Why Calgary has almost as many off-leash parks as dog bites
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2000:
CALGARY––As an ex-cop, before
becoming director of Calgary Animal Services
back in 1975, soon-to-retire Jerry Aschenbrenner
believes strong laws and consistent
enforcement are the keys to his success.
And Aschenbrenner has been successful.
Since 1984, Calgary Animal Services
and the Calgary Humane Society have
between them never killed more than 12.8
dogs and cats per 1,000 human residents of
their service area––and that peak was reached
15 years ago, when the big-city norm was
more than twice as high. Even now the norm
is 16.6. Calgary comes in at 5.2.
Although the numbers compare well
to those of San Francisco and other no-kill
cities, Aschenbrenner and the Calgary
Humane Society don’t tout Calgary as having
achieved no-kill animal control. CHS, handling
cat impoundment under contract to CAS,
still kills about 4,000 cats per year, some of
whom might be saved with a Feral Cat
Assistance Program as vigorous as the one in
San Francisco. But Aschenbrenner sees that
on the agenda.
CAS is to open a new city shelter
just before the end of Aschenbrenner’s tenure.
The new shelter, unlike the old one where
Aschenbrenner has spent most of his working
life, will have cat facilities. That will enable
CAS to do its own cat sheltering and adoption
promotion, allow CHS to get out of animal
control, and––Aschenbrenner hopes––take
some of the pressure off of the comparatively
tiny Feline Rescue Foundation of Alberta,
which he praises for neutering and trying to
find homes for feral cats, while noting that the
Calgary winter weather means cats without a
warm building to stay inside of often don’t
stand a chance.
“Fostering and socialization for
adoption works here,” Aschenbrenner says.
“And we’re not against the idea of
neuter/return, where it works. Unfortunately,
our climate limits the use of neuter/return as a
Calgary has a complaint-driven ordinance
against allowing cats to run at large, but
CAS and CHS loan cage traps to people who
complain, rather than trying to catch the cats
themselves. Cat-trapping is allowed only in
backyards, and cats captured must be taken
promptly to CHS, which attempts to identify
and rehome them.
Did L.A. better
Most of the Calgary animal control
bylaws are not unique. Most of the Calgary
licensing program was copied wholesale from
Los Angeles, Aschenbrenner says––but the
results are much better, reflected not only in
the low Calgary killing rate but also in a
licensing compliance rate believed to be
around 80%, and in the positive attitude of the
community toward dogs.
One offbeat but indicative measure
of responsible petkeeping and public trust is
that the Calgary ratio of parks allowing dogs to
run off-leash to reported dog bites in 1999
was 300/371. U.S. cities typically have ratios
closer to 1/10, rising as high as 1/100.
The difference may be that Aschenbrenner
is not just an ex-cop, but a Canadian
ex-cop: not Wyatt Earp, imposing order on
the wild west, but rather an ever-friendly,
ever-polite Sergeant Preston who rides a
motorcycle instead of a dog sled.
Canadian police training emphasizes
public relations. The old CAS shelter was
built to the usual mid-20th century design,
with cement-and-chain-link runs beneath a tin
roof, but by the middle of a weekday morning
in mid-2000 most of it looked much more like
a sales office than an animal control agency.
Most of the staff seemed to spend
most of their time providing customer service
by telephone, primarily handling dog licensing
and rehoming lost dogs.
The quarantine unit for injured or ill
animals was empty. Aschenbrenner said none
had been received in days. The overnight
holding pens were empty: CAS holds so few
dogs overnight these days that all of those who
are not promptly rehomed are shifted each
morning to more spacious quarters outside the
insulated part of the building. The day pens
were also half empty. And the refrigerator for
euthanized dogs was nearly empty.
Aschenbrenner mentioned that when he started,
trucks from a rendering plant collected
remains several times a week.
“Now we may have remains picked
up only once a month, and even then the truck
doesn’t get a load,” Aschenbrenner said.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE watched, a
CAS van rolled up, not to discharge dogs, as
most animal control agency vehicles would be
doing at that time of day, but rather to take
two dogs home.
“We picked them up first thing this
morning,” Aschenbrenner explained. “They
were licensed, but lost their tags, so it took us
until now to find out where they belong.”
Says CAS literature, “Calgary has
18 animal control officers, who provide service
on rotating shifts seven days a week.
They use 15 trucks that have mobile computers
on board, so the officers can type in a license
number and find out where a dog lives. Once
they identify the owner and the address, they
drive the dog home and into the hands of a
grateful owner. In 1999, close to 2,000 dogs
—40% of all dogs impounded by CAS––were
driven directly home. In most cases, dogs
running at large are accidental escapees, and
their owners are quite frantic to find them.”
CAS charges a return fee of $25, a
bargain compared to the usual cost of trying to
find a lost dog. If the dog escapes through
carelessness, the keeper may also receive a
warning ticket or a $100 fine, usually imposed
only against chronic violators.
Keepers of unlicensed dogs of more
than three months of age are fined $250 if
identified, whether or not they surrender the
dogs. Annual licensing of a neutered dog costs
the equivalent of about $15 in U.S. funds.
Licensing an unneutered dog is about $25.
Secret is advertising
Rehoming the two dogs while we
visited would leave only a handful of dogs still
in custody. Among them were two apparent
abuse cases, found at large and now subject of
an investigation; one dog who would be
claimed by an adopter later in the morning;
and several dogs found without tags, who
would be adopted by people who had already
claimed them if their people failed to redeem
them within 11 days.
Dogs not promptly adopted but
deemed suitable for adoption are transferred to
CHS. CHS does most of the adoption advertising
in Calgary, but CAS probably does
more paid advertising of services than any
other animal control agency ANIMAL PEOPLE
has visited. CAS ads are ubiquitous: in
telephone books, on kiosks, among TV listings,
in all the local newspapers, airing via
broadcast media, and on a web site.
CAS handouts are also on the service
desks at every bank in town, since all the
banks now accept dog license renewal payments,
including by automatic teller.
The major Calgary newspapers and
utility companies distribute CAS handouts as
well, emphasizing dogbite prevention.
It may not be possible to be in
Calgary for 24 hours without seeing or hearing
“Does your dog have a license?” in one form
or another, and with the question getting a
pitch on the advantages of licensing.
Avoiding a possible fine is always