Hershey, the face of Ontario's anti-BSL movement

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.

Just sayin’…


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.

If people would like more information about the fight in Ontario, you can visit any of these resources:

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.

27 thoughts on “Et Tu, Canada? Ontario’s Province-Wide Breed Ban”

  1. So glad to see this post. I live in Ontario and the ban is heartwrenching, frustrating, and just plain pathetic. The ban is 100% political. No experts (vets, ACO’s, etc) backed up the ban, only ONE dog walker did. 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.

    If people would like more information about the fight in Ontario, you can visit any of these resources:

    On Facebook – Save Ontario Dogs, Stop K9 Profiling, Supporting Cheri Dinovo in Removing All Aspects of BSL

  2. This type of legislation just makes me so angry! Thanks for drawing attention to it, Edie – maybe if we make enough noise people will eventually realize that these bans are borne from ignorance.

  3. I live in Ontario as well and I don’t believe a ban is the answer. To play devil’s advocate though, there are many stories about pits attacking and killing people. Unfortunately, no emphasis is placed on owner responsibility. Our government took the easy way out even though there are other breeds who can also become agressive if not trained and cared for properly. Frankly, I’m more leary of the small breeds that seem all too ready to rip my hand off. The most disappointing illustration of the stupidity of an all out ban ocurred last summer when Cesar Milan visited Ontario and was not allowed to bring Junior – arguably one of the most docile dogs living today. Sad, I personally think pits are the most handsome looking dogs and also make the cutest puppies!

    1. Hi Nanny,

      Unfortunately, a lot of the “stories” are just that. As in, the dogs may or may not have been pitbulls, but media sources KNOW that “pitbull” in the headlines gets hits. Add in the fact that very few people can accurately identify a pitbull, and the result is that they are disproportionately over represented as the breed responsible for maiming and killing. Just sayin’ 🙂

      Ontarians involved in the fight against BSL are pushing for a model such as Calgary’s – which, as you mentioned Nanny, emphasizes owner responsibility. Calgary has the lowest dog bite incidence rate in many, many years, all without implementing BSL.


      1. Please be more specific– which two parties said they would repeal the ban? I might be able to scare up a few votes with some family in Ontario.

        1. The provincial PC and NDP parties are both against the ban. The new motto in Ontario is “Vote ABL” – Anything But Liberal. 😉

  4. I too am Canadian (from British Columbia). Everytime there is an attack here is BC, there are calls in the newspaper editorials and letters for a ban on the breed…many citing Ontari0’s ban for validation. Sad.

    However, there is a local organization here in BC called Hugabull (love the name) who actively do rescue and try to educate the public about these misunderstood breeds. This is nice to see. Here’s their link: http://hugabull.com/

  5. I live in Ontario, and own a Pit Bull, I am also an active foster home for Bullies In Need, an Ontario based Pit Bull rescue. We work with shelters to re-home Pit Bull type dogs that end up in their care. Our job is made even more difficult (as if finding responsible and caring forever homes for dogs isn’t difficult enough) by the fact we have to re-home many of the dogs out of province. Every few months we make the trek to the airport and fly out wonderful breed ambassador dogs to homes in other provinces because the law requires them to leave or be euthanized. We also work extensively with HugABull and BullyBuddies, both BC based rescues to help rehome dogs, we also transfer dogs to their care to give them a better chance of being adopted locally in BC.

    Having to leash my dog doesn’t bother me, because I don’t believe in dog parks or running free (I moved from a condo to a house with a big yard so that my dog and fosters would have space to play), I also don’t even mind muzzling my dogs, as if it gives some false sense of security to ignorant individuals then so be it. It also protects them from the government and protects them from any potential claims or worries about them acting aggressively.

    However, I do mind that in 5-10 years there will be no legal Pit Bulls in Ontario. That when my 7 year old Pit Bull passes, I will not be able to adopt another, because likely there will be no legal Pit Bulls left in the province. I also mind that we have to ship out Pit Bull puppies because they would face persecution and death at the hands of the government. I thank a higher power that there are wonderful shelter workers who go out of their way to help us re-home illegal dogs. Without their compassion and love for the breed it would not be possible.

    It will be a sad day in Ontario when the last legal Pit Bull crosses to the bridge.

    1. Sarah, I just want to commend you on your work with Bullies In Need. I’ve worked for a shelter before, although it was quite long ago, and I know how difficult finding homes can be… I can just imagine how much that difficulty is amplified in your situation.

    2. Sarah, I am traveling from USA to Niagara then up to Westport and have a 1yr old boxer/hound mix that kind of looks like a Pitt. Will I have issues crossing the border that you know of? I am really stressing over this as I would like to take him with us as he has never been in a kennel other than the one at the humaine society where we got him
      Thank you,

  6. I live in Brampton and wrote an extensive recap of the situation of Rui Branco situation, which is here


    The dog in question, Rambo, that looks nothing like a pit bull, was seized WITHOUT A WARRANT. There had never been complaints about Rambo or Brittany, but am overzealous animal control officer decided that they were both dangerous.

    BSL is stupid legislation. I’m always amazed at how quickly legistlation can be approved on non-issuse like “dangerous” dogs, but it’s okay to sell alcohol, which is far more damaging to individuals in the community. Just goes to show you where the money is and how it affects laws in general.

  7. Hi Y’all,

    Years ago we lived for several years in Ontario and it is indeed a beautiful place filled with wonderful people.

    Nanny McFur mentioned “owner responsibility”. What is that? Parents and owners can no longer take responsibility…it is up to authorities to decide what is best including how we parent…they take your child if you spank it and someone “thinks” it was abusive. Children have been growing up for generations now not knowing what “responsibility” means.

    Instead of euthanizing the dogs, they should euthanize the people who fight them, watch them fight, breed them to fight or in any way contribute to the bad rep these dogs have not earned. The same with people who engage in “cock fighting”. (okay, that would be the death penalty…Just put ’em in a dungeon and throw away the key)

    This problem is spreading in the U.S. People have to be made to be responsible for their pets and their children and it’s time to stop judging all the apples by the the rotten one.

    BrownDog’s Momma

  8. Pit Bull Bans in Canada do not suprise me. Canada still allows the massacre of 300,000 baby seals every year because it’s part of their culture. They also allow the senseless killing of sled dogs by the hundreds because sled dog owners no longer want to carry as many racers….Canada may be progressive on some human issues, but when it comes to animal rights, their ignorance is right up there with Sara Palin…Boycott Canada, boycott their crappy Canada Dry gingerale (although I think a US company now owns them but you get the drift) boycott their crappy petrolium, copper, zinc, or whatever other crappy products they export to us.

    1. Ha — tell us how you REALLY feel! I have one friend (who will never admit it in public) who feels the same way about Canada, to the point that she couldn’t stand Peter Jennings.

    2. Hey! I LIKE Canada Dry ginger ale! 😉

      As part of the Canadian demographic, I feel the need to point out that up here, pit bulls are banned in Ontario and in the city of Winnipeg (in Manitoba). However, pit bull bans apply in a far greater number of US states: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, AND Wisconsin.

      I do admit that I have to agree with you when it comes to the seal hunt. I’m disgusted each year and – at the risk of upsetting my fellow Canadians – I’m quite frankly embarrassed to be a citizen of a country that thinks that’s okay.

      1. There are no statewide bans in the US, AJ; in fact several states have outlawed naming specific breeds in their dangerous dog laws. Cities and townships within a variety of states — like Denver, in Colorado, which outlawed statewide bans (but didn’t manage to get Denver’s overturned) — have bans, but not the states themselves. I’d have to guess that the geographical stretch of Ontario’s ban is therefore greater than all the individual municipalities in the U.S. that have bans.

        That said, I don’t think comparing who’s worse — or U.S. or Canada bashing — is useful. We all need to work towards getting laws that make our countries/states look bad overturned.

        1. Apologies, Edie – I wasn’t trying to start a “who’s worse” conversation and it wasn’t my intention for my comment to come across that way, just pointing out that it’s far from a Canadian issue… it’s a widespread problem and putting the blame on any one place isn’t the answer.

          1. No need to apologize, AJ; I was just trying to clarify. Let’s hope we can start competing for who is doing the most for animal rights.

  9. I live in Ontario, in a city with a high population of pit-bull dogs. My best guess would be that about 65% of the cities dogs are small (Shih tzu and poodle mixes are common, as are pomeranians, chihuahuas, and dachshunds- all typically “aggressive” small breeds!) and the other 35% are large (Majority being bully breeds- boxers, bulldogs, and pit-bulls- with huskies, GSDs and retrievers also common).

    Most people readily admit their dogs are pit or pit-mixes. They’re a status symbol that few people in this town really care about. I’ve had two pit-mix puppies run up to me to play the past few weeks. I love pit-bulls, and knowing these little guys are growing up with no rules or training breaks my heart, because it puts them at risk. I’d love the breed ban to be repealed, but it won’t help most of the pits in my town. I have seen exactly one legal pit in this town since I moved here, muzzled and leashed and spayed, sporting a pretty pink charm on her muzzle’s strap, she was a big sweetie-pea. And recently a legal pit was at our shelter- 7 years old and abandoned for who knows what.

    I want these dogs (And all dogs) to get the justice they deserve. But in my town, repealing the ban may be as dangerous as keeping it in place… How do you fix the people when it really isn’t the dog that is the issue?

  10. Living in Ontario and still fighting against BSL while trying get back the Ontario we so deserve. Thanks for caring about the BS that we are putting up with here and getting the word out there.

    There is now a web site for Hershey’s Bill. http://www.supporthersheysbill.com

    With the election within the month, hope is in the air for us here in Ontario, that our lives get back to normal.

  11. BSL has done nothing to lower the dog bite incidents in Ontario since 2005. Legislation against individual dogs involved in biting and their owners is still more effective than BSL could ever hope to be. Ontario’s law has punished how many responsible owners and destroyed how many perfectly nice dogs while the irresponsible jerks that abused theirs can just shrug, walk away and go get another dog they can train to be vicious. Fair and just? I think not. Food for thought…..in Ontario you cannot own a pit or anything that looks like one regardless of their temperament, and yet, last time I heard, you can own a Tiger………that makes sense.

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