Breed Bans – by Dr. Amanda Glew
“Can Copper come in today? We are doing a blood drive,” my technician asks the client.
We like it when Copper comes in to give blood. He is big, he has huge veins, and with only a few bribes of biscuits, Copper hardly needs to be held when we poke his jugular to draw 250 ml of blood. He willingly comes in every 6 months or so. Of course, Copper is a “pitbull” (whatever that definition means). We always joke that dogs receiving Copper’s blood will be stronger. But he is a giant, kind-hearted mushball.
With September fast approaching, and new laws regulating certain breeds – now is the time to act. As a dog loving community if you feel strongly about this, we need to send emails, letters, twitters and whatever else is necessary to put our democratic opinions into play. As a veterinarian, here is my take on it.
We need to do something to appease the “non” dog-owning community and reassure them that good dog owners train their dogs appropriately, are proud of this, and will go the extra mile to prove this. Ideally, all dogs and owners should be tested. I would love it if dog owners would have to pass an exam like driving, but this would be costly and difficult to enforce. However, if we don’t want Breed Specific Legislation to go through, communities and cities will have to come to some sort of compromise.
So why are dog owners so unwilling to shout and scream that Breed Specific Legislation is wrong? Sure, the damage of a bite by a larger dog, like a great dane, can have greater magnitude when compared to the bite of a poodle, but prevention is the key – not banning. Take Ontario. They have had a ban for years and yet their bite incidents have not gone down, in fact bites have increased!
I am convinced this is purely politics at large: a dog bites a person, perhaps with tragic results, and the municipality/city/province can say “Well, we have banned the breed, so it is not our problem”, and feel secure that their liability is reduced. However, is anyone looking into whether Breed Specific Legislation was effective? Cities around the world are reversing their BSL because it has been shown to be unenforceable, costly and completely ineffective at reducing dog bites. When responsible dog owners are vilified, innocent, adoptable dogs lose their lives. And dog bites still don’t decrease. How will the courts handle the inevitable cases where people sue their town’s for their rights to own any breed and bog down our already overly-taxed system?
It would be easier and more effective to start a program where owners apply for dog ownership before having one of these breeds deemed dangerous. If they meet the requirements, they are licensed to adopt or purchase their dog. This would require a little bit of leg work and time, but there are already courses and tests called the “Good Canine Citizen”, which could be implemented in the municipalities by local dog clubs. Get a vet, a trainer and a dog lover to moderate the exam, have it publicized, and dog ownership, good canine ownership, will be on the rise. This would open people’s eyes to seeing good dogs. In fact, all dogs would benefit from this. Once a dog passes the test, he gets a tag and/or a brightly coloured kerchief so people would know this is a well behaved dog. There is no guarantee with animals, but it would be a start. Programs that focus on prevention, community outreach and responsible dog ownership are what work to make communities safer.
How can you help fight BSL?
Writing to the mayor(s) of your cities to state your concerns, as well as the ministers in Quebec is the first step. Get your vet to write a letter. I will attach a copy of the letters our clinic sent. Anyone is welcome to modify these, which are available for download at these links:
Secondly, be ready to volunteer some time or resources in order to get programs to start. Licences of dogs is really simply a gratuitous tax and if the cities don’t use this tax to promote good dog ownership, they are a waste of time. Pay your licence and ask what you get out of it…dog parks, evaluation and reduction of potentially dangerous dogs, or simply pencil pushing legislation?
The OMVQ (my professional body) has a huge document stating that this kind of knee jerk reaction is not going to help. They state in a 60 page document, stats and previously attempted bans, summarizing that education of owners and getting owners to seek professional advice has been shown to reduce incidents. It would be nice if the cities would turn to the professionals who deal with these so called “dangerous” dogs on a daily basis. I still have yet to have a problem with a pit. Copper is just one example of this, and I can tell you there are many other breeds that I am warier of.
So get out there and make noise! Because once one breed is banned, it is just a matter of time before your breed is banned. We deserve legislation that will truly reduce dog bites instead of creating a climate of stigma and irrational fear.