Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Barrie dog owner's ordeal

It is nearly a decade since the amendments to Ontario's Dog Owners Liability Act (DOLA) came into effect banning three rare breeds of dogs and any dog perceived as substantially similar to them. The Ontario Liberals, despite overwhelming evidence that breed bans are ineffective, implemented a draconian and discriminatory piece of legislation. This law was aimed at dog owners, based on the dog's appearance as opposed to the behaviour of their dog. All dog owners deserve equal treatment under the law regardless of their dog's appearance, and deserve to be judged by their actions - like everyone else. 

I have been involved with an organization called the Dog Legislation Council of Canada. We formed in 2003 and are nationwide. Part of our mandate is supporting dog owners that find themselves a target of bad laws. We share information, suggest lawyers and guide them through the process. We have helped hundreds of dog owners across Ontario and have had huge success helping with the process of reuniting dogs with their owners.
Recently a dog owner from Barrie found himself a target of the “pit bull” ban. He contacted us (DLCC) and together we reunited his dog Lewis with him and his daughter after a harrowing, week long ordeal.

Richard was putting out the garbage late one Friday night and his dog Lewis bolted through the door before he could grab him. Usually Lewis has a good recall but this night he kept going. Richard went out and searched the neighbourhood (including all the places he walks his dog) until 7:00 Saturday morning.

As soon as the OSPCA opened he called to see if they had picked up a white dog. The person at the OSPCA asked what type of dog he owned. He answered that his dog is a “pit bull” type dog. That started the wheels in motion that would begin a week long nightmare for Richard and his three-year old daughter.

Most dog owners in Ontario have no idea how this law affects them. Some people still don’t know about the amendments made to DOLA in 2005. I realize that ignorance is not a defence, however, the government did nothing to educate people about what the law actually contains. Roughly 10% of the dog population is purebred therefore 90% are mixed breed dogs. That means that 90% of dog owners really have no way of proving what type/breed mixture of dog they own. Sure you can guess visually but visual ID is very unreliable and it’s all fun and games until your dog’s life is on the line!

As a matter of fact even the people enforcing the law don’t understand it. Some cities/municipalities publicly admit they only enforce on a complaint basis (ie. Ottawa) while other jurisdictions actively enforce much like a witch hunt.

The OSPCA told Richard that if his dog was picked up by Animal Control it would not be easy to get his dog back. Richard then called Animal Services and was told that his dog resembled a “pit bull” and that Richard would need to prove that he was not a “pit bull” in order to get his dog back.

Section 19. of the law (which was struck in its entirety as violating the right to trial fairness at Ontario's  Superior Court of Justice but reinstated by the Court of Appeal) states;

Identification of pit bull
19.  (1)  A document purporting to be signed by a member of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario stating that a dog is a pit bull within the meaning of this Act is receivable in evidence in a prosecution for an offence under this Act as proof, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the dog is a pit bull for the purposes of this Act, without proof of the signature and without proof that the signatory is a member of the College. 2005, c. 2, s. 1 (16).
(2)  No action or other proceeding may be instituted against a member of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario for providing, in good faith, a document described in subsection (1). 2005, c. 2, s. 1 (16).
Onus of proof
(3)  For greater certainty, this section does not remove the onus on the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. 2005, c. 2, s. 1 (16).

What this means is that a veterinarian’s document of visual breed mixture ID is the only admissible evidence of breed mixture ID in court. It also means that acceptance of that as evidence by the court is not open for debate.

The Animal Control person explained to Richard;
"If you can prove that Lewis is a mix it doesn’t mean you'll get him back. There's a difference even if you DNA test a dog that will make us decide the outcome. For instance, if Lewis comes back as say a “pitbull” boxer mix, there's a huge difference then if he comes back as a boxer “pitbull” mix. The first word “pitbull” is different than the first word boxer."

It is unfortunate that those enforcing the law do not understand that “pit bull” is NOT a breed and cannot be identified. Furthermore those who are in a role of enforcing DOLA are under NO obligation to identify ANY dog as a “pit bull”. Also and this is the most important point:

Once a dog is not one of the three named purebreds on the banned list, his perceived “breed” becomes irrelevant. It then is all about how he looks to an untrained person.

In an excerpt from Hansard during a debate at Queen’s Park:
MPP Peter Kormos made a statement regarding municipal participation during one of the many House debates over the legislation. This is an excerpt from Hansard:
"That provoked me to put questions to ministry staff about exactly what the Bill does: "Does the bill require municipalities to participate in this ill-conceived so-called pit bull ban?" "No; it merely enables them." Oh, I get it: "These are the tools in the toolbox."

The legislation also uses the word “may” which leaves enforcement optional to support the above statement.  Section 4. (1)

Many Animal Services, shelter and humane society workers across the province say that they do not agree with the law but must enforce because it is their job. This is official notice that this is not so therefore the law is a “tool in the toolbox”.

The week continued on to be frustrating, infuriating and very scary for Richard. The option of shipping Lewis out of province, through a rescue, was put on the table. Richard’s response to that option was “Lewis has a great home where he is loved and part of the family. Why ship him somewhere out of province to someone unknown?”

In desperation Richard contacted the newspaper, which in a roundabout way led him to finding some very much needed help. By getting his story in the media he was able to contact the “Pit bull” Co-op, another organization here in Ontario helping dog owners by networking and creating a safe environment for them to socialize themselves and their dogs. He was then referred to us (DLCC). He then sought some legal advice and also arranged for an impartial veterinarian to visually ID his dog.

The veterinarian said the dog resembled a Boxer cross. In her opinion Lewis was not substantially similar to any of the purebreds listed in the law. Lewis was at that point granted a ticket home to his family.

Those are the facts; in a nutshell version of what happened that week in Richard Grenier’s life. The human side of this story is what takes the toll. Yes he got his dog back but here’s the thing. This could happen to anyone. As much as some may sit in judgement and say, how could someone let their dog get out? It can and could happen to anyone.

Richard got Lewis as a puppy from someone selling puppies out of a box on the street in Ottawa. He felt sorry for the pups and wanted to give one of them a good home, plus he and his wife were expecting a baby and wanted to get a dog that would grow up with their child.

Richard says; “When I saw how upset, my daughter was that Lewis was gone it made me mad as hell that someone took her dog. I told her that Lewis ran away and I couldn't find him but I said I'd make sure I found him (even though I wasn’t sure I’d get him back). She cried and was so upset since Lewis has been her dog since she was born.”

“She had a hamster that died a few months back, so of course we had to tell her that it went to some farm in Florida to live blah blah blah. I wasn't going to tell her that about Lewis because I didn't want her growing up thinking that Florida is this awesome place she can go to visit all her pets that moved there. So I told her that Lewis was coming home and I promised her that because that's what I was going to make sure I did for her. I wasn't going to let her down.”

Consequently Richard was told by the OSPCA that they were surprised at how hard he fought to get Lewis back. They said that many owners just sign their dogs over. It is tragic that so many dog owners feel defeated or don’t have the resources or access to help or advice when they need it.

I blame the Ontario Liberals for this mess. There have been thousands of great dogs across this province just like Lewis that have been ripped away from their families and relocated or killed. They don’t all make the paper. Most do not. You will however hear about it every time a mutt dog is identified as a so called “pit bull” gets written up as “news”. The media very quickly caught on that the word “pit bull” is a great buzz word if you want to get “hits” on an article. Few ever bother to follow up or tell people the real story or facts behind the story.

Lewis is just a dog, a dog that went for a romp, but because of his appearance, not his behaviour, he was labeled and slated to be shipped out of the province or killed. Had he been a collie-type of dog he would have been home for his next meal.

Richard had a good analogy for how he felt this law targeted him;
“If I wear a ski mask in the winter does that mean the police can stop and handcuff me because I resemble a bank robber?  I can be arrested or detained until an expert walks in and says nope, that's not a bank robber. How vague is that?”

Here are some quick facts;

There is no evidence to support the belief that a dog is dangerous by breed or appearance nor is there any evidence that banning breeds is effective in the control of dangerous dogs or contributes to public safety at all.

"Pit bull" is slang and therefore meaningless.  It is now used as a legal term but is not used by dog fanciers.

There are effective laws that do not contain any unduly punitive measures at all. The Calgary model is a proven winner!

Attempting to label mongrel dogs by breed is irrational, useless and pointless.
Your dog is either a purebred dog (which means it MUST have registration papers with a recognized kennel club) or it's not.  Simple.  If the dog is not a purebred it is a mixed breed PERIOD.

The slang term "pit bull" is often applied to dogs that are not even remotely similar to each other, or any purebred dog.

If one MUST label dogs, it would be more productive to classify by;
Grooming requirements
Energy level
Training level

Every dog is an individual!

Calling your dog a "pit bull" and promoting him as such only strengthens BSL.  One of the major weaknesses of BSL in Ontario is the fact that the purebreds are as rare as Pharaoh Hounds (American Staffordshire Terrier is the third rarest breed in Canada) so the overwhelming majority of alleged “pit bulls” are mutts.

Nobody can prove the breed ancestry of a mixed breed dog – not by “DNA” or appearance.  The only proof of a dog's breed is a pedigree from an accredited kennel club.  In Canada, the Canadian Kennel Club is the only organization incorporated under the federal Pedigree Act.

Continuing to use the term "pit bull" is inaccurate and unfair to mixed breed dogs and their owners.


  1. Lots of great information here: education is key!!! I am wondering what the other two breeds are regarding this legislation??

  2. I don't believe the United Kennel Club is recognized under the animal pedigree act. I'm pretty sure In Canada the only two organizations to register purebred dogs are the CKC and Canine Federation of Canada (CFC). Just wanted that clarified.

    1. Thank you for catching that Dee! I've made that correction.

    2. The only registry for purebred dogs in Canada is The Canadian Kennel Club.

  3. Canine Federation of Canada is NOT . Any dog of any mix can be registered with them. Pedigree means nothing.

  4. BTW this is another that means nothing. the ckc ( small letters )

  5. The CCF is incorporated under the APA. http://www.caninecanada.ca/ but none of the banned breeds are registered with them. Also the Canadian Border Collie Assn.

  6. Your dog looks like a Dogo Argentino, beautiful - I have a 3 year old male, great dogs but unfortunately I will never take him to Onterrible.

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