One Family Made a Difference: The City of Toronto Improves How it Handles Dangerous Dogs

16 December 2019

Toronto – December 16, 2019
 
The City of Toronto Ombudsman says a Toronto family deserves a lot of credit for changes the City is making to how it handles complaints about dangerous dogs. Susan Opler made the observation today when releasing the results of an Enquiry into the family’s complaint about Toronto Animal Services, part of the City’s Municipal Licensing & Standards division.
 
The family’s problems began when their seven-year old son was bitten by one of two dogs owned by a tenant living in the same house. The boy’s father said the attack on the front lawn was “extremely traumatic” for his son and made him scared to play there. “Because the family, the dogs and the dog owner all lived close to each other” says Susan Opler, “it was essential to everyone's comfort and well-being that Animal Services respond appropriately.”
 
The Enquiry by Ombudsman Toronto found that many things went wrong in the investigation by Animal Services, the subsequent appeal, and the follow up to the family’s complaints, including:
  • Staff did not notice that the victim and dog owner disagreed about which dog bit the victim.  They initially issued the dangerous dog order – which requires a dog to be muzzled for the rest of the dog’s life when off the owner’s property – against what the family said was the wrong dog.
  • The family was never told the dog’s owner was appealing the revised muzzle order, or that they could provide information to the tribunal deciding the appeal.
  • Animal Services did not effectively present the case for the dangerous dog order at the appeal.
  • No one alerted the family when the tribunal reversed all restrictions on the dog.
  • The tribunal did not initially give any reasons for its decision and when it did, the reasons showed that the tribunal had considered irrelevant factors.
  • The family had to file a Freedom of Information request to get documents relating to the case.
Over the course of its Enquiry, Ombudsman Toronto made eight recommendations to improve the fairness of how the City handles complaints about dangerous dogs. They have all been accepted by Toronto Animal Services.
 
The recommendations include:
  • a new, independent and open tribunal to hear appeals of dangerous dog orders (which has been operating since May 2019)
  • sharing information with the public on how staff assess the severity of a dog attack
  • assigning specific staff to be responsible for communicating crucial information to victims, including the issuing and appeal of any dangerous dog order and the outcome of any appeal
  • a full apology to the family
Toronto’s Ombudsman paid tribute to the family for its persistence in complaining repeatedly to Animal Services, then filing a complaint with her office when they remained unsatisfied. “As a result of the actions of a single family” says Susan Opler, “how the City of Toronto handles reports of dangerous dogs will be fairer for everyone involved.”                                             
 
Ombudsman Toronto’s Report – Enquiry into how Toronto Animal Services Handled a Dangerous Dog Investigation and Appeal and an Ombudsman Toronto backgrounder are available at ombudsmantoronto.ca.
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For more information, contact:
Natalie Kaiser
Ombudsman Toronto
Office:  416-397-5435
natalie.kaiser@toronto.ca
 
Ombudsman Toronto listens to and investigates people’s complaints and concerns about City administration and the fairness of City services. We are a free and impartial office that operates independently from the City, holding it accountable to the people it serves.