Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ontario Bans Dog Whisperer’s Pet Pooch

Every dog has its day – except, it seems, in Ontario. The world’s most celebrated dog owner, Cesar Millan, has been forced to tether his pet pit bull, Junior, at home during his current 11-city Canadian show tour. The reason: It’s illegal to bring pit bulls into the province, owing to a five-year-old government ban on the breed.

Scheduled to appear Wednesday in Ottawa, Mr. Millan, better known as the Dog Whisperer, the name of his hugely popular canine rehabilitation reality TV show, was not available for comment. However, Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak said Ontario’s ban on the Dog Whisperer’s dog would prove to be “pretty embarrassing” for the province, “across Canada and North America.” “We opposed the [original] bill,” Mr. Hudak said, “and suggested we should [enact] dangerous dog legislation, no matter what the breed. This is just the latest example of Dalton McGuinty’s nanny premier approach run amok.” In an interview Wednesday, New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo called the Ontario ban “a horrendous piece of legislation” that discriminated against dogs based on their looks, not behaviour. “It’s the deed, not the breed,” she insisted. Earlier this year, Ms. DiNovo introduced a private member's bill to amend the breed-specific aspects of the legislation. Breed-specific legislation, she noted, has been repealed in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden. Although her own bill is unlikely to be given second reading at Queen’s Park, she says she intends to reintroduce it after the next provincial election. A pro-amendment Facebook page, Lift the Ontario Pitbull Ban, claims 993 members. Ontario’s 2005 Dog Owners’ Liability Act, banning the breeding, sale and ownership of pit bulls, was passed after a series of savage pit-bull attacks. The ban covers Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers and any dog with the “appearance and physical characteristics … substantially similar to those breeds.” Current owners of pit bulls were allowed to keep their pets, but had to have them neutered or spayed, and kept muzzled and leashed in public. The statute’s legality was upheld by an October, 2008 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal. Clayton Ruby, the Toronto lawyer who led the unsuccessful court challenge on constitutional grounds, called the law “irrational and ineffective. Breeds are not dangerous, per se. There is no rational basis for singling out a specific breed. In terms of deaths caused by dogs, the pit bull is No. 5 and it’s well down the list in terms of bites.”

Despite the ban, Mr. Ruby noted, a recent report by the Toronto Humane Society showed no decline in the overall number of dog bites. What the law has done, he said, is cause “a great many pit bulls to be abandoned or turned over to humane societies where, because they have been stigmatized, many of them have been put down.” In recent years, Mr. Millan, a 41-year-old Mexican-American, has parlayed his knowledge of dog training into a thriving industry. In addition to the inspirational road show, his one-hour National Geographic TV series is in its sixth season and is exported to Canada and six other countries. He has written three best-selling books, publishes a monthly magazine (Cesar’s Way), established a non-profit foundation to help rescue abused dogs, and markets an expanding line of merchandise – chic canine apparel, supplies and collars, as well as a six-volume set of training DVDs ($129 U.S.). Among Mr. Millan’s well-known quotes is: “It’s not about the dog. … It’s always about the owner.” His touring show is in Ottawa on Wednesday, with additional dates in Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.


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