“Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
For the last three years, I have been blessed to have a best friend in my life I could not imagine a day without. She can be stubborn and irritable when she wants to be, but I know she loves me when, at the end of the day, she lays her head in my lap and starts to snore. I am, of course, talking of my dog, Phoebe. As I stare at her curled up beside me, I can’t help but think how other dog owners (and dogs themselves) must be feeling knowing that it can be incredibly easy to pass legislation, bylaws and other regulations making days like this a thing of the past. For those who haven’t been reading the news this past week, I am addressing the recent changes Montreal made to their animal control bylaw practices which have essentially banned Pit bulls.
The changes came in light of a recent dog attack which led to the death of a 55 year old woman. Reports say that the owner lost control of an animal identified as a Pit bull. I guess, as a city legislator and lawmaker, the solution was simple – ban the breed. Problem solved! Right? Before we go any further, let me make it clear that the city managed to pass this law after police are quoted as saying “we are still waiting for DNA results.” That’s right. They manged to pass a law banning a breed without even having confirmed the breed. Perhaps justice is indeed blind.
The Montreal bylaw has been passed more than a decade after the province of Ontario passed a similar law. Back then, and to this day, the government claimed it was for the safety of all Ontarians and that it would reduce the amount of dog bites and attacks. The troubling part is that despite their claim of safety for all, the statistics show no such decline in incidents; in actuality, the number of dog bites has gone up. My point here is not to show that dogs are dangerous, but that the breed specific ban has not worked for Ontario. Why then would it be logical to believe that it could work for Montreal? Pit bulls have merely taken the fall for a much larger issue.
This leads me to the reasoning I talked about my dog at the very start of my post. We adopted our dog from the SPCA almost 3 years ago and she was listed as a terrier cross. After a few months with her, we were so curious about her breed that we got her DNA tested. As it turns out, she is a cross between a Border Collie, Maltese, English Fox Hound and Rottweiler. Quite an interesting mix, but together they make a pure bred Phoebe. This is what she is. The reason I wanted to talk about this is because as of 2014, 2 of the breeds that make up my little furry friend were on the top ten list for bite offending breeds in the city of Toronto (Rottweiler and Maltese). Interestingly enough, in 2004, the year before the law was passed banning Pit bulls, 2 of her breeds appear again in the top ten list (Rottweiler and Border Collie). My dog may be many things – she is silly, stubborn, foolish, snuggly, and a bit of whiner when she wants to be – but she is not an aggressive dog. True, she may not be a Pit bull, but Pit bulls weren’t even the worst offenders for bites and attacks in either of 2004 or 2015 in Toronto. Actually, that honour goes to German Shepherds for both sets. I find it quite interesting that the Pit bull was banned in 2005 when in 2004 the German Shepherd had a recorded 112 bites vs the Pit bull’s 86. I guess it must be easier to blame a “bully” breed for these problems.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of handling a Pit bull at my work. She is a shy and timid girl, but one of the sweetest dogs I’ve handled so far. She enjoys walks, loves to play catch the ball and always licks my hand when I come to see her. If we were in Montreal right now, we would be forced to have her euthanized simply because she is part of the “wrong breed.” According to the new bylaw, any Pit bull that is not licensed to an owner is required to be euthanized. This gets worse as they have defined Pit bulls as any of the following: Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, any mix with these breeds and/or any dog that presents characteristics of one of those breeds. The new bylaw is a little too ambiguous for comfort. Anybody could accuse any dog of being a Pit bull, mix or showing a characteristic of one and as long as an “expert” agrees to it, the owner is suddenly looking at ensuring the animal is sterilized, paying a hefty licensing fee , having it muzzled, and/or putting the animal down regardless of the animal’s behaviour. Hasn’t humanity been down this road before? It seems that history has an odd way of repeating itself in the most unlikely ways.
The problem with breed specific legislation is that it truly targets the wrong issue. Pit bulls have long been a target for everybody’s fears of dog aggression. Historically, they have been bred for pit fighting as well as bear and bull baiting. However, while they have the physical characteristics bred into them, it is still up to their human companions to raise, condition or teach them how to behave. It is the owners who pose a risk to society, not the Pit bulls. How can you blame an animal for something it has been conditioned or trained to do by its owner? If all the dog has been taught is how to attack or guard what would you expect it to do? There are other cases where the owner doesn’t have control over the animal, not because the animal is uncontrollable, but because the owner doesn’t have a bloody clue. How can you punish an entire breed for a few bad cases? How can you kill an animal that has done no wrong because of the actions of others? If you are looking for the root of the problem, you should look no further than the two legged animal on the other end of the leash. How many people are now on the verge of losing their best friend – a friend they could not imagine a day without – because of human idiocy?
ALL dogs are essentially the product of one of two things: humane responsibility or human neglect. It is not a Pit bull problem and it is not a dog problem. It is a people problem.