Yesterday the city of Montreal passed a controversial pitbull ban that seems driven entirely by fear and emotion rather than fact. It's a move that seems particularly shortsighted given the number of North American cities with prior breed-specific legislation—or BSL—who are in the process or repealing pitbull bans that have proven to be inconsequential at best and at worst, is destructive to dogs.
Montreal's legislation, which goes into effect on Monday, Oct. 3, was prompted by a deadly mauling in June by a dog that may not even have been a pitbull. Christiane Vadnais died after being attacked by a neighbour's dog that got into her backyard. Though it's been described as a pitbull, it was registered as a boxer and no DNA tests were done after the dog was put down. Following that attack Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre vowed to target "dangerous breeds," and after yesterday's vote he told reporters, "My duty as mayor of Montreal is making sure I am working for all Montrealers. And I am there to make sure they feel safe and that they are safe."
While current pitbull owners in the city will be able to keep their dogs as long as they acquire costly special permits and abide by specific regulations, many dog owners feel vulnerable to having their pets seized and euthanized.
"I don't like the idea that someone could accuse my dog of something and have it taken away without proving it did something because of fear. Dog owners are really demoralized. People are talking about actually wanting to leave the city," pitbull owner Paul Labonté told VICE.
Many agencies including the SPCA, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour, the United Kennel Club, the American Bar Association and even US President Barack Obama oppose breed-specific laws. There is no evidence to prove that dog bites and attacks on humans are reduced by these bans. What is proven is that dogs are needlessly put down, harnessed and muzzled. Owners live in fear of seizure and euthanization and animosity amongst neighbours is created by misunderstanding and ignorance.
Here in Ontario, a pitbull ban has been in place since 2005 and in the city of Toronto dog bites have actually gone up in intervening years. Despite the lack of pitbulls, some dog owners practice reckless behaviour believing that a Labrador or poodle somehow requires less training or supervision.
It's almost cliche to say it, but the real problem is shitty owners, not "bad" breeds. BSL is fear-driven, narrow-minded and scientifically unsound. If safety is the primary concern these kinds of bans have proven to actually put more people at risk. They also put unnecessary pressure on a city's animal shelters and lead to confusion and suspicion about just what exactly constitutes a pitbull or dangerous breed. Trying to determine a pitbull by sight alone can be very difficult especially in a rescue dog or mutt. In Montreal a pitbull is considered everything from a Staffordshire bull terrier to an American pitbull terrier and any mix of the two. It's also any dog that looks like a pitbull which as any bully breed owner knows can include a very wide variety of breeds.
Are we willing to condemn a dog to death because of a case of mistaken identity? Would you rip a dog from its family because of a suspicion that it looks like something you've been conditioned to fear? I absolutely am not and it's horrifying to me that we would put people in that situation. My own dog is a bulldog/boxer mix and despite his old age and gentle demeanour, has an appearance that puts strangers on edge. I would be devastated if I suddenly had to live with the fear that he might be taken away from me because of an assumption.
"Because someone doesn't like the way your dog looks he could be taken away from you. Logic's been absolutely thrown out the window," echoes Labonté.
Ahead of the looming city-wide ban and a possible provincial ban, Montreal's shelters are scrambling to move pitbulls to provinces and states without breed-specific legislation. The city's SPCA have also threatened to stop all dog-control services to the 12 boroughs in 2017 and are reportedly planning demonstrations to contest the law.
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