Ontario’s controversial ban on pit bulls — now five years old — is under fire once again as a coalition of dog-loving groups rallied Sunday to support a local MPP’s efforts to have the law changed.
“They’re ripping family pets away from people based on very vague legislation,” said Rui Branco, who successfully fought the City of Brampton earlier this year by proving his family pet, Brittany, was not a pit bull.
The American bulldog-boxer mix was seized and held by the city for three months before an independent veterinarian was able to determine its breed.
“An animal control officer looked at her and said she was a pit bull. Then she was taken away from us.”
The law, as it stands, requires owners to prove their dogs are not pit bulls, which can be difficult if the dog was adopted from a shelter and its lineage is unknown.
A few hundred people and dozens of muzzled pit bull-type dogs gathered at Coronation Park on Lake Shore Blvd. W. Sunday afternoon to listen to speakers and to protest the current ban, which took effect in 2005 after a series of vicious attacks across Ontario involving pit bulls.
The Dog Owner’s Liability Act was amended to ban the breeding, sale and ownership of pit bulls. Dogs born before Nov. 26, 2005 are allowed to live, but must be sterilized, and muzzled and leashed in public. Dogs born later must be put down.
A pit bull is not a specific breed of dog, so the province’s definition of pit bulls includes pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers and any dog “that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar” to those breeds.
Critics of the current law say its description of pit bulls is too vague, gives bylaw officers too much power and leads to harmless pets being removed from their homes at taxpayers’ expense.
They want the province to go after bad owners, rather than target any specific breed.
“You can’t tell a dog’s breed by how it looks,” said Kelly Turnbull, a member of Stop K9 Profiling, the group that organized Sunday’s event.
After a series of legal challenges, the group contacted the MPP for Parkdale-High Park, Cheri DiNovo, o owns an English bull terrier herself. Earlier this year DiNovo tabled a private member’s bill calling for the repeal of the breed-specific aspect of the Dog Owner’s Liability Act.
Named “Hershey’s Law” (for a pit bull that was barred from continuing its therapy work with seniors when the current law came into effect), Bill 60 received its first reading in the Legislature in May.
“This isn’t about the dog, it’s about the owner,” DiNovo said, adding the law has been ineffective in curbing the number of dog bites in the province.
She said she would like to see more responsibility and liability for dog owners, without targeting specific breeds.
“It doesn’t need the (breed specific legislation) to be effective.”
The Ministry of the Attorney General stands behind the current law, saying it ensures fewer opportunities for pit bull attacks and that the law has not been around long enough to accurately measure its effectiveness.
One of the most anticipated speakers of the day was Bill Bruce, director of Calgary’s Animal Control Services, heralded for its education, training and early intervention approach to animal control, which has drastically reduced the number of dog bites in the city.
“All dogs bite,” Bruce said. “I don’t care what kind of dog it is. If the dog is aggressive, it needs to be corrected.”
Sunday’s rally was followed by a pit-bull march along Queens Quay and a candlelight vigil at the Ontario Legislature to acknowledge all the pit bull-type dogs euthanized under the current legislation.