Monday, August 11, 2014

Kerry Vinson Revisits The Ontario Dog Owner's Liability Act

In 2011 I wrote an article for the Toronto Pet Daily on the Ontario Dog Owner’s Liability Act, in which I pointed out that the 2005 amendments to this Act had resulted in many injustices to both dogs and their owners throughout the Province. Now three years later I have been asked to write a follow-up article to see if the situation has changed or improved for Ontarians and their dogs. Having been involved in the original 2006 court challenge to the DOLA amendments (as an Expert Witness) I am in a unique position of being privy to the provincial government’s motivation and rationale at the time to implement this legislation, and due to my continuing involvement in numerous DOLA-related court cases since then I have been able to monitor the consequences of this law.

With this in mind, I want to report to the people of Ontario who are not dog owners that (1) you are not any safer from the possibility of a dog bite as a result of the legislation, and (2) if you own a dog you are at an increased risk of suffering many legal and financial consequences even though these may be completely unjustified. How can this be, you may wonder, wasn’t the purpose of the 2005 amendments to reduce a growing problem of bites in Ontario from certain breeds of dogs identified as dangerous? According to the same government that passed the legislation and is still in power, their Act has been successful. Let’s cut away all of the political posturing and look at what actually has happened since then:

Firstly, although many dog bites go unreported and province-wide statistics are poorly kept, all indications are that the number of bites in Ontario has remained fairly constant since 2005 before the legislation was passed.

Secondly, the 2005 rationale of the amendments and the introduction of Breed Specific Legislation was to remove the risk of bites from certain breeds (identified by sensationalized media reports and not any scientific basis whatsoever) as being more dangerous than other dogs. This concept was completely discredited by every qualified expert in canine behaviour who testified at the “sham” hearings conducted by the government at the time, but all of these bona fide experts were completely ignored when formulating BSL. More on this in a moment.

Thirdly and finally, there has been a significant increase in lawsuits against dog owner’s relating to the wording of the Act that specifies a dog doesn’t actually have to bite someone for its owner to be charged, it only has to appear to be menacing to someone. This has allowed virtually anyone who is afraid of dogs or doesn’t like dogs, or who doesn’t like their neighbor who owns a dog, to launch a lawsuit which is supported by the language of the Act. Needless to say that what may appear to be a dog engaging in normal, non-aggressive barking can be interpreted by someone else as exhibiting menacing behaviour, whether it is or not. It is a totally subjective concept; nonetheless, personal injury attorneys in Toronto are now publicly advertising for people who have been “menaced” by a dog to contact them. I have been personally involved in some cases where the awards being sought are not only in the thousands of dollars, but over a million dollars; and have seen many dog owners lives turned into a living nightmare. The language of the Act infers that dog owners are guilty as charged unless they can prove themselves to be innocent – a complete reversal of our concept of fairness under the law.

Let’s now go back to my second point, which was that at the original hearings (which I referred to as a sham) all of the legitimate Experts in canine behaviour who testified were completely ignored by the government of the day when they passed the legislation. Despite denials and half-truths by that same government, hard evidence continues to confirm the worst fears of those who were opposed to the Bill. The recent position statement by the most respected authority in North America in the field of dog behaviour (not the politicians) confirms the premise that I put forth during my testimony at the 2006 court challenge to the DOLA amendments:

“The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour is concerned about the propensity of various communities’ reliance on breed-specific legislation as a tool to reduce the risk and incidence of dog bites to humans. The AVSAB’s position is that such legislation – often called breed specific legislation (BSL) -- is ineffective and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified often incorrectly as belonging to specific breeds.”

The Position Statement goes on to unequivocally say that “visual identification is unreliable” and “DNA tests reveal that even professionals experienced in identifying dog breeds (veterinarians, dog trainers, breeders, animal control officers, shelter workers, etc.) are unable to reliably identify breeds visually”. Furthermore, “follow-up studies confirm that visual breed identification is highly inconsistent and inaccurate”. Finally, the AVSAB goes on to say that “Responsible dog ownership and public education must be a primary focus of any dog bite prevention policy”, not BSL.

At this point you might say that the provincial government didn’t really know what to do about the dog bite problem in Ontario in 2005, so they came up with the amendments to DOLA and BSL in lieu of any better approach. Unfortunately, you would be completely wrong!!! This is so because in 1999 the province of Ontario implemented an official Provincial Inquest (the Trempe Inquest) to examine the issue and come up with solutions to the problem of canine aggression. As I was one of the designated “experts” who was asked by the Ontario Coroner’s Office to testify at this inquest, I am eminently familiar with the proceedings which took place, and the 36 Recommendations to prevent future serious dog bite incidents. Why did the government choose to ignore the great majority of these Recommendations in 2005, and why today in 2014 are the most important and effective of these recommendations still being ignored?

These are questions that dog owners, and anyone concerned with public safety, need to be asking their MPP. It’s time (actually past the time) for Ontario legislators to admit that the 2005 DOLA amendments have not reduced the number of dog bites in the Province nor made Ontarians any safer from this risk. It’s time for our lawmakers to pay attention to the Recommendations from the Trempe Inquest and implement most (if not all) of them, and to rescind or rewrite the completely ineffective and unsupported by scientific proof policies that have been in effect for almost ten years now, and done more harm than good.

Kerry Vinson, BA (PSYCH), has been designated as an Expert Witness in the area of canine aggression and re-training in numerous court cases between 1999 and 2014. He has also authored over 75 articles on dog behaviour for veterinary publications and popular magazines, in addition to providing assessments and dog related court services for municipalities, shelters, and private dog owners. For more information, visit: www.animalbehaviourconsultants.com.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Toronto Bird Photo Booth Encourages Local Birds to Take Selfies

two cameras make up the Toronto bird photo boothHello Pet Owners in Toronto. My name is Rob Campbell, @roberrific on Twitter, and I'd like to share with you an interesting project that I created this summer, one that is currently 'flying' around town marrying technology with nature. The Toronto Bird Photo Booth descends on sponsor business properties to photograph their birds. Its a fun and natural competition - best portraits win prizes! in each location, the rig is set up by business owners to take pictures of any avian species brave enough to land at the feeder. The unit is comprised of two different motion controlled cameras, seen below, which work in tandem with each other. Together the two wildlife cameras in this contraption have snapped pictures of over 50 wild birds (and other wild animals).

Residents of Toronto know there are wild birds living and singing in the trees all around them, but most folks do not know what types of birds live here, or why certain avian species thrive, while other species are endangered. Many human residents have never looked close up at any of our birds, or bothered to ask who they are? And what challenges they face living so close to our many hazards, read more on Bird Canada. 2014 Toronto Bird Photo Booth Businesses Challenge is designed to raise awareness for urban birds and bird friendly buildings and businesses; the sponsors host the challenges, and set up the cameras, but then they sit back as the machines make media on site. The website is updated each week to show the pictures recorded at each property.

Paul Peic, Redwing Blackbird, Bliuffers park marina The photo contest was launched in June, and will end in October 2014. and the game has already taken off ...

A grackle at Standard Tele, office phones in TorontoThere have been four dedicated hosts thus far, and Its still anyone's contest to win... Week One, Paul Peic, the extreme fitness guru behind Paddleboard Addict, a SUP rentals business in Toronto photographed a very charismatic red wing blackbird who has the distinction of being the first creature to visit the Toronto Bird Photo Booth's silver dish feeder and get its picture taken. Week Two,set up on a rooftop in Yorkville near a busy construction site, the cameras failed to record anything for days - the birdseed spoiled in a summer rain shower twice before any was eaten. Then on Friday, after a long week of coming up empty, Vigorate Digital Loyalty Programs put a cute little English Sparrow into the mix. Its a little known fact that the male sparrow is a songbird, (certain times of year) and the English Sparrow is Canada's most abundant avian species. Week Three, John Conn CEO of Standard Telecom office phones in Toronto lensed this gorgeous Common Grackle. Their songs, and Im sure you've heard them, vary depending on the time of year. They say chewink chewink in the fall which evolves to a more complex ooo whew,whew,whew,whew,whew call breeding season that gets faster and faster, and ends with a loud crewhewwhew! Week Four, David Shephard of Tiny House project got some closeups of a mourning dove. You can read Week Four of the Bird Photo Booth Business Challenge in this week's Toronto is Awesome magazine where you may learn how the mourning dove got its name.

Toronto Bird Photo Booth Business Challenge 2014 has four categories to WIN,

1) Best bird portrait 2) Best group shot 3) Best gallery 4) Rare species best art Contest Ends: October 1st 2014. Shortly thereafter the Toronto Bird Photo Booth Businesses Challenge 2014 story will come to a grand conclusion at a gala event in mid October 2014. Nfbae is already compiling a summary of the entire 2014 Bird of Toronto story. Do you have a bird friendly property in Toronto? Would you like to host the bird photo booth for a week. Message me Rob Campbell at the Birds of Toronto website, or follow me on Twitter @Roberrific and lets get in touch. Thanks.