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Neighbors shocked after elderly woman killed in dog attack

AHS is reviewing the lengthy 30-minute ambulance response time, says ‘there were no ambulances immediately available’ at the time of the attack

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The Capitol Hill community is in shock after an elderly woman was killed in a dog attack on Sunday afternoon.

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Police responded to the northwest community in the 1500 block of 21st Avenue NW at about 2 pm, finding an elderly woman with serious injuries. Investigators believe the woman was in a back alley doing some yard work when a neighbor’s three dogs escaped their yard from her and attacked her. Police say the 86-year-old woman died from her injuries in hospital.

A man who lives behind the victim said his wife called 911 after seeing the incident unfold in the alleyway between their homes. He ran out to help the woman as she laid severely injured against a garage door. Police said the neighbors and owner were able to remove the dogs from the scene before first responders arrived.

“I only saw the owner of the dogs hauling two dogs back into the yard. I did not see the third dog,” said the neighbor who identified himself only as Lane on Monday morning. He said the woman’s name was Betty, but neighbors knew her as Rusty or Red.

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“I held her upright so that she wasn’t leaning back and choking again and just held her. The owner of the dogs came out with a couple of towels shortly thereafter. We put it around her neck and her back and her shoulders to try and keep her warm.

Lane said by law officers were quick to show up, arriving in the alley less than two minutes after his wife called for help. But he said paramedics took more than half an hour to show up.

AHS told Postmedia it has started a review of the long response time for the incident and is reaching out to the victim’s family directly.

“EMS responded to this call in approximately 30 minutes. This is longer than we expect, and is outside of our target response times,” said AHS spokesperson James Wood.

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“EMS was challenged with extremely high volume at the time of this incident, meaning there were no ambulances immediately available.”

Even with a quicker ambulance response, Lane said there was likely nothing paramedics could have done for Betty due to the severity of her injuries, describing them as “catastrophic.”

In a short update on Monday, police said they’re continuing to interview witnesses and are working with bylaw officers to determine potential charges. Police previously said those charges could include negligence causing death or a bylaw offence, depending on what’s uncovered in the investigation.

Police said the three dogs involved are believed to be a North American pit bull terrier mix, a North American Staffordshire mix and an American pit bull.

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“This was an extremely tragic event that resulted in the death of an innocent woman,” said Detective Kerry Parsons of the Calgary Police Service.

“Our condolences go out to the family and loved ones of the victim, as we continue to investigate this incident.”

Calgary bylaw services confirmed that they seized the dogs on Sunday afternoon and there is no risk to the community. Police said the dogs remain in holding as the investigation continues.

Back alley at the 2100 block of 15th Street NW where the attack occurred.
Back alley at the 2100 block of 15th Street NW where the attack occurred. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Sean Goebel, who lives just down the street, said he was doing some work on his roof when he noticed the arrival of bylaw officers. He said he found it peculiar that bylaw was first on scene, initially thinking it to be a standard response to issue a ticket.

“That’d be a tough scene to be on as a bylaw officer,” said Goebel. “I don’t know if they’re even trained for that.”

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Goebel said he’s seen the owner walking his dogs often, describing them as “big, strong, powerful dogs,” though he believed the man only had two dogs.

“We knew to stay away from those dogs. I’ve got a dog as well, so I just steered clear,” said Goebel, noting a few instances of behavioral issues he’d seen as the owner walked the dogs around the neighborhood.

“If they’re well trained, they’re wonderful animals but if you don’t look after them properly, it’s big trouble.”

Neighbors say the dog owner lived in the house with a partner, but they mostly kept to themselves since moving into the home just a few months ago. Lane said the owner was “gutted” after the incident.

“I thought he was gonna throw up,” he said, adding that the man cooperated with police and bylaw officers.

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Lane said Betty had lived in her 21st Avenue NW home for more than 30 years and he’d known her for the last 25. She was an avid gardener, always doing work in her backyard.

“She did her own yard, built the fence … she’s chopped down the caraganas don’t know how many times now all on her own,” said Lane.

“(She) put all of us to shame as far as activity and fitness goes…. She was just a little tiny slip of a person.”

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said his heart goes out to the family of the victim.

“We are very concerned the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw may not have been respected or honored,” Wong said over the phone on Monday.

“That’s something that we’re waiting on more information from Calgary Community Standards, to know more about what were the circumstances around it.”

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He said he will press for answers about why this attack happened and research any ways city council could prevent similar incidents in the future.

Postmedia attempted to speak with the dog’s owner, who appeared to be home on Monday afternoon, but he did not answer the door.

Since 2000, there have been two notable fatal dog attacks in the Calgary area, both involving the dog’s owners or their family members. A newborn baby boy was killed by the husky family in Airdrie in 2012 and a 50-year-old Langdon-area woman was killed in 2018 as she attempted to protect a toddler from the family dog.

— With files from Stephanie Babych

Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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