Irresponsible pet owners, not pit bulls, are to blame for a rise in dog-on-dog attacks in Edmonton, says the former president of the Alberta Veterinary Association.
City reports reveal that American Staffordshire terriers — one of several breeds commonly known as pit bulls — are the worst offenders in fatal dog-on-dog attacks in the past five years. The deadly attacks have some pet owners calling for new restrictions on so called “bully breeds.”
But breed specific legislation would not reduce the number of attacks, said Louis Kwantes, a Sherwood Park veterinarian.
“It can look like a smoking gun, but it’s a little bit of a leap to decide that it’s strictly because of the legislation that there is an increased number of attacks,” Kwantes told CBC’s Edmonton AM.
“Honestly, it’s more of a people problem than a dog problem. We do support protection from dangerous and vicious dogs. But we’re taking it too far to paint all animals from one breed as the same.”
Pit bulls, huskies, German shepherds top list
During the past five years, more than a dozen different breeds — from pit bulls to border collies — were responsible for reported dog-on-dog attacks in Edmonton. But pit bulls, huskies and German shepherds were the top three worst offenders, respectively.
American Staffordshire terriers were responsible for for 23 of the 81 fatal dog-on-dog attacks reported between January 2013 and September 2017, according to city statistics.
Of the 31 fatal dog attacks reported in 2016, American Staffordshire terriers were listed as the worst offenders with nine fatal attacks, followed by unknown breeds at six and huskies at five.
Huskies were blamed for the most attacks in 2015. There were a total of 13 fatal dog-on-dog attacks that year, and huskies were responsible for three. American Staffordshire terriers were responsible for two, and Labrador retrievers were blamed for two.
Attacks in Edmonton are now at a five-year high and resulted in the deaths of 30 pets in 2016.
In total, 813 attacks on pets were reported last year — a dramatic rise from the previous three-year average of 600 attacks, and more than double the attacks in 2012.
Sara Ward, an Edmonton woman whose pet chihuahua was killed by another dog in a southwest Edmonton park this summer, lobbied for access to the city’s breed-specific statistics, which had never been reported publicly.
Ward said the reports are proof that the city needs to reinstate restrictions on pit bulls. Bylaws that required pit bulls to be muzzled on public property and tethered on private property were repealed in 2012.
“I do believe that we have a breed-specific issue on our hands,” Ward said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Tuesday. “I know it’s a controversial, touchy subject and people get very heated about it, but we need to go on data.”
But the numbers are not as clear cut as they seem, Kwantes added. Attacks by smaller breeds often go unreported, he said.
“There are a lot of injuries that happen with smaller breed dogs too, but generally the injuries are not as severe, and that doesn’t make it any better. But size is definitely a big factor,” he said.
“The bigger part of the problem is with what owners allow their dogs to do and the situations that they put those dogs in.”
Responsibility falls on owners, vet says
Restrictions should be placed on individual dogs that have proven vicious or dangerous to the public, Kwantes said, but breed-specific legislation is not the answer.
The restrictions are discriminatory and fail to address to the root cause of dog attacks: careless pet owners, he said.
Kwantes notes that more than a dozen different breeds were responsible for fatal attacks in Edmonton. If bylaw restrictions must be instituted for dogs, then they should apply to all breeds.
“If we’re going to do the best we can to prevent injuries, which are heart-rending, then we should be able to apply the same standards across all the different breeds in order to prevent many different attacks,” he said.
The onus is on pet owners to ensure their dogs are safe, he said. People who choose to have larger dogs need to be even more careful, but it’s unfair to assume that pit bulls are inherently vicious, he added.
Kwantes said cities need to focus on responsible pet ownership, not singling out one breed.
“Unfortunately, we deal with pets that get the brunt end of attacks from other dogs,” Kwantes said.
“The burden of the responsibility definitely has to lie with humans.”