Territorial dog law has few teeth

Sam never stood a chance. At 11, he was an old dog. And the black lab/husky cross was outnumbered. He was certainly no match for a pit bull and a Rottweiler.

Sam never stood a chance.

At 11, he was an old dog. And the black lab/husky cross was outnumbered. He was certainly no match for a pit bull and a Rottweiler.

The pit bull led the charge, biting Sam at the neck and groin.

Sandra Secord came across this scene on Burma Road near Lake Laberge on Saturday, September 18.

She yelled at the pit bull. It growled back.

There were no big sticks around. So she ran for help.

By the time she returned, Sam had been badly bitten. Secord, a trained veterinary assistant, couldn’t find a regular pulse. He was breathing shallowly.

With Sam’s owner out of town, Secord dropped the injured dog off with the owner of the pit bull and Rottweiler. He shot the animal to put it out of its misery.

Sam belonged to Naomi Crey. By the time she returned home, all that was left of her companion was a tooth that had been knocked loose during the attack and tufts of fur that had been pulled from his body. She found these grisly remains along the roadside.

This was the second time one of her dogs was attacked by her neighbour’s dogs.

Twice, the Lake Laberge resident complained to the RCMP. But nothing’s been done.

Crey faults Yukon’s outdated Dog Act. She would like to see the creation of a vicious-dog law for the territory.

She knows the proposal will be met with reluctance by Yukoners, who tend to take a dim view of new government regulations. But, in this case, the “freedom” of rural dog owners comes at the expense of neighbouring dog owners and parents.

“These dogs are keeping everyone else hostage,” said Crey.

Several of Crey’s neighbours agree. One refuses to walk his dog down Burma Road anymore. Another fears for her four young children.

Secord, who witnessed the attack, “knew enough to back off,” she wrote in a letter of support for Crey, “but what if a smaller person or children were out with their dog and this dog attacked?

“It is evident that the black dog was not aggressive and being elderly was ‘vulnerable’ to the pit bull. This incident did not occur on the owner of the pit bull’s property but further down the road in the ditch of the opposite side of this property. It is evident that his aggression was not due to property protection.

“This dog will attack again and what or who will be its next victim is unknown.”

Glen Brown owns the pit bull and Rottweiler. He insists that Sam was on his property at the time of the attack.

“That’s where the fight started. It went to the road when it was all finished.”

And he says Sam had it coming. What had the dog done?

“Same thing every one of them tries to do. It was trying to steal chickens and pigs.”

Brown is a farmer. He estimates he’s lost 100 chickens and three pigs to his neighbours’ dogs this year. His livestock is fenced, but the dogs either scale or dig under the fence.

So he leaves his dogs untied to protect his animals.

“My dogs have never been aggressive towards a single person, ever,” he said. “My dogs might lick the kids to death. I know there won’t be a problem.

“I’ve had many, many different people come by here, who these dogs have never seen before. They bark and their tail is just wagging when the person comes up.”

Neighbours estimate that Brown has five dogs.

But he wouldn’t say. “That’s nobody’s business but mine.”

It’s hard to imagine all this happening in Whitehorse. Under the city’s animal control bylaws, a dog that bites other dogs without provocation can 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 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, which, according to a territorial official who is supposed to enforce the act, is “vague at best” and “seems contradictory.”

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 another part of the act calls for dog disputes to be handled in court by a justice of the peace.

The RCMP have steered Crey in this direction, so she’s begun collecting written testimonials from neighbours.

“It can be confusing at times” to decide which part of the law to apply, said Jay Lester, an animal control officer, in an interview. He’s the one who described the law as contradictory in an e-mail to RCMP, which was later forwarded to Crey.

The Dog Act doesn’t define dangerous behaviour. And, while it forbids dogs from attacking farm animals, it says nothing about dogs attacking other dogs.

Territorial officials are discussing changes to the Dog Act, said Lester. The talks started about a year and a half ago, he said.

“We’re talking about it very seriously,” said Lester.

But these things take time. “We don’t want to just make changes and then make changes again.”

Crey doesn’t want to see certain breeds forbidden, as is the case in Ontario, which has controversially banned pit bulls.

She grew up with a German shepherd. Her mother’s Rottweiler just passed away. She believes breeding isn’t nearly as important as proper training, and that Brown’s dogs “are not being trained so now they’re attacking things.”

Brown responds that his dogs are “treated very well.”

“And my dogs also keep other dogs off my property. When they come on here, that’s what happens.”

In 2005, Crey was walking Alice, a terrier/poodle cross, down the road when it was attacked by three of Brown’s dogs. She was five months pregnant at the time.

She did her best to beat the animals away with stones and sticks, but Alice ended up partly paralyzed from the injuries.

After she complained to Brown, he paid half of the $1,000 veterinary bill. The dog recovered.

“What she doesn’t bother telling you,” said Brown, “is the dozens of times my dogs chased that dog off my property.”

Brown is currently building a fence around his property. Once it’s done, he plans to keep his gate shut.

If a neighbour finds one of his dogs on their property, he says they’re entitled to shoot it. “That’s always been the rule on this road. If somebody’s dog is bothering them, shoot it.”

The former owner of Crey’s property did just that, after a free-roaming dog bit his ex-wife while she sat on the porch. Brown insists that dog wasn’t his.

Crey wants to hear from other Yukoners who have dangerous-dog stories. She can be reached at dangerousdogact@yahoo.com. She and her husband will be out of town for several months on a trapping trip, but expect to see petitions in the new year.

Contact John Thompson at