Ontario’s controversial ban on pit bulls — now five years old — is under fire once again as a coalition of dog-loving groups rallied Sunday to support MPP Cheri di Novo’s efforts to have the law changed. Hundreds of people and dozens of well-behaved muzzled dogs “substantially similar to the elusive pit bull” gathered at Coronation Park on the Toronto waterfront on Sunday afternoon to protest Ontario’s ban on pit bulls and to demand the repeal of breed-specific legislation.
They’re ripping family pets away from people based on very vague legislation,” said Rui Branco, who successfully fought the City of Brampton earlier this year by proving his dog, Brittany, was not a pit bull. The American bulldog-boxer mix was seized and held by the city for three months before an independent veterinarian was able to determine it was not a pit bull.
“An animal control officer looked at her and said she was a pit bull. Then she was taken away from us.”
The first speaker, reporter Anita Robeson, described the case of Ginger, a pit bull taken into custody after defending herself in a park after an attack by a German shepherd/collie cross. Ginger’s owner, Philip Huggins, has spent more than $75K in legal fees to try to protect her from being killed.
Anita pointed out that the vague legislation allows many dogs to be seized as illegal pit bulls, with the onus resting entirely on their owners to disprove the allegations. Dog bans have been shown by experts to be ineffective, she said, however the media frequently misrepresents the facts.
A case in point was the death of a young girl in the US. The dogs were described as “family pets” but in fact, they were neglected, unsocialized victims of abuse who had been confined to the basement in terrible shape with no food or water.
Anita encouraged us to write to our MPPs asking for tougher penalties for abusers, not discriminatory bans and death for innocent dogs.
The second speaker, Dr. David Kreaden, recounted his personal experience in adopting his dog. A contractor had brought his big, gentle, brown-eyed dog to Kreaden’s house, and he learned that it was an American Staffordshire Terrier. He researched dog breeds and behaviour on the CKC site and learned about the staffie’s reputation as a “nanny dog”. Then he adopted “Spud”.
According to Kreaden, pit-bull type dogs tested did well on behavioural tests, ahead of many other dog breeds. A Southampton study tested over 1,000 pit-bull types and only one was disqualified. The study recommended pit-bull types as one of the top ten dogs for families.
So why was Michael Bryant and the McGuinty government so quick to pass breed-specific legislation? Kreaden theorized that the Ontario Liberals had already broken several election promises not to raise taxes, and BSL was a diversionary tactic. Since the legislation was enacted, 12,000 dogs have been killed or sent to research labs.
Kreaden closed by encouraging us to take control when the next provincial election is called.
Marcie Laking, Vice-President of Toronto Humane Society, told us that this subject is very close to her heart, as she has a 10-year-old pit bull. Although Toronto Humane Society is unable to adopt out illegal pit bulls, the shelter will make every effort to save them and will not put them down because of their breed. Marcie told us that it has been proven scientifically that BSL does not work and certainly does not reduce dog bites.
She then introduced Bill Bruce, Director of Calgary Animal Services, who is visiting Toronto this week to consult with Toronto Humane Society. Rally organizers and attendees were thrilled that Bill took the time to attend and talk about the Calgary model, which does work.
He gave the example of a dog tied up outside a restaurant. People don’t know how to read such a dog’s anxiety, and fear-biting can occur. Calgary Animal Services provides education on responsible dog ownership (along with zero-tolerance bylaw enforcement) and on preventing dog bites. This blogger notes that, during a period of population doubling in Calgary, incidences of dog aggression have decreased 75%. It’s also helpful to know that, while 80% of bite victims are children who know the dog, education in the lower grades and reinforcement by parents has reduced bites by 80% in Calgary.
Even with the influx of pit-bulls from Ontario, Bill quipped.
We are dealing with a human problem, said Bill, and not an animal problem, so the challenge is to modify human behaviour. In Calgary, the City does not get in the way of responsible pet owners. There are no pet limits and no breed-specific legislation, although there are consequences for irresponsible pet owners.
Bill’s four principles of responsible pet ownership are:
• Licensing and identification
• Socialization, care and training
• Taking action so pets do not become a nuisance.
He cited a study by the Canine Research Council, noting that the incidence of mis-identification of dog breed is 80%. Take note, Michael Bryant.
Calgary measures dog behaviour on a 200-point analysis of factors, and classifies bite severity based on the levels developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar. Levels 1 and 2, Bill said, are what he classifies as opportunities to modify behaviour before the biting escalates. The serious dog bites are happening in the home, not in public.
Last year, Calgary recorded 58 dog bites, down from hundreds before the programs were put in place. New York City reports 24 bites per 100K population. The US average is 68 bites per 100K. For Calgary, the number is five.
The Calgary model puts the responsibility on the owner, and Calgary Animal Services provides expectations, consequences and support.
Cyndi Knill then stepped up to the microphone to tell us the story of the two Jennifers – Jennifer Wind, a rescuer, and Jennifer Waite, who ultimately ended up adopting Hershey in whose honour the new bill is named. Hershey had been an over-bred puppy mill mother, caged 24/7. Her jaw had been broken in two places with no veterinary intervention, and had been left to heal on its own. With Jennifer, Hershey went on to become a confident and healthy therapy dog in Halton Hills. Hershey received an award from Toronto Humane Society as Therapy Dog of the Year.
In March, 2009, Hershey passed away, but she will never be forgotten.
Cyndi asked how many “Hershey’s” we have lost because of this bad law, and how many were never even born.
Jennifer Waite’s heartfelt tribute to her dogs was posted on a Remembrance Wall set up at the rally:
“Dear Hershey and Twix, I moved out of the city to safer pastures, away from pointing fingers and cruel comments. You both taught me so much about life, love and patience. Although now gone, you will never be forgotten.”
John Kincaid, a longtime member of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada, spoke to us about the 27 purebreeds that are targeted as “substantially similar” to pit-bulls, and warned that the law is about removal of choice, and search and seizure; an Animal Control officer can enter your home on an anonymous tip and seize your dog. This is reverse onus; you are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. The bill targets the poor, he said, who cannot afford to hire a lawyer while your dog languishes at the pound. If an animal control officer says your dog is a pit-bull, you can be facing $25K in legal fees easily.
What do you need to do, he asked. Read the legislation, write your MPP, demand that Hershey’s Law (Bill 60) be passed and Bill 132 rescinded. For the sake of your right to choose and the sake of your dog.
Danny Truong told us that he took his dog, Bowser, to the veterinarian at 10 months of age to be neutered. Mississauga Animal Services was called and Bowser was seized and threatened with euthanasia. Danny was a college student at the time. He had no idea that his dog might even be a pit-bull or that Bowser was young enough to be illegal. He went to work full-time and spent his college tuition to defend his dog. The trial date is January, 2011.
Rui Branco was also at the rally with his boxer mix, Brittany. His dogs had both been seized by Brampton Animal Control. An independent veterinarian confirmed that they were not pit-bulls and the dogs were released after a three-month ordeal for their family.
She began by paraphrasing the famous quote from Gandhi, that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” then went on to describe how she entered politics to give voice to the voiceless. She thanked the audience for standing up for these dogs and their families.
Cheri cited examples of Westminster Dog Show champions who would be banned in Ontario, describing the warrantless-entry powers of Animal Control who can enter your home, target your animals on the basis of a vague description, incarcerate and kill your dog, then hand you the bill. These powers are used against your animals and against you, she said.
Cheri has an English bull terrier who, if her nose were shorter and her ears floppy, she would be incarcerated. She speculated that the media would be all over the story if Don Cherry’s “Blue” were seized.
She noted that, on this very evening when a Candlelight Vigil would be held at Queen’s Park for the dogs lost to Ontario’s implementation of breed-specific legislation, a vigil was also being held for bike-courier, Darcy Sheppard, who was killed one year ago and Michael Bryant, author of the breed-specific legislation, got more leniency than the dogs that have been incarcerated and killed.
Cheri told us that there is no question that we will win on this issue. It is just a matter of when. If not before the next provincial election, then certainly after it…The Conservatives are wholeheartedly behind Hershey’s Bill, along with the NDP and some of the Liberal back-benchers.
What can you do, she asked, to make this happen? Pester your MPP’s and find out where they stand on the repeal of breed-specific legislation. Email them. MPP’s are getting emails about this issue daily; the only campaign that has had more emails is the anti-HST one. Sign petitions. Get out to the all-candidates meetings and ask where they stand on this issue.
We’ve been angry at the deaths of hundreds of innocent dogs and at the trauma to their families. But anger won’t sustain us, Cheri said. Love is the only thing that will – love of your dogs, love of each other, and love of the cause of justice.
At the finale, the dogs and their companions marched around the soundstage as the band played the Pit Bull Blues!
As dusk approached, rally participants walked their dogs peacefully to Pawsway at Harbourfront, then headed to Queen’s Park for a Candlelight Vigil.
Images of Queen’s Park and four pitties: Donna Dempsie
Videos and more information on the rally here.