Leashing the dog owners

Carla Allen
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Carol Denomme, dog control officer for the municipalities of Yarmouth and Argyle and the Town of Yarmouth, with one of her dogs, Jessie.

The number of dogs registered in the county is a staggeringly small percentage.

Carol Denomme, the dog control officer who enforces dog bylaws for the municipalities of Yarmouth and Argyle and the Town of Yarmouth, estimates only 10 per cent of owners have purchased tags for their dogs.

Most of the others just don’t see the need.

“I went to eight places last week and gave everybody warnings and I was there because they called about somebody else’s dog,” said Denomme in a recent interview.

“They had three and four dogs each. I asked them if they had tags and they said, ‘No, what do I need those for?’”

Denomme says that each community in the county only has 200-300 dogs wearing tags. Owners should review the dog bylaws in their municipality to learn what’s required; it’s an important part of ownership, she said.

When dogs are registered, officials know where the owners reside. That enables easier identification when incidents need to be addressed. For instance, when the dog control dispatch recently received a call from someone saying they were chased on the rail trail, Denomme had to go knocking on doors in the area.

If a dog wearing a tag is picked up, ownership is easily established. In most cases impoundment fees are avoided ($25 to $250 for first incident).

Denomme says it’s a far different world for dogs and their owners than in the past. Neighbourhoods were closely-knit and resident dogs were familiar to most. Now people are ordering dogs over the Internet with indiscriminate backgrounds. Many do not even devote the time necessary to tend to their pets.          

“They leave for work and the puppy barks for eight hours. It upsets the neighbours. Then when they get home and put their dog in the back yard it terrorizes and chases things because the owner hasn’t had the time to put into it,” she said.

With the everyday stresses resulting from modern society, many dogs suffer.

“You’re saying to the dog, ‘I’ll let you out in a second, I have to do this and I have to do that.’ When that dog gets loose now, it’s full of all that anxiety that you have,” said Denomme.

The frustration can result in dogs biting, chasing people or animals and developing other bad habits. Some people just open their door and let the dog run. Even though that can often cause problems for others, the owners don’t accept the responsibility.

Denomme says many owners are hateful when she tells them they have to contain their dog somehow. When she suggests they take it for a walk, they tell her they don’t have time to take it for a walk.

“That’s what’s frustrating,” she said.

The problem is a big one. She handles 1,200 calls a year ­­– and those are only the people that are calling. The reports are mostly for dogs running at large, but also include barking issues.

The biggest obstacle to those, she says, is that most people are frustrated by the time they call.

“It’s push, push, push… they’ve tried to be the good neighbor and now they’re calling and you’re hearing about dogs chasing my cows, dogs chasing my chickens… this is a problem, I can’t take it any more,” she said.

A small percentage of calls are because of incessant barking.  Denomme wishes more people would call on that topic, because those barking dogs are trying to tell their owners something.

“The dog is making all that racket for a reason. They don’t typically bark for hours on end,” she said.

“I talk to people in the neighbourhood, asking if the dog has been a problem in the past. People might say no, but that it barks a lot. It’s whining and it’s howling and it’s consistent, persistent and annoying. If they had called at that point, we could have had a conversation and then somebody wouldn’t have ended up being bitten or chased or terrified.”

The process of responding to a complaint about a dog at large, or barking incessantly, begins with a warning, determining whether the dog is registered and explaining potential fines, which can range from $100 to $1,000 if the dog is fierce or dangerous.

If the owner does not comply with registering, confining or addressing the barking problem, the fine may be levied. These are provincial and filed with the courthouse.

After an initial visit, Denomme is reliant on the original complainant to monitor and report any other incidences. She has no time for repeated follow-ups. Some days she works up to 18 hours handling new complaints.

“Most people don’t call back if problems continue. They’ll say, ‘What is the point of calling?’ Sometimes I’ll run into someone six months later and ask how it’s been and they’ll say, ‘It’s been terrible.’ Then I have to go through the whole process all over again, starting with issuing a warning,” she said.

Ideally, although she deals with enforcing the bylaws, she prefers to be proactive than reactive.

“I would much rather do education and get people to understand.”

If the owner of a dog refuses to address a problem, she may have to remove it and find a new home. Sometimes she needs the assistance of the RCMP.

Bite cases are a more complicated matter and more are being reported now. Denomme believes it’s because people are realizing there’s a number they can call.

Investigating why the dog is biting is a priority. In her experience, the dog is a mirror of the owner, who may not be picking up the signals its dog is sending.

“You want to love the dog but you don’t want to fix the problem. That’s why it happened and when you explain it to them, they’ll say I didn’t know that,” she said.

The Department of Health makes sure the victim is okay and the dog must be monitored. The outcome can vary, from conditions being placed on the owner, to removal of the dog, which can be very difficult to rehome and sometimes must be euthanized. 

In Denomme’s line of work, the catching of dogs has become somewhat of a science. She sometimes uses her Sheltie, Jessie, to draw them in.

“He’s totally laid back, he just stands there. He doesn’t stare at anybody. They come and sniff him, then he comes up to me and I’ve got the dog,” she said.

If there’s a problem with dogs in your community, the number to call is 902-742-3147.  A word of advice: If you have a dog or dogs of your own, make sure they’re registered with your municipality before you call.


 Licence registration and impoundment fees (Town of Yarmouth)

• Registration for dogs can range from $10 to $250 depending if it is tattoed/micro-chipped, intact, neutered or classified as “fierce and dangerous.”

• Penalties and impoundment fees can range from $25 to $250 for first offences up to $1,000 for third offences.

• Town of Yarmouth: 902-742-2521

• Municipality of Yarmouth: 902-742-7159

• Municipality of Argyle: 902-648-2311

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Recent comments

  • Frieda Perry
    December 03, 2013 - 09:08

    Great article... Carol has the skill and the knowledge for this extremely important work. Her proactive approach to education is the only means to improve these situations. She just seems to channel these animals that are running loose and they know to come for her... that she'll help. Thanks for this important and informative article Carla.