Great article on responsible dog ownership

Here is a great article by LeeAnn O’Reilly, president of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada, with whom I have worked for six years.

Normally, I just provide a link to an article, but I’d like this one to remain in cyberspace long after the newspaper takes it offline, so I’ve included the entire text below.  Take a look at the online version, though, because the comments are interesting and include a lot of additional information.

Original article:

Text of article:

Stricter enforcement, more responsibility needed: dog expert

The Western Star
December 8, 2009

LeeAnn O’Reilly says public education, in addition to stricter laws and regulations, are the key to fostering more responsible dog ownership.

The Corner Brook woman is president of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada and has been involved in rescuing neglected and abused dogs for 20 years.

When it comes to dog aggression, O’Reilly said the solution is not always to have the dog euthanized. More emphasis needs to be placed on making people realize the onus is on the owner to ensure their dog is trained to behave properly and that even troublesome dogs can be taught their place in the human world.

“None of us were ever born responsible dog owners,” she said. “We all learn over time. Lord knows I have. If you have the desire, the ability and the time, get a dog. If not, don’t just get a dog to complete the picture of the perfect family with the yellow Lab.”

Anyone who really wants a dog, she added, should be more than willing to spend the couple of hundred dollars it takes to not only properly train the dog, but to also train the master in what it means to be a responsible dog owner.

“It’s not only about training a dog to sit, stay and come when called,” she said. “Going to a dog trainer will help you understand your dog better. It will teach you good practical dog-handling skills such as visual clues to things like when the dog is getting tired and the kids are bothering it. You will know when it’s time to get the kids away from the dog or the dog away from the kids.”

Majority of bites unreported

While incidents of large dogs attacking children tend to grab the headlines, O’Reilly said the vast majority of dog bites go unreported and can involve any type of dog. Most, she noted, involve children left unsupervised with dogs and happen on the dog owner’s own property.

A recent article in The Western Star, in response to a recent vicious dog attack on a nine-year-old girl, quoted the Bay of Islands SPCA as saying the main reasons for dog aggression are a lack of socialization of the animal, particularly those left tethered and alone for lengthy periods of time, and the failure of their owners to have their pets spayed or neutered.

O’Reilly said these are valid concerns, but there are many other reasons a dog can exhibit aggressive behaviour, including combinations of those based on dominance, pain, fear, food, play, territory, the presence of other dogs or maternal instinct.

The focus has to remain on how the owner is equipped to handle the dog and how the dog has been trained to interact with people and other animals.

More severe fines

O’Reilly supports more severe fines related to irresponsible dog ownership and even banning such owners from owning another pet until they have proven they have a better appreciation for their responsibility to both the animal and to society at large. In addition to fines for violations of municipal or provincial laws, she believes amendments should be made so owners cannot simply abandon their dogs when they cause problems.

“Right now, negligent owners are walking way from fines (for roaming dogs) because they relinquish the dog and that’s the end of the story,” said O’Reilly. “Nothing is in place to stop them from getting another dog. I had one gentleman tie his dog to the end of my van and say he didn’t want it because it was too much trouble and he could just go get another one at the SPCA anyway, so why should he train this thing.”

In some jurisdictions, dog owners must incur the cost to have their animals put down and O’Reilly can’t see why the same should not be done in Corner Brook.

Every year, the City of Corner Brook bemoans the fact so few dog owners pay the fee to have their dogs licensed. O’Reilly thinks that might change if residents thought they were getting more value for their money.

She suggested a system involving a one-time fee and the use of microchips which can more easily identify the dog and its owner’s information as a start. In addition, the City should institute dog bite safety and responsible dog ownership programs, she said.

While acknowledging the SPCA has a very difficult, but important, job, O’Reilly said either that organization or the City should also have a sponsored program whereby low-income families can get their pets spayed or neutered.

As for the idea of mandatory spaying or neutering, unless the owner is a certified breeder, O’Reilly said that approach must target puppy mills and other questionable breeders. The breeding of purebred dogs, she noted, is already subject to federal legislation under the Animal Pedigree Act.

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