Dogs are not the problem; reckless dog owners areWritten by Administrator | | firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was submitted in response to the May 23 cover story on former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon.
By Jean Keating
Special to Toledo Free Press
My children’s safety around dogs is not about luck or dependent on whom the dog warden happens to be. Fear does not drive my decision-making process, research and facts do. I have done my research and when it comes to safety around dogs, the national experts are incredibly unified. Dogs are remarkably safe.
There are an estimated 75 million dogs living in our homes today. I have a better chance of being struck by a meteorite than of being killed by a dog. I am 1,000 times more likely to go to the emergency room for a fall-related injury than a dog bite. Even though I am around dogs every day I have reduced my risk of being seriously bitten to almost zero, by educating myself about which dogs bite and why.
National animal experts have identified four factors that are present in more than 90 percent of fatal dog attacks. These same four factors are present in most serious dog attacks as well. The four factors include unaltered dogs (usually male); chained or penned dogs; unsocialized dogs or dogs used for purposes other than companionship; and abused or neglected dogs. All of these factors are controlled by owners. Behind every serious dog attack, stands a reckless dog owner. Only when we start to focus on these reckless owners will we see increased safety in our community.
Communities that target reckless dog owners and hold them accountable for their dog’s behavior have experienced dramatic reductions in dog bite incidents. Take Calgary, Canada for example. Calgary has a population almost three times larger than Lucas County. Yet, Lucas County has more than twice the number of reported dog bites. Why does it enjoy a significantly safer community than we do?
Calgary researched what animal experts recommended as best practice and then put it into place. Animal experts, such as The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, U.S. Center for Disease Control, National Canine Research Council, National Animal Control Association, and many others all agree that breed neutral dangerous dog laws that target reckless dog owners and hold them accountable for their dog’s behavior, combined with dog safety education programs, keep communities safe.
Calgary adopted a very progressive ordinance that levels increasingly stiffer monetary fines for repeat offenders. It has been a major success. In a community of more than 1 million people, it has less than 250 dog bites each year, and most of those are minor. Its animal control department has a citizen satisfaction rate second only to the fire department. Bill Bruce, Calgary’s animal control director, has been invited to speak throughout the world. The Calgary animal control model has become known worldwide as the one to emulate.
In contrast, Lucas County’s reported number of dog bites has averaged 500 bites per year. For the last 20-plus years, we have completely ignored the national experts and listened to a self-proclaimed “expert” who specializes in promoting fear and panic. We have killed thousands of innocent puppies and dogs because of their appearance and not their behavior. Our animal control department’s public opinion rating has been so low we are known nationally as the “armpit” of the canine world. The City of Toledo has spent more than $1 million defending a discriminatory ordinance that has failed to make our community safer.
Our community deserves better. We have the ability to change direction and begin to enjoy the same level of safety other communities enjoy. The Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Board has been working for three months on developing a dangerous dog ordinance that would target reckless dog owners. Countless hours have been spent researching other community’s ordinances, listening to experts and discussing ideas. The ordinance is a work in progress, but definitely puts our community on the right path.
And yes, it is possible, to love both people and animals. To do anything less would be a travesty.
Jean Keating is co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates.