By Nikki Jamieson
On Sept. 27, news broke that Montreal City council had voted 37 to 23 in support of a bylaw that bans pitbulls and pitbull-like dogs. This past week, a Quebec Superior Court judge placed a suspension on the ban, pending the outcome of a legal challenge brought forward by the SPCA. Montreal mayor Denis Coderre has vowed to appeal said suspension.
The bylaw had come about after a tragedy last June, when a dog escaped his yard and fatally attacked 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, in the Pointe-aux-Trembles neighbourhood in the city, when his owner wasn’t home. Police and the dog’s owner had said, at the time, the dog was a pitbull. Afterwards, Coderre called for tougher dog laws, and so the pitbull ban bylaw was born.
Like many of my friends on Facebook, I am outraged over the Montreal council’s decision to blame an entire dog type — since pitbull is a name given to classify several dogs breeds — for this tragedy, but my ire was truly flamed when I found out the details of this bylaw. Not only are people banned from adopting pitbull type dogs, they have to keep their dog on a leash of no longer then four feet in length and they must wear a muzzle when outside. Owners must buy a special permit, only own one said-type dog, and submit paper work proving that they have no criminal record. But what’s worst is this; anyone with a dog without that permit after the end of this year could have it taken away and it be euthanized, and all pitbull-type dogs not currently owned — including those in shelters — would be euthanized.
Put down. Killed.
Even if you are not a dog lover, surely you can see the pure insanity in that. While it is unclear exactly how many dogs in the city fall under that definition, the Montreal SPCA said that a third of dogs it receives annually do, according to a Montreal Gazette article, although several rescue organization are bringing these dogs to places like Nova Scotia or Saskatchewan. The SPCA does not have the funds needed to send these dogs out of the city, and have threatened to cease their dog-control services for the city if they try to force them to put the dogs down.
Now, news has arisen that the dog involved in that fatal attack might not even be a pitbull. While DNA results are still pending, the dog, aptly named Lucifer, had been registered as a boxer.
What is happening in Montreal is an ill-thought out reaction to one incident. Breed bans do not work. According to a Global News article, Ontario had banned pitbulls in 2005, but since then, while the number of pitbulls in the province had dropped, the number of bites has risen. One MPP — Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo — is even trying to get it repealed. To me, this proves that pitbulls were not at fault, and breed banning doesn’t work.
My parents currently own a dog that could be considered a pitbull type dog — due to the shape of his face, we suspect that he has some terrier in him — he is as happy and easy going as they come, but if they live in Montreal, good luck finding a muzzle that would fit him. However, since he is very clearly a mutt, they can’t prove he is a pitbull type dog. Many vets will tell you that you cannot prove a dog is a certain breed or type unless they are a pure-bred and have papers to prove it. Sure there are blood tests, but do you think Montreal council is going to get a court order to force everyone who has a pitbull looking dog to get them tested if they refuse? A mix of two different breeds can create the face of another dog breed.
I used to have a friend who was terrified of German Shepherds, because she thought they were big and scary. That can certainly be true — look at their portrayal in movies, more often then not they are police or guard dogs, hunting down suspects/intruders — but I have only met one German Shepherd that has been anything but ecstatic to see me and just wants to be petted. My family used to have two German Shepherds; one — who has sadly passed on — was happy and easy going, and the other was terrified of my old cat but never laid a paw on him.
Dogs are like people; they have different likes, dislikes, temperaments and patience. As such, you cannot treat one dog exactly the same as another dog, you have to take into account those differences — just because one might be fine, it doesn’t mean the other isn’t terrified of thunderstorms.
I cannot speculate on the circumstances before the attack — I do not know what Lucifer’s temperament was or what made him snap. What I do know is this; it has a lot to do with the owner.
Having a dog — or a pet of any kind — is a privilege, not a right. By adopting an animal into your family, you are recognizing that not only are you in charge of meeting their basic needs, you are also responsible for their actions and must teach them to behave while acknowledging that maybe this dog isn’t going to be completely alright during storms/car trips/strangers/clowns/cats/children/other dogs. The vast majority of pet-owners understand this and are more then happy to do so because they are family.
But unfortunately, there are those that treat animals as things, and not living, vibrant creatures. Puppy mills, dog fighting rings, abandonment, abuse, tapping mouths shut; the list can go on forever about the cruelties some dogs are exposed to, because some people think that it is ok to mistreat an animal.
With strong jaws and a bulky stance, pitbulls can look like an intimidating dog. Unfortunately, this can attract the type of dog owner who is less then responsible. While not all pitbull owners are bad owners, all it takes is a few irresponsible and neglectful owners to give them a bad rap.
According to a CBC News article, Lucifer had attacked people on two separate occasions before the fatal mauling of Vadnais — one while tied to a post outside a store and another was his owner’s cousin, who he thought was an intruder.
For some reason, I have troubles considering whether Lucifer’s owner was a good owner. Again, I cannot speculate on why Lucifer did what he did, but name aside (who names a dog Lucifer of all things?), he left a clearly aggressive dog outside, alone, while he was not at home. Considering the faux turf and other pee mats available, this says to me that he is a neglectful owner. Yes, the yard was fenced, but if a dog really wanted to, they can dig/jump/run through a fence.
It is not a babysitter, just an obstacle.
How about instead of breed banning — which does not work at all — how about we try this radical idea; ban bad owners. Educate people on how to work with and train their dogs so these tragedies do not occur. Get people to learn their dogs likes/dislikes/personality so they know whether or not their dog will be ok alone in the backyard.
If someone is found to have been neglectful or abusive towards an animal, don’t let them adopt or buy another pet.
I recognize that you cannot predict and account for all scenarios — just like with people, sometimes an animal will snap — but we can do our best to limit these those encounters that lead to a dog biting someone. But breed banning is not the solution; don’t blame Fido for every bite.