Dog bites and off-leash dogs will be key issues in an upcoming review of Toronto’s dogs policy.
City councillors said those were the top dog-related problems in their wards when they asked for the review, which licensing staff expect to present to council on Nov. 26.
Based on talks with animal experts, a look at what other cities are doing and public feedback, the review will consider steps such as raising fines, hiring more bylaw officers, doing more public outreach and adding a specific licence category for dogs with a history of aggressive behaviour.
“When it comes to enforcement, Torontonians have told us, ‘You know, you need to strengthen the penalties,” said Elizabeth Glibbery, manager of Toronto Animal Services, speaking during a 90-minute question-and-answer session held at the East York Civic Centre on Oct. 6.
With just 22 bylaw officers for the entire city, leash laws can be tough to enforce. Last year there were 829 investigations and 161 charges for off-leash dogs in Toronto, which currently means a $240 fine.
Addressing the off-leash issue at the meeting, Casey Conklin, an organizer of the Withrow Park Dog Owner’s Association, said that as the city installs more designated off-leash areas for dogs, owners have fewer excuses for letting them run at large.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Conkin. “You can’t have 57 off-leash areas now, and growing, in the city of Toronto and still be able to walk your dog off-leash whenever you feel like it and wherever you want.”
Among other concerns, such as the number of intact male dogs that provoke aggressive behaviour inside those off-leash areas, staff spoke about the fact that only a quarter of the estimated 230,500 dogs living in the city last year were licensed.
Despite a widespread feeling that dog license fees are a “tax grab” that disappears into the city’s general revenue, Glibbery said those fees directly support the work that TAS does.
Besides bylaw enforcement, that work includes running four animal shelters, a mobile clinic for microchipping and rabies vaccines, and 24-hour emergency response for injured, distressed or dangerous animals.