After high-profile maulings, stricter rules for dangerous dogs could be coming to Toronto

City staff are recommending a number of changes to how Toronto responds to severe dog attacks on people and other animals. (PXHere/Creative Commons - image credit)
City staff are recommending a number of changes to how Toronto responds to severe dog attacks on people and other animals. (PXHere/Creative Commons - image credit)

A city council committee endorsed a staff report Tuesday recommending several new measures for responding to severe dog attacks in Toronto, including creating a public registry of dogs who have mauled people or other pets.

The Economic and Community Development Committee voted unanimously to adopt the report and send it to the wider city council for consideration in late March.

The key measures recommended by staff include:

  • Creating a publicly available online list, managed by the Municipal Licensing and Standards department and posted via the city's open data portal, of dogs that have received a Dangerous Dog Order (DDO). The list would include the dog's name, breed, basic description, date of the attack leading to the order and the forward sorting area (the first three digits of the area code) where the dog lives.

  • That a standardized dangerous dog warning sign that includes the city's official logo be posted on the owner's property. Currently, owners with animals that have been given a DDO only need to post a generic "Beware of Dog" sign that can be purchased at hardware stores.

  • That city council allocate up to $500,000 in the 2025 municipal budget for a "robust" dangerous dog education campaign aimed at preventing attacks from happening.

City staff are similarly calling on the province to amend the Dog Owners' Liability Act to ensure cases are heard more promptly and to support municipalities in recovering the costs of sheltering dangerous dogs. The committee heard from staff Tuesday that dogs who have attacked people can sometimes spend months or even years in shelters while their cases make their way through provincial courts.

The Municipal Licensing and Standards department is also exploring the ways to offer discounted or subsidized socialization and obedience training to owners and dogs involved in attacks. Staff said the training, which is mandatory after a dog has been given a DDO, is sometimes unaffordable for owners.

Report ordered after mauling last summer

The staff report was ordered by Coun. Paula Fletcher after a constituent in her ward, Cara van der Laan, was badly mauled on July 30, 2023, by two dogs that were off leash and without muzzles.

Currently, dogs that have a DDO are not allowed off-leash at any time, including at off-leash dog parks, and must be muzzled in public.

Toronto police charged a 51-year-old woman with criminal negligence causing bodily harm in connection with the attack and both dogs were put down.

Fletcher said Tuesday that the review outlined by staff in the report focused largely on instances of severe mauling.

"There are very few dangerous dogs in the city of Toronto. Most are wonderful, loving family pets. But this very tiny percentage that are, need to managed. And it's also the owners that need to be managed," she told CBC Toronto.

Fletcher said an important part of the proposed changes will be enforcement. She noted that the recently passed 2024 city budget allocated more money for bylaw enforcement, including by animal control officers.

"I don't think there is currently enough follow up once a dangerous dog order is given," Fletcher said.

The need for better enforcement was echoed by van der Laan, who spoke at the committee hearing via Zoom. She noted that one of the dogs who attacked her had already been given a DDO after several earlier biting incidents, including one that sent the victim to hospital, were reported to the city's 311 line.

2,000 active dangerous dog orders

City staff said Tuesday there are about 300,000 dogs in Toronto and roughly 2,000 owners with active DDOs.

Of those orders, approximately 450 were for "severe" incidents and 60 for "very severe" mauling. About 10 of the very severe incidents involved a dog mauling a person, while the rest were dog on dog, staff said.

The orders are given out by a dangerous dog review tribunal, which holds hearings after specific attacks.

Earlier this month, 54-year-old Anita Browne was bitten on her face and her arm by two unleashed dogs as she stood waiting for a TTC bus in Etobicoke.

Browne was left with 12 stitches to her face, numerous stitches to her upper right arm, where she says one dog left a hole, and a broken right arm.

Police are still looking for the dogs and their owner.