Preventing, Documenting and Reporting Aggressive Dogs
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
After Glacier City Gazette’s mascot Ozzy was attacked by two larger dogs on the bike path, conversations with community members revealed an under reported problem with aggressive dogs in Girdwood. For dogs and humans, dogs that attack are a public safety issue, a community issue, and a quality of life issue.
To learn more about Girdwood’s aggressive dog problem, the Gazette interviewed Laura Atwood, Animal Care & Control Public Relations Coordinator; Whittier’s Interim Director of Public Safety Greg Russell; and resident Tom Jack Erickson, whose dog Midna was attacked and required veterinary care twice in the last year.
Awareness of this issue began when walking Ozzy, a 9-month old Australian cattle dog, on the bike path to Girdwood Brewing Company. He’s 55 lbs., really friendly with dogs and people, and was leashed. Suddenly, two larger, leashed dogs attacked Ozzy.
Near Glacier Creek Drive, there was a young woman being walked by two Karelian bear dogs or mixes. She appeared to have no control over them. Anticipating trouble, I shortened Ozzy’s leash and walked to the right, keeping my body between him and the dogs. The stunningly quick attack took place next to one of the steepest ditches beside Alyeska Highway.
As we approached, the woman made no effort to shorten her dogs’ long leashes. Then the two dogs aggressively leaped across the path pulling the woman now unable to stop them..
Ozzy dove into the ditch to evade the angry larger dogs, taking me with him. It felt like someone opened a trap door under my feet. I rolled down the steep incline and landed on my stomach and face, inches away from stagnant water. I quickly got to my knees and grabbed Ozzy to physically protect him and hold him back because he was now eager to defend himself. While the other the dogs barked closely and loudly above us. The woman struggled to get the dogs back on the path.
Somehow neither Ozzy nor I were bitten, and the woman had the decency to apologize a few times as the dogs continued to drag her down the path.
Animal Control spokeswoman Atwood emphases keeping dogs leashed in public areas as the best way to prevent aggressive dogs, as well as a requirement of Municipal Code Title 17. Dog parks are the exception and a shock collar is considered a leash if the dog is under control. She said it comes down to courtesy to everybody in your neighborhood and in the community.
“That’s the crux of the issue,” Atwood said, “people not following that leash law and allowing their dogs to run loose. Once you have loose dogs coming at you, it’s hard to prevent, especially if there is no owner with them. It’s very difficult to prevent what may happen next.”
Due to legal liability, Atwood could only give general recommendations. She said dog owners vary, so it is a personal choice taking preventative action.
Atwood suggested talking to the dogs while gauging the situation because they may be friendly. If dogs are not so friendly, say “no” firmly. Some dogs may respond. Turn around and walk away, because the dog may stay. Some people carry treats to throw and distract dogs. Atwood said pepper spray, bear spray, and mace are personal choices and have limitations like an owner and dog getting doused.
If you have encountered aggressive dogs, have been attacked or see loose dogs, Atwood said to call Animal Control Dispatch at (907) 343-8119. Your case will be assigned to an officer who will follow up with a set of questions. According to Atwood, from Jan.-Aug. 2018, Animal Control received 1,500 calls regarding loose dogs in the Municipality, and six were from Girdwood.
Atwood strongly recommends documenting an aggressive encounter as much as possible. She suggests taking notes right away as well as photos for more accurate details.
Record the day, location, behavior of the dogs and any other relevant information to better prepare for an interview. If there are injuries, , photos are needed and veterinarian reports are helpful.
Identifying an aggressive dog’s owner may present a problem.
“The tricky part is if that person does not know who those dogs belong to or where those dogs live, the reality is there is not much we can do,” Atwood said. “We can patrol the area and maybe come across those dogs, but without having a home we can go to, we can’t say it was reported that your dogs were loose and attacked another dog.”
When the situation is safe, Atwood said an owner might talk to people in the neighborhood to see if they can identify the dog and its owner. One could also approach the dog’s owner, but that may not always be possible.
Enforced by Animal Control, Title 17 has five levels of animal attack classifications in section 17.40.020. Level one behavior is an unrestrained animal threatening or endangering an animal or person. Level two is if an animal bites, injures or kills another animal. Level three is if a restrained animal injures a human.
The next two levels are more complex. To reach level four, the dog has injured a human, or killed a restrained animal or injured or killed a second time. The most serious classification is level five, which involves serious injury or death to a human or the animal is used to commit crime or a previously classified level three or four animal commits an offence in those categories.
Chief Russell spoke to the Gazette about how Whittier Police Department (WPD) would respond to calls involving a dog attack on an animal or human. WPD would respond to the call,take a report and document the incident that they would then share with Animal Control, which has the primary responsibility of handling incidents in Girdwood. If Animal Control requests, Russell stated WPD will assist, but the department does not have animal control responsibilities, dog catching equipment or a place to impound.
The Gazette interviewed resident runner Erickson to learn about his experience having his dog Midna attacked twice and requiring veterinarian visits in the past year.
A Russo-European Laika, Midna is five years old and 32 lbs. Erickson described her as the Russian version of the Karelian bear dog. Her ancestors were raised to locate bears, tree them and bark to alert hunters. Midna runs at Erickson’s hip nearly every day, with 441 runs in the last two years.
“She’s always on a leash,” Erickson said. “She’s a dog that needs to be on a leash because she’s a runner and wants to go and hunt.”
Erickson described the first attack, saying, “A neighborhood dog was off leash, and just grabbed her [Midna] from behind and tore her belly and caused her to bleed. I was able to separate them. There was no time before it happened. It just happened quickly.”
After Erickson stopped Midna’s bleeding, he drove her to a veterinarian in Anchorage. The vet shaved her, stitched her and applied salve to her puncture wounds.
The second attack happened running through a Girdwood neighborhood. This time Erickson was prepared with bear spray strapped to his palm for a quick response.
“It happened so fast. It was a neighborhood dog off leash. I had never seen it before. It came up from behind really fast. When Midna turned to see the dog, I noticed her turn. By the time I turned, the dog was on her and had taken her down, rolled her and bit her. It happened so quickly, I didn’t have the opportunity to spray the bear spray without spraying both dogs and myself.”
Erickson said Midna’s wounds were not as bad as the first attack, but there were puncture wounds, blood, and swelling in the dog’s gums because they were filled with blood. After both attacks, Midna took a few weeks to heal before she could run again.
Erickson spoke with both owners who saw the blood and knew it happened. He did not ask owners to pay the vet bill. He said neither dog is off leash any more and described the owners as concerned and responding appropriately.
Erickson learned dog attacks may happen so suddenly there is no time to react. He said if you meet an encounter eye to eye, there is a better chance avoiding it. Keep eye contact, move forward and keep your dog under command. He said stopping adds stress and creates opportunity. He tries to keep himself between Midna and other dogs.
“The result is now Midna has a little more leash aggression,” Erickson said, “and she’s more conservative on the leash because she can’t get away. She’s as noticeably fearful as I am or as noticeably cautious as I am.”
To report aggressive, attacking or loose dogs, call Animal Care and Control Dispatch at (907) 343-8119. For a copy of Title 17, the Municipality’s animal control laws, go to library.municode.com.
For the Animal Control website, go to muni.org/Departments, under Health and Human Services, click Administration, click Health and Human Services, and Animal Control is on the menu to the left, fourth link down.