City should also ask why Calgary Animal Services continues history of promoting pit bull proliferation
CALGARY, Alberta, Canada––Scrambling for answers under intense media scrutiny, Alberta Health Services and Calgary Police Services on June 7, 2022 released preliminary findings from an investigation as to why Betty Ann “Rusty” Williams, 86, fatally injured by a neighbor’s three pit bulls, waited 30 minutes for an ambulance dispatched from only 10 blocks away.
Among those raising questions are the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and New Democratic Party health critic David Shepherd.
Among the conspicuously silent, so far, are Calgary Animal Services and everyone else involved in dismantling the once renowned “Calgary model” for doing animal control, replacing it with an entirely different approach that put pushing pit bulls ahead of public safety.
Calgary plays the pit bull name game
“Police say the 86-year-old woman,” two months from her 87th birthday, “was fatally attacked while tending to her garden at her Capitol Hill home around 2 p.m. after her neighbor’s dogs escaped their backyard,” summarized Michael Rodriguez for the Calgary Herald.
“The three dogs have since been seized by the city,” Rodriguez said, “and are believed to be a North American pit bull terrier mix, a North American Staffordshire mix, and an American pit bull.”
All three dogs are in truth pit bulls, plain and simple, “Staffordshire” being only the name used by Massachusetts dogfighter John P. Colby (1875-1941) to register his fighting dog line, and “mix” signifying only that pit bull breeders have been crossing and re-crossing fighting dog lines for long enough to blur DNA definitions.
Designating the three dogs as different breeds, in short, is pit bull advocacy bafflegab, of real world significance only in helping pit bull owners to evade breed bans.
“Call was triaged as non-life-threatening”
“As neighbors and bylaw officers tried to help,” Rodriguez continued, “Betty leaned against a garage door in her alley for about half an hour before an ambulance arrived. Her home on 21st Avenue N.W. is less than a 10-minute drive from Foothills Medical Centre, where she eventually died. Neighbors said they saw a couple of ambulances drive by to other calls as they waited alongside Betty.”
Explained Alberta Health Services to Global News reporter Jill Croteau, “The initial 911 call was received by City of Calgary 911 dispatch and was categorized for police response based on the information provided from the scene. Calgary Police Service communicated to Emergency Medical Services that they were responding.
“Based on information provided to Emergency Medical Services,” Alberta Health Services continued, “the call was triaged as non-life-threatening.
“When Calgary Police Services arrived on scene, they notified Emergency Medical Services that the patient’s injuries were serious. Emergency Medical Services immediately dispatched an ambulance, which arrived on scene nine minutes later,” the Alberta Health Services statement concluded.
21 minutes to realize that an 86-year-old being mauled by pit bulls is always life-threatening
In other words, City of Calgary 911 dispatch took 21 minutes to realize that an 86-year-old woman having been mauled by three pit bulls is always a life-threatening situation.
Posted Heather Johnson in memory of Williams, “She may have been small in stature, but her personality made her larger than life. Rusty,” a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, “served our country proudly. She was a recent cancer survivor; she had endured cancer two times and recently was in remission. Small but strong lady to say the least. She was ready to live her golden years.”
The three pit bulls who killed Williams were impounded. A criminal investigation into the circumstances of the attack on Williams is reportedly underway.
Lisa Lloyd remembered
Williams was the first Calgary-area pit bull fatality since Lisa Lloyd, 50, of Langdon, Alberta, an outlying suburb beyond Calgary Animal Services’ jurisdiction, was killed by her own pit bull/boxer mix on September 16, 2018 .
Lloyd was fatally injured while defending her two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter from attack.
Calgary has, however, had many other serious pit bull incidents. Calgary Animal Services data for the years 2009 through 2019 show that the average of 1,812 licensed pit bulls within the city were involved in 464 biting incidents, fifteen more than the 6,466 licensed German shepherds.
Translation: Calgary pit bulls injured people six times more often, relative to their numbers, than German shepherds, and almost three times more often than the average of 950 Rottweilers in the community.
The “Calgary model” back when it really existed
There was once a unique “Calgary model” for animal care and control, introduced by former police officer Jerry Aschenbrenner, who headed Calgary Animal Services from 1975 until 2000.
The Calgary animal control ordinance, under Aschenbrenner, was modeled on the 1985 Los Angeles ordinance. The only significant difference was that Aschenbrenner enforced the ordinance with incentive-based dog licensing, instead of emphasizing the penalties for non-compliance.
Thereby, Aschenbrenner boosted licensing compliance in Calgary from the conventional range of less than 25% to an unheard of 80%-plus.
This was done by making licensing inexpensive––and easy.
Instead of trying to raise animal control revenues and budget through collecting fines, Aschenbrenner on the one hand pushed sales volume, and on the other, cut animal control costs by replacing expensive impoundments with free rides home for licensed dogs found running at large, if the dogs had no bite history.
“Bylaw Bill” dismantled what had worked
The incentive-based Aschenbrenner approach has yet to be replicated anywhere else––including in Calgary.
Aschenbrenner’s successor, Bill Bruce, nicknamed “Bylaw Bill,” initially followed Aschenbrenner’s lead. Bruce by 2005 raised dog licensing compliance to more than 90%, returning 88% of impounded dogs to their homes.
But then, trying to convert the high licensing compliance rate into greater departmental income, Bruce jacked up the Calgary dog licensing fees to the conventional range and reinstituted the pre-Aschenbrenner high impoundment fees.
Pit bulls, dog attacks, and dogfighting had barely been known in Calgary during Aschenbrenner’s tenure. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, however, Calgary became a popular destination for rescue transporters.
The Calgary pit bull population soared, as did related incidents.
Dogfighting & van attacks
Bruce contended that enforcing the licensing law and other conventional dog ordinances could prevent dogfighting and dog attacks without any need for breed-specific laws.
By 2009 dogfighting burst into the open in Calgary.
Pit bulls were repeatedly released from vans to attack residents of East Asian descent, injuring a three-year-old, a four-year-old, and men aged 70, 78, and about 55. A 27-year-old woman eventually pleaded guilty in connection with three of the attacks. Additional suspects were beyond Calgary jurisdiction.
There were a then-record 58 dog bites reported in Calgary in 2009, 102 in 2010, 127 in 2011 and 201 in 2012, 70% of the total reportedly by pit bulls, when Bruce retired in mid-year.
Bruce took job specifically pushing pit bulls
Three disfiguring pit bull attacks occurred in Calgary during Bruce’s last three months as animal control chief, along with a fatal attack on an infant inflicted by a husky.
Bruce went on to become a roving consultant for the pro-pit bull National Canine Foundation, an arm of the Animal Farm Foundation pit bull advocacy front.
The numbers of dog bites reported in Calgary dipped slightly post-Bruce to 198 in 2013, but then rose to 244 in 2014, and averaged 215 a year over the 2009-2019 interval, 22% of them by pit bulls.