When the Law Bites

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In late September, the city of Montreal tried to pass breed specific legislation targeting pit bull-type dogs. The Montreal SPCA launched a lawsuit against its city to appeal the by-law, highlighting it as discriminatory and vague. The city animal control proposed to euthanize all pit bulls found in shelters and advised for owners of these types of dogs to follow strict regulations, including public muzzling and registration of such canines for “public safety.”

So far the appeal was able to suspend the regulation until a new decision is rendered, one that will reassess the definition of pit bulls, with consideration for the act on welfare and safety of domestic animals. There is no real proven danger of the specific breed that is being targeted; any dog can bite. Instead of actually protecting the community, BSL creates a false sense of safety by discriminating against breeds that results in no change regarding actual numbers of dog bites.

The specific regulations have been triggered by a dog mauling that left a woman dead in Montreal in June earlier this year. However, there has been no specification of what breed of dog attacked the woman, only theories that it may have been a pit bull-type dog. The canine was put down by the paramedics at the crime scene, because it was deemed “aggressive,” but the type of breed was never officially announced.

Courtesy of the author.

Sophie Gaillard, a lawyer working on this case protecting animal rights, confirms that BSL is ineffective and world trends have shown that. This type of legislation has proven to be inadequate and discriminative toward specific breeds and their owners.

Regarding the summer mauling, Gaillard reassures BTRtoday that they reached out to the police and city officials in hopes of helping with the case and showcasing expertise of the SPCA regarding animal behavior. “They refused to take into account the evidence we provided them and decided to push forward,” she says.

“Breed does not predict behavior.” adds Gaillard. “What predicts aggression in dogs is if the dog is not sterilized, if the dog has been poorly socialized or trained using a verdict training technique, and if the dog has been subject to neglect and abuse.”

The SPCA hope that they will be able to convince the city that the true measures that should be adopted are those that target such factors as those that Gaillard cites, not just randomly targeting dogs that fit a vague description.

However, there are parts of the by-law that the SPCA find very useful, like the mandatory registration of animals, mandatory use of leashes in public areas, and mandatory sterilization–with an exception made for those with a permit for breeding.

“We have been advocating these measures for years at the SPCA,” says Gaillard. “We only have an issue with the targeting of a specific breed or a specific physical type.”

The number one problem the SPCA has concerns the euthanizing of said dogs that fit the description of a pit bull-type breed and the prohibited of adoption of these dogs. This creates an issue: if a shelter rescues said type of dog, the animal will not be considered fit for adoption, and instead will have to be euthanized. There is no real need to euthanize a healthy and non-dangerous, adoptable animal. Another section of the by-law, Gaillard mentions, is that if an owner is to lose his or her pit bull and that animal is picked up by the SPCA, the dog will not be returned to the owner and will be automatically euthanized.

“The by-law also adds additional restraints on owners,” explains Gaillard. “They have to pay a special $150 year permit, get a criminal background check, they can’t transfer the permit to anyone else if they’re sick or have to move away–all of this will create a higher rate of abandonment.”

Not only will the shelters be overcrowded, but it would force individuals to face the immoral act of killing innocent animals, “forcing veterinarians and shelters to go against their code of ethics by euthanizing healthy, behaviorally sound animals.”

Amanda Watkins is an obedience trainer, AKC Canine Good Citizenship test evaluator, and the vice president of the National American Pit Bull Terrier Association. She agrees that no specific type of dog is more dangerous than another and shouldn’t be discriminated against. “I see everything from tiny little yorkies all the way up to larger type dogs, and no dog in the right hands with responsible owners, who put time and effort into their dogs, will ever have problems,” she says. “Unfortunately, a lot of the issues are related directly to owner’s responsibility.”

Courtesy of OOTP/Cydney Cross.

According to Watkins, pit bulls are one of the most popular breeds in the US, and “with the increase of supply and demand you have incorrigible individuals breeding dogs.”

The irresponsible breeding for business purposes often goes with no regulations, where dogs are not evaluated or temperament tested, “that may exhibit sub-par qualities, crossing them with breeds that are more predisposed toward aggression.” Breeders must take the initiative of making sure any animal that is being put out into society, any breed, will be stable and communicate with people of all ages.

In a study conducted from 2000-2009 by the American Veterinary Medical Association, 256 cases of dog bite related fatalities were analyzed to research the co-occurrence of preventable factors causing aggression in dogs.

AVMA wanted to stray away from media reports and breed discrimination, focusing only on verifiable data and accurate sources. The data was collected from homicide detectives, animal control reports, and investigators. The results showcased that most dog bite-related fatalities were caused by preventable factors, where breed was not a factor.

The factors that were ruled out were owner failure to neuter dogs (84.4 percent), compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs (77.4 percent), dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs (76.2 percent), owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs (37.5 percent), and owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs (21.1 percent).

This study supports multifaceted options to decrease dog bites, instead of breed discrimination and BSL.

Cydney Cross, founder of Out Of the Pits community service and rescue and adjunct professor at SUNY Cobleskill’s canine program, agrees that no breed of dog is inherently dangerous.

“The media and public portrayal of pit bulls being dangerous sells in the media,” says Cross. “Twenty-two years ago when we started this rescue, it was German shepherds and Dobermans portrayed as dangerous, and back in those times I had a German shepherd and everyone thought I was crazy, but she was a stellar dog.”

The responsibility always will fall on the shoulders of owners and good citizens will always abide the law, follow correct procedure and take steps toward creating a safe environment for their dog and the public, however there will always be people “that haven’t socialized their dogs, that keep them tied on chains and don’t spay or neuter them.”

Cross mentioned that she was very impressed with the Montreal Humane Society and the work they have been doing since the by-law has been ruled; dogs falling under the description of pit bull-types have been moved to other regions of Canada that do not fall under those regulations, as well as helping owners who cannot afford the new permits.

“Dogs never make a decision to be bad, they just make a decision to handle the situation with the tools they have on board,” says Cross. “Sometimes the dog’s character can fail them, just like people.”