Dog bites increasing during pandemic and a lawyer's tips on your responsibilities as a dog owner
OTTAWA -- Our connection to our animals has been so evident during the pandemic.
Dogs are an endless source of comfort but like their humans, pets have been stressed by COVID-19.
Personal Injury lawyer David Hollingsworth says this has meant more dog bites.
“Since the beginning of COVID, we have experienced a real uptick in our calls from victims of dog bites,” he says.
Hollingsworth, a dog lover, says if you are going to have a dog you must also know your responsibilities and potential liabilities.
This Ottawa lawyer receives daily questions from those who have been bitten.
He has made another COVID-19 observations as well.
“It seems that people are going for walks to get out of the house and spending time in parks,” says Hollingsworth.
“You hear that many people are buying dogs during COVID. But what I’ve really noticed is the number of delivery truck drivers who have been attacked by dogs. We know that the amount of online purchases and deliveries has really spiked during COVID.”
Hollingsworth says he believes all of these changes are contributing factors.
So, what do you need to know if you are a victim of an attack?
Hollingsworth says he realizes a dog bite happens very fast, and that you will likely be in shock but you must remember to:
- Get the identity of the owner;
- Get a description of the dog;
- Ask about whether shots are up to date;
- Call the City of Ottawa Bylaw;
- Seek medical attention immediately – tetanus, rabies, infection etc.
- Take pictures of your injuries
As far as the law goes, in Ontario, this falls under the Dog Owners Liability Act.
There are 20 sections and they cover 2 main areas: Civil liability, a victim getting compensation directly from the owner, and Provincial Offences, meaning the owner and the dog are sanctioned by the government as a provincial offence.
Hollingsworth says this is where people get confused and frustrated.
The “Strict” Civil liability – is simple,
- A dog owner is responsible for the actions of their dog. If the dog bites, the owner is liable.
- If the dog is provoked, that can reduce the amount of compensation a victim receives in proportion to the level of provocation.
- If the victim was committing a crime on the owner’s property, the owner will not be liable – unless the owner has done something unreasonable.
- The owner’s home insurance will usually cover these losses.
Hollingsworth outlined some possible scenarios:
“You are walking your dog, someone, possibly a child, approaches you and either gets too close or does something to startle the dog, and the dog nips. In this case, the owner is liable. Again, subject to the principles of reduction in damages (compensation) depending on whether the acts of the victim are considered provocation.”
“You are at a dog park. The dogs are loose. Another dog attacks your dog and causes it injury (and vet bills). The other dog owner is responsible. Circumstances will dictate whether you/your dog share in the blame and the cost.”
“You are walking down the road. You look at a dog owner the wrong way. He yells “attack” and his dog attacks you. Could this result in criminal charges? Criminal negligence, assault with a weapon? Perhaps.”
“The losses are typically – pain and suffering, which may include: scarring, anxiety –lost time off work, out of pocket expenses (ointments, treatments etc.).
Hollingsworth explains Bylaw becomes involved when a dog-related Act may have been violated.
“Conditions may be imposed on the owner such as muzzling, leashing, quarantining, keeping the dog on the property --- or worse,” he says. “These conditions are often difficult to enforce. There can be fines of up to $10,000 or six months in jail for the owner in extreme cases.”
The fines, or sanctions, according to Hollingworth, are based on the circumstances of the act, including the history of the dog.
David Hollingsworth is the founder of www.ottawainjury.ca
Watch The CTV Ottawa “News at Noon” on Wednesday, Aug. 19 for an interview with Colleen Wilson, a veterinarian, specializing in animal behaviour. She will discuss the increase in dog bites, separation anxiety in pets, and tips to set your dog up for behavioral success.