Instead of blanket breed legislation, dogs should be treated as individual animals and their humans educated and held to a higher standard of accountability.
In 2005, the Ontario government passed an amendment to the Dog Owners Liability Act to ban all pit bull-type dogs. Any residing in the province at the time were grandfathered and allowed to stay so long as they were spayed or neutered and muzzled in public at all times. Many law makers believe that banning specific breeds deemed more dangerous than others reduces dog bites and attacks; several regions around the world have similar bans to Ontario’s, including many cities and counties in the United States and the entirety of the United Kingdom. Other than Ontario, Winnipeg is one of the only regions outside the province to have a full ban in effect.
But are these bans actually helping? Well, considering blanket legislation of any type isn’t typically the best approach, the answer shouldn’t come as a surprise: Nope. They’re really not. The stats are in and they appear to confirm what many dog activists have argued for years: BSL just doesn’t work. Harsher penalties for irresponsible ownership, education, and community collaboration is what does. We’ve listed five reasons why BSL is just plain BS, and why there are much better options out there.
1. It’s been applied in several areas and has not reduced the number of overall dog bites.
In Toronto, dog bites have actually been rising since 2013—with the highest levels of the century in 2014 and 2015—despite the fact that pit bulls are theoretically almost non-existent in the city. Furthermore, in both 2004 and 2014, German Shepherds took first place for the highest instances of dog bites. Although an increase in overall bites may be related to an increase in dog populations in general, BSL has certainly done nothing to improve these rates and points to the more likely culprit: bad ownership. Which leads into reason # 2…
2. In regions where education and dog owners being held to a higher standard of responsibility has been the approach instead of BSL, dog bites have been reduced overall.
In Calgary, the city has enacted the Responsible Pet Ownership Law, which focuses not on banning a specific type of breed but instead puts the onus on owners to take responsibility for their pets and behaviours. Here, the legislation focuses on licencing, spay/neuter programs, getting pets from ethical and reputable sources, and education, including free or subsidized obedience and training classes. And the numbers don’t lie: “aggressive dog instances” went from over 2,000 in 1985 to 641 (242 of them bites) in 2014 (Calgary began moving toward responsible ownership laws in 2000).
3. “Pit bull-type dogs” is a blanket term for several similar breeds, and identification criteria is vague at best, often resulting in breed misidentification.
The dogs included in the Ontario ban are American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and American pit bull terriers. However, breed identification is typically left to the discretion of animal control officers or shelter staff and is often inconsistent. In one study by The Veterinary Journal, shelter staff identified 52% of breeds as pit bull-type when DNA testing revealed that only 21% actually were. And in Montreal, where a pit bull ban was briefly in place in late 2016 after a woman was mauled to death in her backyard, the dog in question was later revealed to more likely be a boxer, and not a pit bull as previously identified.
4. Banning breeds results in needless death.
The Ontario Veterinary association estimates that up to 1,000 dogs and puppies have been needless euthanized in the province since 2005. The majority of these dogs were not killed because of their actions and behaviour, but simply for being born the wrong breed. It is rare that rescue dogs can’t be rehabilitated, and the fact that so many are killed without cause is nothing short of tragic.
5. “Bully” breeds typically score quite high on behavioural tests compared to other breeds and many dogs that are rescued from fighting situations can be rehabilitated.
According to the American Temperament Test Society, American pit bull terriers scored 87.4%, American Staffordshire terriers scored 85.5%, and Staffordshire bull terriers scored 90.9% respectively on behavioural tests. This is better than 120+ dogs breeds, including golden retrievers and other popular family breeds. In fact, before they started getting such a bad rap, pit bulls were America’s sweetheart family dog, often used as “Nannies” for children. And all it takes is one look at the Michael Vick dogs, who were rescued from a horrible fighting situation, to see how these these animals are so often able to bounce back, thrive, and bring comfort to others.
Ultimately, the history shows that BSL is a knee-jerk reaction by law makers that seeks to put a bandage over a much larger problem. And it’s past time pit bulls stop getting the bad end of the deal when it comes to our inability to look at the bigger picture.
Sara Grainger is a graduate of both Nipissing and Ryerson Universities. Since completing two post-secondary programs apparently wasn’t enough for her, she is also currently in the second year of the Professional Writing Program at Algonquin. When not making every attempt to avoid the 9-5 lifestyle, she can be found singing, writing, binge watching any genre of television you can think of (as long as it’s worthwhile) and pretending to be good at video games. She is also passionate about animal welfare and loves spending time with her Chihuahua mix Tula and cat Oki.