I was thankful to be given the opportunity to deliver a speech on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), at an event called “Liberty Fete, in Support of Save the 21”, hosted by Strength For the Powerless, on September 10th, 2016. This event was in support of the on-going case for the 21 “pit bull” type dogs who are victims of a dog fighting ring in Chatham, Ontario, and is a case very close to my heart. Along with hundreds of others, I have been involved in protesting the OSPCA’s application to euthanize these dogs, simply because they feel they are all automatically damaged goods (an opinion I could not disagree with more), for nearly a year now (see my previous blog posts here and here for some background information). It is very difficult for me to do public speaking and with the added element of speaking about my dog Bella, especially in this context, is a very emotional challenge. But I have to be her voice at every opportunity. It is my personal mission to be a voice for education over discrimination against “pit bull” type dogs, and I do whatever I can to continue that mission, in some form, every single day.
Strength for the Powerless, who hosted this event, is a licensed organization who raise funds to feed, heal, house and protect animals and encourage all of us to be their voice. Their mandate, one for which I have the utmost respect, is that no animal should have to live in fear.
The following is the speech I gave at the Liberty Fete:
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) has been created by lawmakers in an attempt to reduce dog bites by banning certain types of dogs. It is canine profiling. It is equal to racism. Experience and statistics prove that it is ineffective, inhumane and does nothing but tear apart families and kill innocent dogs. It also makes the targeted dogs more attractive to the wrong kinds of people and creates a black-market system. These dogs are seen as the forbidden fruit, if you will, and therefore are far too often sought out by the very people who have helped to give these dogs an unwarranted bad rap in the first place, most especially those involved in cases of dog fighting, like the Chatham case for which we are gathered here today.
BSL is a problem in many places around the world but Ontario is home to the largest geographical ban anywhere.
BSL came into law in Ontario in November 2005 as a form of panic policy-making by the Liberal party. And it became law despite the fact that of the 44 professional groups selected to testify at public hearings in 2005, 43 testified against the ban!
- This ban includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier & any dog that could be deemed “substantially similar”;
- All “pit bull” type dogs born before 2005 must be sterilized, microchipped, muzzled when in any public space, leashed in cars & registered as potentially dangerous;
- Any “pit bull” type dog born after 2005 is considered illegal in Ontario and can be automatically seized without a warrant & either destroyed or sent to a research facility for animal testing, SIMPLY based on the dog’s appearance alone, NOT based on their behavior;
- Owners of these dogs are automatically guilty and must prove their innocence;
- Since 2005, literally thousands of innocent dogs and litters of puppies have been destroyed just because of the way they look.
According to Toronto Public Health, the number of dog bites & incidents involving dogs has not changed at all since BSL came into law. And in fact, since 2012, dog bites are now on the rise again, with 2014 being at an all-time high this century. This is just more proof that BSL does not work!
It really is redundant to use the term “pit bull”. The term is a slang word for a dog with a blocky head, muscular chest, thick hind legs and a smooth short coat. There are at least 28 purebreds that fall into that category, none of which are “pit bull” type dogs under BSL. Unfortunately, the majority of the media loves to use the words “pit bull” to sell headlines, often sensationalizing stories with incorrect information involving these dogs, only furthering their discrimination. I personally am making a conscious effort to use this term less and less in my work, hence why I use quotations around the words when I do use them.
One example of media sensationalism was a newspaper that reported there had been “105 Pit Bull Bites” in a given period. Upon closer scrutiny, that paper revealed the case information as follows:
- 4 American Bulldog bites
- 100 mixed breed bites
- 1 American Pit Bull Terrier bite
Of those reported, only one was actually an American Pit Bull Terrier dog, which, by the way, is not a recognized breed by the Canadian Kennel Club.
The majority of dogs are mixed breeds but if a “trained professional” labels a dog, even in part, a “pit bull”, it can be put down. Far more often than not, these dogs are misidentified and thus needlessly killed. It is nearly impossible to correctly identify these dogs. It is a matter of public record that the OSPCA has failed at this numerous times and they are supposed to be an authority. According to the Veterinary Medical Association, in cases of bite fatalities, the breeds of the dog at fault cannot be identified in more than 80% of cases.
BSL falsely appeases a misinformed, voting public. It provides a false sense of security because it takes attention away from other dogs, many of which are frequent offenders. And the bottom line is that irresponsible owners remain irresponsible, regardless of BSL.
BSL does not consider what is most important: Responsible dog ownership. And so, in Ontario, we carry on under an ineffective law, for 11 years now, despite cries from the majority of the population here to repeal BSL. In Calgary, for example, responsible dog ownership is of the greatest consideration and there they have the most effective dog-ownership system with the lowest incident numbers in the country! 90% of Calgary’s dog population is licensed. In Ontario, that number is estimated to be at 8%. Montreal, where BSL has now also been proposed and will be voted upon on September 26th , has a 14% license rate. For a country that prides itself on its freedoms and diversity, Canada is going backwards when it comes to prejudice against these dogs. Meanwhile, in the US, great strides are being made in this regard, thanks to their commitment to education over discrimination: 20 US States have passed laws where BSL is prohibited and there are signs of more States to come. Canada should know better.
The effect that BSL has on shelter dogs in Ontario is heartbreaking. Any “pit bull” type dog that has been abandoned and taken to a shelter or animal control facility or pound cannot be adopted out like the other dogs there. These dogs can only be adopted out of province. And let’s face it, other provinces have their own shelters full of dogs – so few have room to help these dogs who are wrongly discriminated against in Ontario. The number of dogs that were abandoned after BSL came into effect in Ontario in 2005 was astronomical. People panicked and left their dogs tied to street posts, left their dogs in fields, left their dogs outside to starve, the list goes on. They felt like they had no other choice. These were GOOD dogs!
I was recently involved in the rescue of a dog who had been mis-labelled a “pit bull” by an animal control facility. Simply because of that label, she sat in a cage for 32 days, waiting for a day that was never going to come, until the shelter manager said they would have to euthanize her because they couldn’t keep her in that cage indefinitely. This looming death sentence was all because of a label. A label that our provincial government has equated with “automatically dangerous warranting death”. This dog is a sweet, loving dog who now has a chance at life thanks to those of us who know better.
One of the things I resent most about BSL is how the government makes those of us who have one of these “pit bull” type dogs feel like criminals. We are seen as rebels, going against the rules, instead of the compassionate rescuers of these dogs that so many of us are. I have one of THESE dogs. According to BSL, my loving, loyal, family dog, best friend and protector of my baby daughter, has to wear a cage around her face when out in public, she is supposed to be registered as “potentially dangerous”, our dog cannot play nor run in dog parks with all other dogs and she doesn’t understand why, she cannot attend dog training seminars nor socialization classes like all other dogs, we cannot take her to the beach, we cannot travel with her across the province safely … Our dog is a genuine member of our family! We live under the black cloud of BSL-induced fear every single day, not because of anything our dog has done but because of the shape of her head, her chest, her legs, the length of her coat, we are forced to live like paranoid criminals. We are victims of discrimination, for a dog who has done nothing wrong.
Just like people, all dogs are individuals and deserve to be treated as such. Dogs are “man’s best friend” for a reason! They do not deserve discrimination and certainly do not deserve to die simply because of the way they look. BSL is failing our beloved 4-legged family members. It is failing society. Especially because our dogs do nothing but give us unconditional love every day of their lives. They deserve nothing but the same in return.
- Sources include The Hershey Anti-BSL Group, Justice for Bullies, and various news articles.
- For a comprehensive history and the current status of this Chatham case, please read the speech given at this same event by my friend and fellow advocate, Kathy Green, here.