An Introduction to Breed-Specific Legislation, aka "The Pit Bull Ban" in Ontario

 

“The pit bull ban”/ Breed-Specific Legislation came into existence within Ontario over 15 years ago when a highly publicized dog attack occurred in 2005. Since that time the ban has been countered by many, but no progress has been made until 2021 (recently.) The bill is making headlines again after several dogs were held from their families for being labelled as “pit-bull type,” and the provincial legislature is considering whether BSL is an effective practice. Recently, Toronto Major Doug Ford announced that owners will no longer have their dogs confiscated for being identified as a Pit Bull-type dog – they instead get to have their dog in their possession when proving their breed lineage. This also granted safety to American Bullies; a dog breed heavily linked the APBT in the media that does not share the same physical appearance, working drive or lineage as the APBT.

Blaming a breed and banning their existence is not the answer to the issue of responsible dog ownership and dogs biting people. Here are a few reasons why Ontario’s Breed-Specific Legislation doesn’t make sense.

  1. BSL is Subjective in Nature

BSL uses vague descriptive language - a dog having a strong square jaw, short ears, broad shoulders, and short hair with a moderate height and weight. That means that many pet owners with breeds ranging from Terriers to Mastiffs were immediately surprised to find out that their dog could be considered a Pit Bull in the eyes of the law. This also means that any cross-bred dog that fits the criteria could be subjected to confiscation due to their physical appearance.

It’s crucial to investigate whether removing dog breeds based on their description is appropriate. It doesn’t matter whether they’re aggressive or not; any dog fitting the ideal description would be subject to the same fate. It is then up to the owners to prove that their dog isn’t a banned breed, and that proof is judged (and deemed worthy or unworthy) by the same parties making the accusation. The entire nature of the bill is unjust and puts an immense amount of power in the hands of Animal Services without governing the results.

  1. The Ban is Not Supported by any reputable Veterinary Association

Dog bites are not specific to a particular breed, which is why no reputable veterinary association – including the Canadian Veterinary Association - is on board with BSL. Such legislation has never been based on the fact that a particular dog breed is more prone to biting than the other. No matter the size or shape of the dog, a dog bite can do extensive damage and putting blame on the breed of dog instead of responsible ownership leaves the likelihood of documented dog bites involving other breeds to rise.

  1. No Historical Data to Prove Breed-Specific Bans as a Cure for Dog Bites

While it may seem like an easy solution to implement, there’s no historical data that proves that BSL can help to lower the overall percentage of dog bites. In fact, many states across the US have overturned their bills when realizing that BSL did not help with their overall dog bite statistics.

Other working breeds including Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Dobermans have been subjected to similar scenarios where they’re portrayed as creatures to be feared by the public. It’s easier to blame the dog itself than it is to address the underlying issues of why dog bites occur.

  1. Canine behavior is not solely based on breed.

Responsible pet ownership is more than just selecting the right breed for your lifestyle. It’s about knowing the breed you’ve selected and fulfilling the dog’s life while caring and nurturing a positive bond between you and your dog. All too often we see leash laws being broken by dogs with no recall, children and teens mishandling dogs for a laugh, and owners allowing their dogs to get away with anything they please. The reality is that certain breeds get a pass when it comes to this behavior, and others do not. We may not see people cowering in fear when a Toy Poodle barks and lunges at the end of a leash, but we certainly see people crossing the road if a Bullmastiff does. That’s why owning any type of dog involves a level of liability, and why owning a dog from with a working breed lineage of any respect requires a great deal of knowledge and care.

Being a responsible owner also means acknowledging that your dog may have breed-based needs. If all our dogs did what they were bred to do, we would have a world widely overran by dogs! Bulldogs would be attacking the ankles of everyone they met, Shepard’s would try and heard people into a group by biting them, and Dobermans would never let a single soul near their owners. The dogs of today may possess traits from their working past, but many are far removed from that lifestyle at this point in time. Training with breed characteristics in mind is vital to the success of any dog, and despite the controversial history of the APBT, they were never bred with the intention to have human aggression. Although APBT’s are not “nanny dogs,” no dogs are. They require a strong, assertive owner with breed knowledge – just like many large dog breeds that are legal to own.

  1. BSL Doesn’t Promise Safer Communities

BSL’s main aim is to treat the symptom – the dog bite – rather than the root of the issue. There are multiple locations that have installed a ban on ABPT’s, including the Miami-Dade County in Florida, but they are highly ineffective. About 800 pit bulls were confiscated and euthanized in 2008 alone within the region despite the lack of change in overall reported dog bites. Thankfully, in 2018 Ontario ceased their order to euthanize dogs labelled as Pit Bulls; they are now ordered to be placed and rehomed out of the province.

This comes to show that there’s no cure for dog bites other than proper training itself. Imposing bans doesn’t promise that you get to create a safer community, and it doesn’t stop bad people from owning powerful dogs.

  1. BSL Takes Away Attention from the Real Problem: Irresponsible Owners

The fact is that dog bites are almost entirely predictable and preventable, and we don’t talk about it. We don’t discuss respectful interactions with animals in school, we don’t provide a prerequisite for owners prior to obtaining a dog. Most owners don’t even know how to properly stop or avoid a dog attack if it were to happen to or from their dog. Being able to understand the body language of all dogs should be knowledge that’s more common. These are really important issues that deserve attention, and they deserve to be part of what’s built in place of BSL.

Dangerous dog laws and BSL are not the same thing, and laws to punish irresponsible owners and remove dogs with shown aggression (regardless of breed) and vital to ensuring a safer community as a whole.

Reports and Statistics Against the Pit Bull Breed is Largely Flawed

In most scenarios, it’s almost impossible for the victim to accurately remember the breed or type of the dog that was involved in an attack. We often hear reports of an “80lb Pit Bull” attack, or an “100lb Pit Bull” who chased a small dog. These are almost always not APBT’s who generally do not pass 50lbs in weight and are considered medium sized dogs. Many breeds have now taken on this term to the general public, which heavily sways the reporting of dog bites. Dogo Argentinos, Boxers, many Mastiff breeds, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, American Bulldogs, Bull Terriers – all are breeds that could be classified as a Pit Bull in the eyes of someone who does not know the difference.

  1. Proving a Dog Doesn’t Belong to a Particular Breed is Expensive and Subjective

The onus lies on the owner to defend their dogs and ensure that they’re able to prove that their dog is not a Pit Bull. And with this comes papers stating the breed of dog from your veterinarian, breed (if applicable) and any UKC/CKC/ACK papering they may have, along with DNA testing. The problem with this is that on many documented occasions, proof of a dog’s lineage was deemed inadmissible by the judging parties. The legislation itself has many loopholes, allowing the decision to lie within the accusing parties.

Do you want more information on the current Breed Specific Legislation? You can find it here:

https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90d16/v8#BK10

Do you want to find out more information on the efforts being made to repeal the ban? You can find it here:

www.endtheban.ca

 


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