She was at home with her two young children one afternoon in July when there was a knock at the door. An ACO officer said he was there to follow up on a complaint. He did not specify what the complaint was, however later she found out it was someone in her apartment building complained she owned “pit bulls”.
This person has 2 dogs. One is 1 ½ years old (a Jack Russell Terrier mix) and the other is a 4 month old pup she describes as a hound cross. The hound cross was given to her by another couple who told her they could not keep the dog and couldn’t think of a better home for him.
The ACO officer asked if he could come in. She then invited him in, not suspecting any trouble since she had done nothing wrong. Her dogs are and have been always under her watchful eye, leashed on walks and they play with all the children who live in the apartment building. Once the ACO officer was in her apartment he asked her “have you ever heard of the “pit bull” ban”? She was quite shocked and answered, “yes I have heard of it, but it doesn’t apply to me or my dogs since I do not own ‘pit bulls’.” The ACO officer then asked her if he could take some pictures of her dogs. She agreed, thinking it was for a licensing infraction. He had also asked her if her dogs were licensed. The woman told me her dogs sat quietly while he snapped several pictures of them from several different angles. During this process, the woman’s children were becoming quite nervous and upset with the ACO officer’s tone. They started to ask if this man was going to take their dogs and began to cry. The ACO officer then told the children he was not going to take their dogs and asked the woman to come out to the hall to speak to him privately.
He told the dog owner out in the hall that "having this breed of dog is the same as possessing illegal drugs". He handed her his business card and a blank SPCA card with 'Surrender for Destruction" written on it.
He also gave her three pamphlets: the City Bylaw, the Dog Owners' Liability Act (DOLA) section on 'Pit Bull' Controls and the entire DOLA.
The dog owner was dumbfounded. She didn't understand what was wrong.
He told her the dogs had to be destroyed. He made an appointment to come back the next day at the same time to collect the dogs if she hadn't already turned them in. He warned her to be sure the dogs were handed in or were there when he returned. He cautioned her not to think of moving them to a nearby town. "If they go anywhere, it has to be out of province".
When he returned the next day to carry out his task, she told him the dogs were gone.
"What?" was his response "Where are they? Where are the dogs?"
"They're not here. If you have any paperwork, then charge me with something".
"Where are the dogs?"
"Sorry sir, they're not here"
He tried to get into her apartment to look around.
She told him to come back with a warrant, slammed the door and locked it.
It took one month for anyone to contact the woman again regarding this matter. However, several weeks ago, police knocked at her door to formally charge her with 2 counts of owning a prohibited dog under DOLA.
On August 29, 2005, against significant expert opposition, the Ontario Liberal government implemented Bill 132 (2005) to amend the existing Dog Owners' Liability Act. This document attempts to summarize the key changes to the Act.
§ The law defines a "pit bull" as a pit bull terrier, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, an American Staffordshire Terrier, an American Pit Bull Terrier, or a dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to those dogs. If your dog appears to be in this category and your dog lived in Ontario on August 29, 2005, or was born in Ontario before November 27, 2005, you own a "restricted dog". Restricted dogs must be muzzled, leashed, and sterilized. If your dog appears to be in this category and it was born in Ontario after November 26, 2005, or was brought into Ontario after August 29, 2005, your dog is illegal. It could be confiscated and destroyed and you could be fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to up to six months in jail.
I have kept in close contact with this woman. She feels very isolated and afraid for her dogs' lives, her children’s wellbeing (they have been in a state of fear since this all began) and is nervous about having been charged under provincial legislation, which carries a harsh penalty if found guilty. In further communication with her I've learned of several different points that have come to light since her initial visit from the ACO.
Apparently, there is a licensing push on at the apartment complex. Bylaw officers have been visiting the apartment buildings, selling licence tags door-to-door. They are trying to boost licensing compliance, which is at about 10% across the province.
The dogs in question are mainly white, medium-small dogs which to me look like pariahs - I have pictures which I don't want to post here. They could be anything but the Jack Russell mix description fits very well. The pup is too young at four months to be more than a white, short-haired pup with a longish snout and some black markings.
I asked if she had any ideas about how the officer happened to be carrying a camera. She suspects, but can't prove, that the new superintendents reported all the dog owners to Bylaw enforcement. Apparently the new superintendents have been hassling people about their dogs.
She has never had any complaints from anyone about her dogs. They are well behaved and the older one is very obedient and gets along with everybody. Immediately following the first visit from the ACO officer ALL the children who live in the apartment building wrote letters to the officer telling him how all the kids play with these two dogs. They expressed how they know and love these dogs and that they would not hurt anyone.
For the dogs’ safety, they were sent to a safe place. They will not return home until this court case is over. Their lives depend on it and the woman is not willing to take any chances. The kids miss their dogs, Mum misses the dogs and you can bet the dogs miss everybody. The woman has retained a lawyer and her first day in court is next week.
If you are an Ontario dog owner and your pet could be even remotely construed to be a 'pit bull' as described in the Ontario Liberals' pet piece of discriminatory legislation, please take steps to protect your pet.
What this story illustrates is that the message from above is that it's OK to persecute people based on a subjective belief and that if they are perceived as easy targets, all the better.
Until the Ontario law is overturned or repealed, please keep your dog (and yourself) safe from harm.
1. Ensure that your dog is licensed and leashed in public, regardless of breed. Avoid allowing members of the public to interact directly with your dog.
2. If you think your dog fits the 'pit bull' physical description, or if you've licensed your dog as a 'pit bull', American Pit Bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire Bull terrier or cross of those breeds, follow the leashing, muzzling and neutering restrictions in the law. Be aware that you are at risk. You may be subject to spot checks by officials in your area.
3. If your dog is a mongrel of unknown ancestry, license him or her as a mixed breed - because that is the only possible description.
4. Don't let the authorities bully you or make you feel as if you are breaking the law. Make them prove their case.
5. Your veterinarian will not divulge any treatment info or details about your dog to authorities without your consent. It is similar to human health care information - private. Your veterinarian may indicate that a dog is a patient at the clinic but that's all they will say.
6. If you have not entered your show dog in a sanctioned conformation event (CKC, UKC, ADBA, AKC) yet this year, don't put it off any longer. Enter one now or your dog could be confiscated and killed for being intact.
7. If you find yourself in a position similar to the one described in the story, do not say anything to officials. Do not invite them in to your home. Do not let them interact with your dog(s) no matter what kind of dog you own or how nice the ACO’s seem. Tell them that unless they have a warrant, they cannot enter your premises and then close your door.
Being a dog owner in Ontario doesn't mean you've given up all of your constitutional rights, even though it often seems that way.
You are still a citizen of this province.