The Ontario government may have bitten off more than it could chew by outlawing pit bulls five years ago.
Claiming a “huge groundswell” of support, New Democrat Cheri DiNovo says she will submit a private member’s bill Monday to banish the breed-ban.
Di Novo, who represents Parkdale-High Park, called the 2005 Dog Owners’ Liability Act (DOLA) a knee-jerk reaction to several high-profile attacks.
Figures gleaned from media and public health reports estimate the total North American dog population at 77 million — 7 million in Canada — with pitbull numbers up from 1% to 5% over the past 30 years,
Ontario’s “badly-worded” legislation resulted in “the extermination of hundreds,” DiNovo said.
Unlike criminal laws, “the onus is on the owner to prove it’s not a pit bull,” she said.
Developed overseas centuries ago for bull- and bear-baiting and dogfights — mostly in pits — “never trust your pit bull not to fight,” the pets.ca advice website warns.
Under the right circumstances, most will tackle and defeat other breeds, the unidentified author wrote.
Calling a well-raised pit bull “the most loyal and loving dog in the world,” he said, most displaying unprovoked aggression and bad temperament should be euthanized.
Lamenting “media hysteria” and legislation that makes good owners defensive, he said “irresponsible and ignorant owners have done almost as much damage to these dogs as dogfighters.”
Defenders of pit bulls cite attacks by rottweilers, huskies, German shepherds, chows, boxers, wolf hybrids and labradors. But deaths and attacks by pit bulls far exceed other breeds on critics’ lists.
Dogged by howls of protest, several countries rescinded breed bans.
DiNovo’s challenge “doesn’t get rid of the dangerous dog legislation,” which judges animals individually.
“We need that,” she said. Dangerous people who want dangerous dogs will “switch to a rottweiler or other breed.”
In 2008, a judge’s finding of the pit bull definition as unconstitutional was overturned.
And two legal appeals in Toronto were defeated, with one owner ordered to pay $35,000 in court costs, the other $12,000.
But in Brampton, a decision last month returned boxer-bulldog crosses Brittany and Rambo to their owner after a three-month impound and costly appeal.
DiNovo said a vexatious neighbour denounced them as the much-maligned breed.
In an email response, attorney-general department spokesman Brendan Crawley said statistics kept under DOLA “include all breeds of dangerous dogs. There is no way to differentiate between pit bulls and other breeds.”
The act was prompted by Ontarians demanding protection “from the menace of pit bulls,” Crawley said. Citing public safety, “municipal animal control personnel are provided with extensive powers to seize pit bulls and other dangerous dogs.”
The amendments banished Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers and included any that look “substantially similar.”
Existing dogs were exempted but some owners risk seizure for refusing rules requiring neutering and, using muzzles and leashes in public.
Toronto Humane Society last month released a survey — using figures taken from public health agencies — which showed the number of combined dog-human and dog-animal bite figures have remained about the same since 2005 — averaging 5,400. Breeds were not recorded, spokesman Ian McConachie said.
Most GTA municipality 2008 and 2009 stats varied little: Toronto 678, down from 862; Durham Region 608; Hamilton 548; York Region 416, down from 539; Halton Region 395; Brampton-Caledon 272.
In mid-April, Toronto’s most notorious pitbull, Bandit, died — almost seven years after leaving Daniel Collins, 3, with 250 stitches and facing repeated plastic surgery.
Despite his grandmother urging Bandit’s destruction, the THS successfully appealed, blaming lack of supervision. Kept at its River St. shelter, the animal was euthanized five months after the OSPCA reported it lunged at a police office last November.
Most bite reports are “anecdotal,” McConachie said, adding without proper data, the ban unfairly led to fewer people with pit bulls, many owners surrendering them.
Offenders face fines up to $10,000, but most investigations yield “a muzzling order,” Toronto Animal Services manager Eletta Purdy said.
Company fines up to $60,000 target aggressive junkyard dogs and pit bull puppy profiteers.
Toronto licensed 63,878 dogs last year, but Purdy estimated up to 250,000 canines reside in Toronto.
Proving pit bull lineage “is challenging,” relying primarily on how dogs “appear,” she said.
Varying DNA test results proved problematic in the U.S.
“We won’t seize dogs,” unless it’s after an attack or a public threat looms, said Purdy. If Animal Control officers lay a DOLA charge, they may request an interim impound order.
Purdy could not recall a dog killing someone in Toronto since 2000.
n The most infamous modern case was in 1995, when Staffordshire terriers Apollo and Rage savaged Joe Peters, 22, in his absent friend’s Seymour Ave. home. Mourning them, the owner was acquitted of criminal negligence causing death for harbouring dangerous dogs after witnesses testified the often-drunk victim tormented the dogs.
n In 1998, a bullmastiff killed Courtney Trempe, 8, in a Stouffville neighour’s back yard.
The owners had Mosley destroyed, but opposed bad dog inquest testimony by some neighbours.
Several recommendations were used in the DOLA legislation.
“Pit bull” describes a family of large, solidly built short dogs, with well-muscled necks and short muzzles.
With so many involved, McConachie said they aren’t a registered breed.
Statistics ex-Quebec journalist Merritt Clifton, publisher of Animal People in the U.S., compiled from continent-wide medical and media reports since 1982 cites 2,815 dog-human attacks, 364 fatal.
At 1,618, pitbull and pitbull-crosses constitute the most attacks, with Rottweillers second for 453, others high on dog villain lists at below 100 each.
In 2001, the Canada Safety Council reported 460,000 Canadians bitten yearly, but past-president Emile Therien said the non-profit organization relies on public health records that only cite attacks, not breeds.
“A lot of bites weren’t reported,” and despite regulations, he said officials “can’t enforce them. If they did, dog owners would go nuts.”
Clifton said the Ku Klux Klan financed operations with pit bull fights, also training them to terrorize blacks.
After U.S. authorities whittled KKK activities, many owners resettled — some to Canada — and made new friends: Outlaw bikers.
Other groups later popularized them.
Clifton estimated 1 million U.S. pit bulls are destroyed annually.
Calling Ontario’s legislation “a very good law” for permitting existing pit bulls, he said the law takes the potentially dangerous dogs out of the hands of breeders and those who use them to fight.
*Taken from the Toronto Sun