Ontario dog bite victims say government laws ‘toothless’ after vicious attacks

Two women connected with separate but similar dog attacks on two different southern Ontario trails concur that getting justice through municipal authorities has been a “nightmare.”

Tamara Dufour and Leanne Schmidt are convinced two attacks, which come almost a year apart, involve the same dog and owner, who may have circumvented authorities after the animals were designated as “dangerous.”

“My adrenaline is surging right now after recounting all of this,” said Schmidt, relaying how his son Kai was attacked by one of two German Shepherds on the rail trail between Paris and Glen Morris in May.

“It should have been dealt with the first time it happened 11 months ago.”

That plea refers to an eerily similar experience a Hamilton woman had last year on an Ancaster trail resulting in 30 stitches to her leg amid a nine-hour trauma center visit.

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Tamara Dufour says she and partner Marcel Camposilvan received little help from the dog’s owner during the June 23, 2022 incident, who left the trail without a response.

The couple said they had to embark on a rigorous investigation over the next few days, using social media and knocking on doors, to get a complaint officially filed with the city.

Shared posts on Facebook and Instagram would lead them to a Hamilton-area man who would later be reported and charged under the city’s Responsible Animal Ownership By-law 12-031.

“So then he was charged and got a dangerous dog design. The dog had to be muzzled every time he left his house,” Dufour said.

The City of Hamilton’s animal service manager confirmed that the dog owner faced two offenses, failing to license a dog and permitting a dog to bite a person.

A spokesperson for the city added both dogs had been designated as “dangerous” and placed under mandatory 10-day confinement under the care of their owner.

Now Schmidt is sharing a similar story involving his son Kai, bitten while riding his bike north in Brant County on the rail trail around 3 pm on May 23.

The 19-year-old says he was attacked by one of two German Shepherds on an extending leash with no muzzle being held by an “older” man.

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That man and his dogs then allegedly left the area precipitously, leaving Schmidt to help himself by calling 911 and texting his parents just minutes after the episode.

Leanne and her husband Matthias rushed to the trail to see their son, however, he had already been taken by paramedics to an emergency room.

Photo of Kai Schmidt’s cyclewear following a May 2023 attack on the rail trail between Paris and Glen Morris in Brant County.

Provided to Global News

Coincidentally, Dufour would hear about Schmidt’s attack exactly 11 months to the day she ventured back to the Chedoke Radial Trail near Iroquoia Heights, where she was attacked.

“This women’s group that I ride with, they were going there. I had not been back there since,” Dufour explained.

“I was only able to do it, I think, because it was a big group.”

She would learn about Kai’s plight after returning from that ride.

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Dufour and the Schmidts would connect on Facebook Messenger the next day and share stories leading to the conclusion that both bites were from the same dog.

“She didn’t get her name, but she got a picture. So I said, well, send me the picture,” Dufour recalled.

“I looked at the picture and 100 per cent, it was him.”

Concerned over the possibility of rabies, the Schmidts would make queries the day after the attack, seeking the dog’s vaccination record via a local municipal law enforcement officer in Brant County.

The officer would confirm a query to Hamilton Public Health and suggested seeking a family doctor or visit to a hospital to address any further concerns.

It would be almost two weeks later before the Schmidts would get an answer from a Hamilton Public Health inspector confirming the dogs were vaccinated against rabies.

The family also opted to discontinue the prospect of legal action against the dog’s owner after a Brantford lawyer said it appeared the accused did not have liability insurance or assets, making the case difficult to capitalize on.

Global News reached out to Brant County seeking the nature of the May 23 attack and was told by the manager of Enforcement and Regulatory Services Greg Bergeron that an individual was charged for failing to prevent a dog from biting a cyclist on the calf.

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Dan Smith, acting director of bylaw and licensing services at the City of Hamilton, said the accused in Dufour’s case does have “dangerous dog” designations for both his animals.

“The controls and regulations are imposed when off the owner’s premises and applicable city-wide, including trail systems,” Smith said.

He went on to me a mandatory 10-day confinement, imposed last June, didn’t refer to confinement of the animals to one space, but rather, the dogs had to remain leashed outside of an owner’s dwelling.

Bylaw and licensing services director Monica Ciriello said that when out in public, dogs deemed “dangerous” are required to be on a leash “not exceeding 2.4 meters in length.”

A muzzle placed over the pet’s mouth is also required at all times when not on the owner’s property, according to Ciriello.

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Keczan did not confirm that the accused in both instances was the same person, due to the “ongoing investigation.”

However, Hamilton’s manager of animal services Brad Potts did say the city was “working in conjunction” with Brant County and that the dog owner was “charged in relation to an incident last year.”

Under the province’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act, individuals can face charges when an animal is a danger to people or pets, attacks a person or pet or if an owner doesn’t take steps to prevent an animal from being a danger.

A “strict liability” offense, in which the owner doesn’t have to be proven to have had any criminal or negligent intent, penalties can lead to fines up to $10,000, six months in prison, animal destruction and physical control mandates — including confinement , leaches and muzzles.

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But enforcement of animal control laws across the province is largely left in the hands of the municipalities which have varying degrees of punishment depending on the community.

Hamilton’s Responsible Animal Ownership By-Law includes destinations “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous dog” which allow police and municipal by-law officers to seize animals to protect the public.

Ciriello adds that are only laid when an officer determines there is sufficient evidence and that every investigation is “unique in specifics and circumstances.”

So far 2023, Animal Services has laid seven charges in incidents involving bites to humans.

Having shared their stories, both Dufour and the Schmidt family characterize the “controls and regulations” imposed on the dogs when out in public as “toothless.”

Both consider that’s where their frustration lies: animal owners have the potential to circumvent orders from one municipality by simply going to another one.

“I don’t understand when we knew he could go into different communities, why the various adopted animal control agencies weren’t communicating with each other,” Dufour said.

“Letting each other know to be on the lookout for this.”

Ian Brisbin, a personal injury lawyer who’s been working with Dufour, suggests the big issue lies with a dog owner that appears to be “proving ungovernable.”

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The advocate, who’s been working pro-bono to “procedurally get to the bottom of all of this,” typically deals with cycle safety and says riders not feeling safe on trails due to potential animal attacks is something “new to him.”

“Essentially, what the public is being subjected to is just being left to their own devices to protect themselves from an animal,” Brisbin told Global News.

He believes more coordination is needed between the provincial and municipal levels of government to address where breakdowns are happening.

“It’s a matter of making sure that there are processes in place so that there aren’t, for example, different city departments pointing at one another and saying, this is your fault,” said Brisbin.

For Dufour, the trauma of her incident is something she hasn’t been able to shake over the past year, now making sure dog repellent spray is with her on every trip to an Ontario trail.

“I’ve had panic attacks on the trails when I’ve seen dogs, especially if they’re not leashed,” Dufour recalls.

“I’m usually good with my friend’s dogs, but yeah … it’s been really hard.”

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