Dog bites are up and pit bull controversy raised

By Lucia Yglesias and Meaghan Wray

In the wake of Montreal’s proposed pit bull bans, which have since been suspended due to national outrage, the breed has become a hot topic. Many are questioning whether breed-specific bans are attacking the root problem.

Ever since 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais was killed by her neighbor’s dog, which the policy identified as a pit bull, pit bulls have remained in the national radar.

Barbara Cartwright, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, said the ban is not working due to lack of evidence.

“The ban gives people, in particular the media and politicians, a full sense of security,” Cartwright said. “We have many innocent dogs being euthanized. We are breaking the animal bond.”

Cartwright explained that pit bull bites in Toronto have decreased, but the overall numbers in bites are up.

With 20 years of animal advocacy behind her, Cartwright said the problem is that the law doesn’t specify whether a dog is a pit bull or only looks like one. Even dogs that look like pit bulls can be affected by the ban.

“If I say you have a pit bull, and you can’t prove otherwise, then it is a pit bull under the law,” Cartwright said. “What happens with animals that are crossed and others that look like Pit Bull? You can’t prove that.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has solidified its position against breed-specific laws. The Center maintains that data collection related to bites by breed is fraught with potential sources of error.

“As we criminalize pit bulls we drive them into criminal pit bull rings. You can destroy an entire breed of an animal just by making it illegal,” Cartwright said. “We have turned them from being good pets to vilifying them.”

To avoid euthanizing pit bulls currently in the system, rescue networks are sending Ontario’s pit bulls outside the province. Cartwright said that this is only sending the problem out of Ontario, but the problem ultimately still exists.

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Statistics play a huge role in stigmatizing breeds. While pit bulls make up the highest in bite percentages, they don’t consider other factors, like the reasons why some people buy pit bulls.

Mary Lou Leiher from the Toronto Animal Services (TAS) challenges citizens to think outside the box because statistics don’t always paint a clear picture of the real problem.

“There are lots of variables. Our population has growth significantly in the past few years,” Leiher said. “We have more dogs in city, and bites statistics go up and down.”

Leiher said educational measures are more effective than legislation in the long run. With that in mind, the City of Toronto is considering issuing special licenses to all dogs with a history of bite.

A press release from the City of Toronto stated they are considering how to educate owners on how to recognize their dog’s behavior and also issue special licenses for dogs that bite and have bitten.

This special license will not only apply to pit bull dog owners, but to all dog breeds.

“I realize we have a provincial ban on pit bulls, but let’s not forget any dog can be dangerous depending on certain factors,” Leiher said. “If you are going to be a responsible dog owner you will make sure your dog is correctly trained.”

Research based on 36 Canadian municipalities showed that there isn’t a difference in bites rates in jurisdictions with and without the pit bull bans.=

“This is a provincial ban. The province downloaded to municipalities, and we are doing the best that we can to enforce that,” said Lou.

“The one we send out of the province are the ones that could make a really good pet,” responded Lou. “Regardless of the dog breed, if we have a pet with aggression issues we will not put it to adoption or send them out of the province. Finding a place for Pit Bulls is the same than finding a place for any other dog.”

Toronto has reached 767 incidents in 2014 which makes the preceding three years the highest levels the city has registered in this century.

However, the actual number of pit bull bites documented were only 338 in 2014 compare to 1,411 in 2005.

While the pit bull legislation ban proclaims all measures are to ensure human safety, animal welfare associations and pit bull owners insist this law is inconsistent.

The legislation includes to muzzling and leashing of all pit bulls in public spaces, and it promises to euthanize all dogs who don’t meet the standards.

About the nation-wide controversial ban, Maureen Riche, a Liberal Arts & Sciences professor at Humber College, thinks breed-specific bans are barking up the wrong tree.

“These laws don’t work. They don’t reduce bites or attacks,” she said. “They only result in shelters full of blacklisted dogs who will have to be euthanized.”

Riche, who has a background in animal studies and indigenous studies, said it’s the owners who should take responsibility instead of placing the blame on the breed.

“It is impossible to define with any clarity what a dangerous breed is,” she said. “Any animal can be dangerous if the owner is negligent.”

Riche herself has two dogs at home: a Shih Tzu named Bernie and a Shih Poo named Belly. Although she loves them both, she admitted the domestication of pet animals becomes harder to justify as animal rights becomes more prevalent.

“We want elements of wild nature in our lives and in our homes, but we want them on our terms,” she said. “I guess it reminds us of how successful we have been in conquering and taming nature.”

Domination, Riche said, is closely related to domestication. What different animals have come to mean in our culture depends on how they benefit us.

It seems, per legislation talks, that the negatives are outweighing the benefits.

Photo supplied by WikiMedia Commons

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