing nothing” Christine’s busy life now includes volunteer work with various organizations, making presentations and preparing art description guides for the National Gallery of Canada.

Erie has become a major piece of Christine’s life. I asked Chris about the close calls with dog attacks; attacks which in which Erie could have been injured and forced to retire. “I would be absolutely devastated if I lost Erie….she is with me all the time… like an extra limb…I share my life with her…I’m as devoted to her as she is to me. I have no desire to go back to the white cane…If I lost Erie, I’d face a long period on a waiting list (for a new guide dog) and then the period to retrain… not to mention the difficult first months adapting to a new guide dog… I’d be forced into changing my life style for up to a year. No, I’ll deal with that when I have to part with Erie for natural causes….not over dogs at large”

Guide Dog Users of Canada president, Melanie Moore commented, “We will continue to advocate for Ms. Duport, and for more stringent regulations to protect guide dogs and the general public from off leash dog attacks. The type of incident that Christine and Erie experienced should not have occurred. Ottawa must get serious with legislation, enforce it and issue severe punitive consequences for people whose off –leash pets attack a service dog For example,. Manitoba’s Service Animal Protection Act allows for penalties of 5000.00 against people whose animals touch, impede or interfere with a service animal. Second offenses fines rise to 10,000. Other jurisdictions, like Vermont, are passing legislation which would send people whose unrestrained pets attack guide dogs to prison for up to a year. Ottawa residents must be afforded the same level of response and protection by the City of Ottawa.”

I notice that distinctly absent in the quote from Jane Thornton is CGDB’s attempts to advocate on this woman’s behalf. I know if a GDB grad was attacked, staff would be helping them. At least I’m pretty sure, especially if the attack happened in their own back yard.

Jesus, Ottawa, tighten up those bylaws already. That’s disgusting beyond words.

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