June 16, 2021

Breed Specific Legislation; Reasonable Public Policy or Just B.S.

BY: Lauren G. Lee


The United States and Canada can boast of some of the most beautiful sights and landscapes, making both countries wonderful places to visit, sightsee, and vacation. Both countries also offer varying and wonderful places to settle down and call home. From Washington and Oregon in the west all the way to the Carolinas, and up the coast into Vermont, there is sure to be some place everyone. However, before you decide to relocate, you should do a little investigating to make sure all members of your family are welcome because, as the residents of Montreal just found out, discrimination is still very much alive.

Montreal’s city council voted in favor of a new bylaw that was slated to go into effect on October 3, 2016 banning Pit bulls and “Pit bull-type” dogs. The bylaw, which stemmed from an incident in June in which a woman was attacked and killed by her neighbor’s dog, is not a new idea. According to the Montreal Gazette, the city joins more than 40 countries and more than 900 U.S. cities that have enacted some form of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL).

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) bans OR restricts certain types of dogs based on their appearance because they are perceived as “dangerous” breeds or types of dogs. -https://bslcensus.com

Those in favor of BSL, such as Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre, state that this legislation is needed to ensure citizens’ safety. Yet, if that is the goal, it simply doesn’t work. Among the many problems with Breed Specific Legislation are: it doesn’t address the underlying problems of irresponsible dog ownership and irresponsible breeding, it tends to punish responsible owners of well-trained dogs, and it results in the euthanization of many well-trained, good natured, loving dogs. Most disturbing is that such legislation is, at its core, driven by discrimination and prejudice rather than education and knowledge, making it akin to racial profiling.

Powerful Language
Language is powerful. Anytime one starts making broad generalizations about groups, we head into potentially dangerous territory. To highlight some language used in the Montreal bylaw, it specified that:

All owners of dogs and cats must obtain a license ($25 for a sterilized non-pit-bull-type dog, $10 for a cat) or face fines starting at $300. Presently, 20 per cent of Montreal dogs are licensed.
As of Oct. 3 it is illegal to acquire a pit-bull-type dog. Potential owners had until then to adopt or buy one.
Current owners of pit-bull-type dogs must obtain a special permit by Dec. 31; if they don’t the dog is forbidden on Montreal territory and could be euthanized.
By March 1, owners must supply documentation proving the dog has its special permit ($150), is sterilized, microchipped and vaccinated; owners can only have one dog. Owners will have to submit proof they have no criminal record.
As of Oct. 3, pit-bull-type dogs will have to be muzzled at all times outside of their homes and kept on a 1.25-metre leash.
(courtesy of the Montreal Gazette)

This legislation does not take into account the temperament of the dog, but places outrageous restrictions on an entire group of dogs. It is ludicrous that a responsible resident wishing to keep his or her dog must pay six times what one would pay for a permit to register any other breed of dog. Then the dog must be muzzled outside the home, which will stigmatize the dog, not to mention make a perfectly fun-loving dog uncomfortable and irritable. Sure, those who love Pit bulls and similar “bully breeds” as they are referred to, will continue to love them. Chances are those are the people who have had experience with them and know their loyal, fun-loving nature. However, requiring an entire group of dogs to appear in public looking like Hannibal Lecter will most certainly prejudice those who didn’t already have an opinion. Add to that the requirement that one must show proof of no criminal record. This bylaw, if enforced, would essentially make it more difficult to own a dog in Montreal than it is to own a gun in many states.

The million dollar question is what is a “pit bull-type dog”? Our shelters have more “pits” than any other dog. In an article published in the ASPCA Professional Blog in 2015 entitled, “Climbing Out of the Pit,” Dr. Emily Weiss analyzed shelter statistics with regard to “Pit bull-type dogs.” A comprehensive study of 45 shelters showed that pit bulls and pit bull-types were the number one type of dog coming into shelters. They also were the number one type of dog rescued and adopted. Pit-types were also number one when it came to dog breeds being euthanized. Clearly, these breeds have sparked a nationwide debate. Some organizations only recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier as the only true Pit bull. However, they share similar features to other breeds, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Boston Terrier and some Bulldog breeds.

Here is where language, or lack thereof, can lead to a dangerous practice. According to Montreal’s bylaw, “pit bull-type dogs” are American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire bull Terriers, American Pit bull Terriers, and any mixed breed dogs that have a part of those breeds, or any dog with similar physical characteristics.”

The confusing “any mixed breed dog that have a part of those breeds” would, on its own be difficult to regulate since this would require DNA testing of all dogs. It is this language and the frightening “any dog with similar physical characteristics,” which the ASPCA referred to as “chilling,” that is profiling, biased, and prejudiced. Call it whatever term you choose. It is this mindset that can open the door for broader implications.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary PREJUDICE a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b : an instance of such judgment or opinion c : an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.

So, how would a Montreal resident determine if he or she owned a “pit bull-type dog.”? In response to this, one Councillor stated, “the dog can be easily identified visually; often they have large heads and wide necks.” The ASPCA, as well as private veterinarians, have said that it is not possible to definitively identify a pit bull by sight. In any community that institutes BSL, and uses sight as a means of breed identification, members need to ask themselves the following: are you comfortable euthanizing dogs with no history of aggression simply because of the way they look? What happens when they get it wrong? Often Boxers or Mastiffs are mistaken for Pit bulls. It seems somewhat like putting the person “we think might have done it” on death row.

Shortly before the BSL was to go into effect in Montreal, Pit bulls and similar dogs were given some time when a judge suspended the bylaw, citing lack of clarity. He said this bylaw was particularly unclear with respect as to how to identify targeted breeds.

What Works?
The dog is not the problem. Until lawmakers come to grips with that, there will be no solution. Studies have shown that enacting BSL has not significantly reduced the number of dog bites. The regulation really needs to be on the dog owners and dog breeders. There needs to be enforceable laws regarding dog ownership. There needs to be penalties for the people who do not comply. Breeders should be checked up on regularly and expected to meet certain standards. Dogs should be spayed or neutered to prevent wandering and (in males) more aggressive energy due to testosterone. This will help reduce the number of unwanted dogs that are dumped at shelters everyday.

The answer is not punishing the responsible dog owners for the actions of a few, stereotyping certain breeds, and killing large numbers of wonderful dogs. As the American Kennel Club states, often lawmakers will continue adding breeds to the list. It may be someone else’s Pit bull today. It could be your dog next time. Do we really want to go down that path? It bears repeating the quote by Mahatma Gandhi:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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