Liz Lyle-Mattson is still shaken after her nine-month-old dog was allegedly bear-sprayed late last week following an altercation with an older couple.
On Nov. 15, Lyle-Mattson was taking her labrador, Buddy for a walk in the Northeast Woods near Highland Secondary School when she was approached by an older couple who she says was yelling about her dog being off-leash.
Due to their aggressive approach, Lyle-Mattson says she called Buddy back to her and apologized.
“I called him back and I was retreating back to the woods when they sprayed him,” said Lyle-Mattson, adding that Buddy was beside her wagging his tail and may have barked, but was not showing any signs of aggression.
“The man lunged at Buddy, sprayed him then I started yelling at him because I was angry,” she said.
Not wanting the conflict to escalate, Lyle-Mattson says she quickly retreated into the woods with her dog. She says Buddy’s face was covered in a red oil that smelled like cayenne and made her cough. She adds she will not walk her dog without a leash in Comox again.
Lyle-Mattson has filed a formal police report.
According to Const. Monika Terragni, media relations spokeswoman with the Comox Valley RCMP, it is reasonable to carry dog spray in an area where you might encounter an aggressive dog, just as it is to carry bear spray in an area where you might encounter a bear.
“Without seeing the container from which the spray came from it would be very difficult to tell if it was bear spray or dog spray which was used since the main ingredient is usually the same at different concentrations,” she said. “Additionally, the container must indicate that the spray is for use on animals only. Pepper sprays designed for use on humans are illegal in Canada.”
Terragni did not comment whether or not RCMP is taking action on this case but confirmed the incident was reported to police.
According to Karen Wolst, manager of Shamrock Veterinary Clinic, pets that have been sprayed with bear spray should have their eyes flushed out and may be put on an IV if they ingested any of the spray. Though the spray is not deadly, it can cause drooling, hypersalivation, squinting and pain for the animal.
Wolst says the clinic – which is the closest vet clinic to Highland Secondary School – has not treated any pets who have been sprayed with bear spray.
More dog owners speak out
Lyle-Mattson is not the first or last to have had a similar altercation in the Highland Park area.
On Tuesday around 3 p.m., Amy MacDonald was in the Highland Park field with her husband and three children playing fetch with their dog when she says an older couple cut through the field and headed to where she was standing.
MacDonald says the couple told her her dog should be on a leash, and MacDonald’s husband explained their dog was very friendly and was not going to come near them.
“The lady turned and said, ‘I just have to press one button and I have 911 on the line,’ ” said MacDonald. “[The man] pulled out the bear spray and he said to my husband, ‘If the dog comes near me I’m bear spraying the dog.’ “
MacDonald says the man had a can of bear spray with him, but her dog, who was still playing fetch across the field, was not sprayed. She is still very upset about the incident.
“We’ve gone over there with my dogs, walked them off leash over the field and have never had a problem for 30 years – never had an issue,” she said. “If you live in the Valley, you know that people have their dogs off leash all the time and if you don’t like it, walk around it.”
Another Comox dog-owner found herself in a similar situation in September while on a walk with her nine-year-old beagle along Highridge Drive.
Charlene Gray says her dog walks with her nose down, ignoring everyone unless they offer a treat, so she was surprised when an older couple angrily approached her about walking her dog off-leash.
“My dog was still nowhere near them. She was walking about 10 feet away from me in the woods with her nose down, following along. And I just kept on walking and they started taking pictures and it was very bizarre. I actually just got out of there quite quickly because I was not comfortable.”
She says she understands that people are frustrated about off-leash dogs – and adds that it’s a conversation she believes needs to happen – but is worried about the aggressive behaviour she experienced.
“It’s more about what you do about it when you have an issue. Do you got to the Town about it or do you go vigilante and take bear spray or pepper spray out to the woods and start attacking dogs and people?” said Gray. “It was extreme and it was scary, being by myself in the woods and there’s nobody else around. I know there are a lot of people that [walk their dogs off-leash] there and it could have been a lot worse for me.”
Gray says she has changed her walking route because she is no longer comfortable walking in that area.
According to the Town of Comox website, “there are no off-leash parks, fields or areas within the Town of Comox boundary.”
A request for comment has been sent to Mayor Russ Arnott.