I recently blogged about Breed Specific Legislation — I prefer the term Breed Discriminatory Laws as more accurate — in the U.S.: Let’s Call Breed Bans What They Are: Death Sentences.
Several people wrote to inform me that Canada had similar laws, so I looked into it. Jeez. I tend to think of Canada as enlightened, with a comprehensive health care system, legalized same-sex marriage, a polite horseback-riding constabulary… But when it comes to dogs, our neighbor to the north is even more backwards than we are. The entire province of Ontario — the country’s second largest, with a population of 12 million and covering more than one million square kilometers — has a pit bull ban, put into effect on August 29, 2005.
Still, I wondered if the ban was as enthusiastically enforced as it was, say, in Denver. So I asked if any of my fellow pet bloggers in Canada might know — and be willing to share. AJ, who writes about her eight-month-old dog, Jack, in the delightful Pup Love blog, stepped up to the plate.
As it happens, the issue is personal with AJ. As she puts it on her “About” page:
We were told that Jack is Karelian Bear Dog and Mastiff; I tend to believe that he’s more Karelian Bear Dog / Labrador Retriever / Mastiff / Staffordshire Terrier. When people on the street ask us what type of dog Jack is, we just say he’s a Mastiff mix. Nobody has ever heard of a Karelian Bear Dog, so they stare at us blankly, and I don’t dare mention the suspected Staff genes. I, personally, love Staffs. But we live in Ontario, home to BSL – which I am strongly against – and any mention of a pit-like dog causes an instant change in attitude towards Jack. He has striking good looks, which attracts people to him, but mention any pit-related word and you can visibly see the contortion of their faces towards terror or disgust.
Before I turn this blog over to her — sorry for the long-winded intro, AJ! — I would like to refer you to another post, where I suggest that we might Give Ethical Pet Travel a Road Test. Toronto — which hosts the huge annual Woofstock festival* — is in Ontario. So is Niagara Falls. We’re talking mega-tourist dollars.
It’s been almost six years since breed-specific legislation – or as Edie so accurately put it, “Canine murder mandates” – against pit bulls passed in Ontario. Six years of abuse towards “pit bull” owners, six years of senseless euthanizing, and six years of rallies, petitions and public outcry that have gone ignored by politicians.
The law applies to a number of breeds – American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and any dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to those of dogs referred to in any of the aforementioned categories. Since there are over 20 breeds that are often mistaken for “pit bulls,” this law suddenly has the potential to affect a lot of dog owners… and it has.
Just a few examples:
- In 2006, a woman named Lisa who was living in Ottawa, Ontario, filed domestic abuse charges against her boyfriend. She returned home from a friend’s house one evening to find two police officers on her doorstep with a warrant for her then-ex boyfriend’s arrest. Lisa repeatedly explained that he didn’t live there but they didn’t believe her. She asked if she could go in and remove her dogs before they entered; she had two legal pit bulls and was worried that, because of the perception of pit bulls, one of the police officers would hurt them. They denied her request and she was held in a nearby field as officers fired tear gas in through the windows and stormed her house. When she was finally allowed to return home, she found her fears confirmed – her dogs had been repeatedly shot.
- In 2008, a family pet was shot and killed by police in Barrie, a city north of Toronto, when it slipped out the back door as the family was moving and went for a run. The local paper identified the dog as a “pit bull” in the headline. It was actually a Sharpei/Boxer/Lab cross without any history of aggressive behavior.
- In 2009, an officer in Ottawa, Ontario responded to a call about a dispute between two neighbours. A pit bull belonging to one of the men came out of the house during the dispute, which the officer was able to resolve. As she returned to her car, the dog followed her – it was not chasing her, it wasn’t barking, and was not showing any signs of aggression. The police officer turned and fired two shots into the dog, with several children playing nearby.
- Tyra and Buster, a pit bull breed and her young pup, escaped through a gate when the family had company in the backyard. Both dogs were properly registered and were found by local Animal Control, who were able to contact the panicked family and let them know their dogs had been found. However, since they were considered to be ‘running at large’ the law had been broken and the dogs were to be euthanized. On top of that, the family received a bill from Animal Control for daily kennel fees.
- Rui Branco of Brampton, Ontario, had his dog Brittany, an American Bulldog/Boxer mix, seized by the city and held for over three months before an independent veterinarian confirmed that Brittany was not, in fact, a pit bull.
Of course, there are no pit bull breeds doing therapy work in Ontario anymore. When the breed ban took effect, they were officially retired “for liability reasons.” However, an American Pit Bull Terrier named Hershey, who was certified by St. John’s Ambulance’s therapy-dog program, has become a mascot of sorts in the fight against BSL. Bill 60 — aka “Hershey’s Bill” — was filed in 2010 by local Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo in an attempt to repeal the current legislature in Ontario.
Since his retirement, Hershey’s family has chosen to move to the country in order to give Hershey some privacy and a space free of persecution; while they were living in the city, Hershey’s owner would often hear comments such as “those are dogs you have to stay away from,” as parents herded their children to the other side of the street or pointed at Hershey as he walked by.
Most human beings would be horrified at the thought of racial profiling… but that’s exactly what breed-specific legislation is. We teach our children not to judge a book by its cover, but then tell them “those kinds of dogs are all vicious, stay far away from them.” We cry out for fairness and equality, and then judge an entire breed – or multiple – on the actions of few.
We need to continue to speak out against breed profiling and the senseless seizing and killing of loving family pets that it brings. Sign petitions, attend rallies, and above all, keep educating. If we, as bloggers, parents, volunteers, and dog enthusiasts, continue to speak out against “breed-specific legislation” – if we take Edie’s advice and call it what it is – we will continue to reach people, to break through to people, and to spread awareness about what BSL truly stands for.
Update: Blogger Ashley Taylor writes:
I live in Ontario…We have an election coming up this Fall. The more noise that Ontarians hear about this issue, the better. Two of three parties have indicated that they will repeal the ban.
On Facebook – Save Ontario Dogs, Stop K9 Profiling, Supporting Cheri Dinovo in Removing All Aspects of BSL
Bio: An avid dog enthusiast, AJ first started working with dogs at a local rescue shelter at the age of 15 and is currently training to become a professional dog trainer. On her recently launched blog, PupLove.ca, she features adoptable dogs, training tips, and pet products that she reviews with the help of her mastiff-mix, Jack.
*Is it just me, or do the dogs in the Woofstock promo look distinctly pit bullish (in the larger sense, as defined by Ontario)?! Any one who cares to take up this Woofstock irony — and maybe discuss it with the promoters — has a forum here on Will My Dog Hate Me.