Yukon needs tougher dog laws. And it needs them soon.
Just ask Angela Neufeld. The Lake Laberge resident recently lost her 11-year-old Siberian husky, Max, to a vicious attack by her neighbour’s dogs.
Sound familiar? The same thing happened in late September to Naomi Crey, who lives just a few streets up the highway, at Burma Road.
Different dogs were involved in the attacks. But the cases share much in common.
Both women complained to the authorities. And, in both cases, nothing has happened.
Blame the territory’s outdated Dog Act. Territorial officials admit the law is vague, if not self-contradictory, making it difficult to prosecute the owners of vicious dogs that have attacked pets or people.
Tracy Pawluk owns the dogs that attacked Max. She won’t comment. “Unfortunately, this is still under police investigation,” she said.
It was Saturday, November 6, and Neufeld was walking two of her dogs along a trail near her home, just off Shallow Bay Road.
“It was a full-on attack,” said Neufeld. “The dogs charged Max. He was down on the ground instantly.”
It wasn’t a fight, said Neufeld. Max was an old dog. He never provoked the others, which she describes as three pitbull-type dogs.
“You don’t really expect to walk down the road and have someone take a swing. That’s basically what this was like.”
Neufeld threw herself on Max to protect him. She screamed at Pawluk to call off her dogs. It took about two minutes for the dogs to be brought under control.
By then, Max was badly bitten. He couldn’t walk. The dogs had also bit Neufeld on the wrist.
To Pawluk’s credit, she helped Neufeld carry Max home. Neufeld took her injured dog to the veterinarian, to no avail.
Max died from his injuries on Monday morning. Neufeld received a tetanus shot for her bite. She’s still taking antibiotics, and she worries she may have permanent nerve damage: part of her hand remains numb.
Neufeld sent a registered letter to Pawluk, asking for her to pay the $400 vet bill. “So far the owners haven’t done a damn thing,” said Neufeld.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Allen Luek has a similar story.
In September, he says, his West Highland White terrier was attacked by the Pawluk’s dogs on the road. While he freed the terrier, the pitbulls attacked Luek’s Labrador retriever.
Both of Luek’s dogs escaped with minor injuries. But Luek is worried to hear that the Pawluk dogs were off-leash when they attacked Max. He thinks the dogs should be kept on-leash and muzzled in public.
They were on chains when they bit his dogs – although still not under control, he asserts, given how they attacked his pets.
He’s heard complaints about the Pawluk dogs for several years. He knows area residents who refuse to walk past the Pawluk property.
“The real serious question is, will they attack a person?” he asked. “They’ve tasted blood. You get a dog like that and they just want to kill.”
In fact, Mary Beattie says dogs belonging to the Pawluks bit her about 10 years ago. She was walking down Shallow Bay Road when their dogs -“big, fierce-looking animals”- circled her and bit her twice, leaving minor injuries and two big holes in her jeans.
“I was visiting a lady friend. I never did make it to visit her. And I was terrified to walk down the block after that.”
She complained to the Pawluks. Their response, she said, was, “If you don’t like my dog, come out and shoot it.”
She still avoids walking past the property. “We drive by their house if we’re going to go for a walk.”
Neufeld has started a petition that calls for the removal of the Pawluk dogs. She’s collected more than 30 signatures so far.
She’s noticed the Pawluks have built a wire fence around their driveway. But much of their property only remains enclosed by a rail fence built for horses.
It’s hard to imagine any of this being tolerated in Whitehorse, where city bylaws allow vicious dogs to be declared dangerous.
With that designation comes strict rules: the dog needs to be kept in a securely fenced yard that’s marked with a warning sign. Outside the property, the dog has to be kept on a leash.
If an owner fails to meet these conditions, the dog may be seized by bylaw and killed.
Other Yukon communities have their own dog bylaws. But in unincorporated communities like Lake Laberge, the only applicable law is Yukon’s Dog Act.
The law, last revised in 2002, does forbid dogs from “running at large” that are “of a vicious temperament or dangerous to public safety.” In such situations, an animal welfare officer may seize or kill a dog.
But, in practice, that doesn’t happen. Instead, RCMP and animal control officers point to another section of the act that calls for dog disputes to be handled in court by a justice of the peace.
In both the cases of Neufeld and Crey, RCMP have advised the women to launch civil suits.
Territorial officials are reviewing the dog act. But they’re not working to meet any timeline.
This worries Neufeld. She thinks the Yukon government needs to act with more urgency.
The dogs of Shallow Bay have already killed once. “I have no reason to think they won’t do it again.”
Contact John Thompson at