Banning Pit Bulls

Pet Tales

by Barry Burtis D.V.M.

Banning breeds

In any review of major animal stories in 2004, in Ontario, the proposed banning of pit- bull terriers would certainly need to be included. The story has received extensive media coverage. At first glance, the elimination or outlawing of pit bull terriers would seem an obvious answer to put an end to the terrible dog bite injuries being reported. Who could possibly argue against getting rid of this breed responsible for such egregious injuries to humans ? However, I, along with many others, believe some very big mistakes are being made in our provincial government's plan to enact the proposed legislation.

In policing, for example, I hope most people would accept the very real dangers associated with racial profiling. To allocate guilt or a high suspicion of guilt for a crime based solely on a person's race, is inaccurate and unjust.  Furthermore, it is likely to direct focus away from efforts required to apprehend or deter the real perpetrator of the crime. In my opinion, breed profiling in dogs makes no more sense than racial profiling in humans. Basing legislation to prevent dog bite injuries on such a principle is faulty from the outset.

A proper effort to address the very real concern of serious dog bites in our communities requires a thorough study of the facts of each reported occurrence. This has not been done. Outdated and misleading statistics relating to dog bite injuries are being used to support the proposed ban. Provincial Attorney General Michael Bryant in announcing the proposed ban last October, referred to an earlier by-law, passed in 1997, banning pit-bulls in Kitchener-Waterloo. Councillors in that nearby municipality were likely influenced, at that time, by arguments that have since been proved wrong.  Exaggerated jaw strength attributed to pit-bulls, have no studies to prove them. Veterinary neurologists and behaviour specialists can find no evidence that the brains of pit-bulls are chemically different, making it impossible for them to stop, once they attack. Recent surveys show pit-bulls are not the No. 1 breed to cause fatal dog attacks in the United States.

I suspect that many people, including government officials, have been unduly influenced by the number of media reported pit-bull attacks. Studying only recent press, radio and television news coverage, one could certainly be excused for thinking that only pit-bulls cause serious bite wounds. I think the media, in all its guises, must take responsibility for shifting the story away from the issue of dog bites to a story about the big, bad pit-bull.

The government has failed to consult individuals, groups and organizations with experience, special knowledge and a genuine desire to help in matters related to the proposed legislation. The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, for example, despite continuing offers to provide input and suggestions, has been denied an opportunity to do so, by the Ministry.  Once again this reflects a poor utilization of available resources.

Any effort to respond to a problem that fails to properly study the history of the problem and collect important, appropriate information and data about the problem is doomed to failure.  If those first steps are not taken, it is not possible to accurately assess the problem. Without a studied, rational assessment, the whole structure breaks down. This means any plan to respond to the problem has a most limited likelihood of success.

In an attempt to reduce the problem of dog bites for people living in Ontario, our provincial government could have demonstrated some greatly admired traits shown by our canine companions. They could have shown self-discipline. They could have been tenacious and despite surrounding distractions, steadfastly kept their eye on the objective. They could have been diligent in finding stray or missing data and returning it to the flock of information on the subject. Then carefully, gently, yet unyieldingly, they could have herded the legislation into the law books. Once made law they could have guarded and enforced it. Unfortunately, instead, I believe our government has shown short-sightedness, and mounted a ferocious, aggressive, inappropriate attack against pit-bulls. In fact, they have shown many of the qualities they seem to suggest are the sole property of the much maligned breed they have chosen to blame for the problem.