Monday , 19 February 2018

Montreal’s Pit Bull Heartbreak: Dr. Lissa Altschuler

Montreal’s Pit bull Heartbreak  – by Dr. Lissa Altschuler 

As a vet, I am happy to walk into an exam room and see a pit bull, wonderful members of the canine family. They are definitely not on my list of dogs that make me reach for a muzzle (In fact, I have never been bitten by a pit bull). So, what is the difference between the pit bulls we see in our veterinary practices and the dogs we read about in the newspaper?

I think the most significant factor is a dog’s owner. The owner who brings his dog to a vet for regular medical care is usually a person who cares enough to sterilize and vaccinate his pet, and who socializes and trains him. Sterilization, vaccination socialization and training: this is how to reduce the risk of an unfortunate incident.

Sadly, many of the attacks by dogs (and not just by pit bulls) involving serious injury are the fault of negligent owners who have no business owning a dog in the first place. Many of these dogs have not only been neglected, they have been abused and even starved. No consideration has been given to basic health care, training, and supervision. Some of these dogs have been trained to be aggressive to humans or to other animals.

According to Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, pit bull owners will be subject to criminal background checks and will be required to muzzle their dogs and limit them to walks on 4 -foot leashes. They will also have to pay for a special license. Failure to comply will result in the seizure and destruction of the dog within 48 hours. And once the new by-law comes into effect, it will become illegal to acquire or adopt a new pit bull, or pit-bull “type” dog (meaning any dog that even looks like a pit bull).

This is unfair and counter-productive. Muzzling non-aggressive dogs will likely result  in stress for the animal, which may lead to negative behaviors and aggression.

Reducing leash length will limit exercise, and just like in humans, affect health.

The reality of being a dog owner in Montreal is about to change dramatically. Responsible dog owners whose only crime is having a dog with a certain head and neck size are living in fear and panic about meeting the imminent requirements. “Can they really come into my home, seize my dog, and kill it within 48 hours?” is the question I get asked at least 5 fives a day from my clients who are living in constant and palpable fear for the safety of their family member.

The media and the Mayor are succeeding in creating a witch-hunt. Owners of pit bulls are being harassed and shunned by their own neighbours. Certain media reports have been adding fuel to the fire by publishing distorted and negatively slanted articles with a view to selling more newspapers or generating more views and clicks.

The Mayor has not shown any interest in really listening to veterinarians,  administrators of shelters, scientists who have studied canine behaviours, experts in BSL (Breed-Specific Legislation) or even ordinary dog owners themselves. His is the politician’s calculus of taking a position calculated to win votes by giving the impression of “taking action”, as opposed to taking a position based on logic, science and careful reflection.

Dogs give us so much. Dogs may not all be perfect, but neither are we. My experience as a vet teaches me that irresponsible owners raise dogs that are at risk, whatever the breed. And indiscriminately stigmatizing a large group of owners and their dogs will accomplish precisely nothing, other than causing unnecessary pain and anguish for these families.

Dogs display many traits that we as humans can only dream to aspire to. They provide unconditional love and support and improve our quality of life. They are our most loyal companions, and the most courageous. Let us think about taking steps to deal with the small number of owners and their dogs who are in fact dangerous, and spare from heartbreak the grand majority of people who own, or know, or love, good dogs, all good dogs.

(photo credit: Reddit, kerry142)
(photo credit: Reddit, kerry142)

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  1. Thank you Dr. Altschuler!

  2. Thank you

  3. Thank you Dr. Lissa for this very informative and compassionate article.

  4. Thank you Dr. Lissa for this great doggy article.

  5. You are absolutely right! The owner make the difference because behaviors are taught. Generalization of behaviors to a dog breed is a big mistake. We don’t tolerate such generalizations for religions, nationality or any other particularity with men, why should we accept them with dogs?

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