Breed Specific Legislation is a symptom of a larger social problem

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July
7

On June 23, a Surrey resident wrote a letter to the Surrey Leader stating that the City of Surrey should follow in Ontario and Winnipeg’s footsteps and ban Pit Bulls. The impetus to this letter was an attack by what the resident indentified as two stray Pit Bulls on his wife and dog. Unfortunately, the attack was serious enough that the wife suffered a concussion, bruises and puncture wounds to her head and their dog required stitches, painkillers and antibiotics. In his letter, the resident poses the following questions?

Why is it that you can’t own a tiger but you can own a dog that is bred and generically [sic] designed for killing? How many more people are going to die or get seriously injured before Watts bans these animals?

A response to the letter was published in the July 4 edition. The author of this letter acknowledges the tragedy of this event, however, challenges the notion that the breed is to blame. In response to the statement that Pit Bulls are bred and genetically designed for killing, the author writes:

It is not the dogs that people should fear, it’s their owner. Dogs respond the way they are trained and treated. Any dog could be “genetically bred” to be an attack dog. Not long ago German shepherds had the same stereotype, and now look at them: The poster dog for police officers.

Without doubt, everyone has an opinion about Pit Bulls and many of the loudest are the least informed. See for example, Dogsbite.org. Unfortunately, the paucity of empirical research on this issue encourages the debate to become one of emotion and anecdotal information. The evidence that does exist is predominately American. However, in 2008, The Canadian Veterinary Journal published a content analysis of media reports of fatalities from dog-bite injuries between 1990-2007. Of the 28 fatalities reported, one fatality was caused by an American Staffordshire Terrier, “the most widely legislated breed in Canada in the period under study”(Raghavan, 2008). This certainly begs the question, how inherently vicious can a dog be if it only caused .3% of fatalities over a 17 year period?

Furthermore, the research supports the argument that guardians are ultimately responsible for both nurturing aggression in dogs and creating environments that place dogs and people in situations that are conducive to deadly encounters. For example, of the 28 victims, 24 were children under 12, with an average age of 5. Of the 24 children who were killed, 19 were alone with the dog(s) at the time of the attack. Finally, all incidents involved factors that had they been attended to properly, a fatal attacked could more than likely have been avoided. For example, all male dogs involved in the attacks were intact; nine of the deaths were caused by free-roaming dog-packs in remote areas and nine were caused by multiple-owned dogs during disruptions to the dogs’ environment.

In addition to irresponsible pet guardianship, much of the problem appears to stem from Municipal governments failure to enforce existing bylaws that designate acceptable pet behaviour and movement. According to the June 23rd letter, animal control officers in Surrey will not attend to a situation if they do not have the address of the guardians of the dogs in question. In April of this year, Port Moody Council was addressed by a resident who insisted that a bylaw be created that required all Pit Bull “type” dogs and Rottweilers to be muzzled in public, even though there was no specific incident to refer to. However, further investigation into the issue revealed that the issue was about irresponsible pet guardianship and the failure of animal control officers to enforce existing designated leash area bylaws.

Despite the fact that there is little empirical evidence that can inform the community on the vicious dog debate, there are experts who can help fill the knowledge gap. Organizations that are often the first responders to calls of dog attacks and/or are the temporary custodians of these dogs have firsthand knowledge of the extent of the issue. In the United States, “every mainstream national organization that is involved in canine/human interactions is opposed to laws targeting specific breeds of dogs”. The BCSPCA has also spoken out against breed specific bylaws.

When bylaws are implemented, they are done so by politicians who are responding to public pressure by their constituents. Advocates against breed specific legislation (BSL) can (and have) used this same tactic to pressure their municipal governments to remove BSL. In both cases, it is doubtful that decisions are heavily influenced by facts, but rather by political ambitions. Legislation that is instigated and implemented by fear mongering, rather than based on sound evidence is unjust. History is full of examples of injustices and atrocities committed in the name of the law and public safety. As such, the issue of BSL is a symptom of a much bigger problem; when fear, panic and ignorance trumps logic and reason, living creatures suffer and die. And this should be a concern for everyone, not just dog lovers and Pit Bull guardians.

Kathy Powelson

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