Controversial legislation was just passed in Montreal, sentencing many innocent dogs to death simply because of a breed description. Shocking, yes… but this comes as no surprise to those who know Quebec’s blase attitude toward animal welfare.
The Montreal City council voted to change its animal control bylaw on Tuesday, in response to concerns about dog attacks, and passed legislation that places a ban on any new ownership of pit bulls or ‘pit bull-type’ dogs.
Pittie owners and shelters alike are now put in a nightmare situation. Owners of pit-bull type dogs (American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and American pit bull terriers), pit-bull mixes or any dog with similar physical characteristics have until Dec. 31 to apply for a special permit with the city, or risk having their dog euthanized. While out for a walk, these dogs will have to wear a muzzle, and owners need to have proof they don’t have a criminal record involving violence. Licences for the dogs will cost $150 a year – for the first year alone, the bill for Pit bull owners comes to $650.
The most disturbing part of this ban: all of the pit bull type dogs currently in shelters will be euthanized. Healthy, happy, friendly dogs who have done nothing wrong.
Mayor Denis Coderre, who previously was on record saying that a general breed restriction ban was not the answer to the ever-growing problem of dog attacks, apparently changed positions and led the campaign to ban pit bulls and pit-bull type dogs. Explaining that he was working for all Montrealers in supporting the bylaw change, he maintains his goal is to make sure all not only feel safe but are safe.
Related: Are Pit Bulls Dangerous? Sorting Out the Facts From the Myths
But there are a few questions here: 1. Are the residents of Montreal any safer with this breed ban in place; and 2. Is any dog in Montreal safe from the breed ban?
Many organizations that opposed the ban, including the Montreal SPCA, have said they will no longer provide services in Montreal as they will not be part of a general mass euthanasia. They also say that the ban is NOT in the best interest of Montrealers, and certainly not in the best interest of any of the innocent dogs who will now suffer as a result of the oppressive restrictions.
Here are the problems with this breed ban – let’s break it down:
1. A pitbull is not a breed – it is a breed description. There is NO DNA test that can prove that a dog is a “Pit bull” because, when it comes down to it, a pit bull is a mutt. Sure, a DNA test can find that a pit bull has some Staffordshire Terrier in it, tracing back to its great-grandfather, but so can thousands of dogs who don’t fall into the traditional pit bull “breed.” That means in Montreal, the euthanization of dogs is not based on their behaviour, but on their appearances.
2. The ban allows a broad scope of enforcement to police and municipal officials – meaning, if these people think a dog looks like a pit bull, it is a pit bull. Does your Lab have a big head? Now it’s a pit bull. And if they say it’s a pit bull, your dog will have to go through the licensing procedure or risk being put down. And the people in charge probably don’t have the experience needed to tell what’s a pit bull and what’s not a pit bull. Take a look at this study recently conducted in Florida, where 50% of shelter vets and support staff couldn’t tell which dogs in their care were pit bulls by looking at them. If these professionals, who are in contact with pitties every day, can’t tell them apart, what hope do Montreal dogs have with the average lay person?
3. Breed bans don’t work. There are a few reasons for this. In statistics that cite the number of pitbull bites in order to ban a breed, dogs are being labelled as a pitbull by police officers – see number 2 as to why this skews the numbers against pitbulls. And not all bites are reported to officials… can you imagine the look on their faces when someone calls in with a Chihuahua attack? And in cities that have an existing breed ban, such as Toronto, the breed ban has had little effect on the number of attacks on people. In fact, now that the Pitbulls are gone, attacks are on the rise.
4. Ignoring the human factor. When it comes to personalities, dogs are a lot like humans. Yes, of course, that some dogs can just be jerks… just like humans. But for the majority of aggressive dogs, it’s upbringing that matters most. When kids are raised by crappy parents, it’s not surprising to see that they’d pick up the same crappy behavior. Same goes for dogs. If you raise a dog by hitting it, yelling at it, and ignoring it, there’s a good chance that dog will act out. It’s not the dog’s fault it bit someone, it’s the jerky human. And it’s not just Pitbulls that are susceptible to human jerks… they all are.
5. Quebec has a HORRIBLE track record when it comes to animal welfare. Did you know that Quebec allows residents to chain up their dogs outside for extended periods of time? Do you know how cold it gets in Quebec in the winter? Quebec also has the honor of being voted ‘best province to be an animal abuser‘, by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. That title was bestoted in part because of it’s existing claim to fame – the province also happens to be Canada’s puppy mill capital. And finally, let’s talk numbers. In 2013, the Association des Médecins Vétérinaires du Québec (AMVQ) reported that almost 500,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in Quebec alone – that’s just one province. The rest of Canada’s numbers combined amounted to about 34,000.
The breed ban comes into effect after the recent death of a Montreal woman earlier this summer as the result of a dog attack in her backyard. At the time of the incident, officials (who were not trained in dog breed analysis) deemed the offending dog a pit bull, even though registration for the dog clearly states he was a Boxer, and DNA has not proven him to be a Pittie (see point 1).
Related: Study: 50 Rescue Dogs Mislabeled As Pit Bulls By Shelter Staff
Instead of mass punishment in the form of breed restrictions, opponents of the new ban feel that more stringent enforcement of legislation already in place could make a huge difference. A crackdown of animal abusers and those who neglect their pets could eliminate the need for any restrictions on any breed, and opposition groups like Opposition Projet Montreal plan to fight this legislation and push for more strict enforcement of current laws.
In the meantime, local shelters are making plans to accommodate this new legislation, and pit owners are trying to come to grips with what that means for their furry family members. There will be more needs in the days to come, and some Montrealers are already working to help the affected dogs who are in shelters and face euthanasia. In less than 24 hours, a GoFundMe to help existing shelter pups has already raised over $20,000 and all proceeds will go toward rescuing these dogs from Montreal shelters, as well as helping the SPCA and Opposition Projet Montreal fight this unfair ruling. So, go, check it out and see how you can help.
Montreal officials should be ashamed of its rash and brutal decision – and for its continuing abuse of man’s best friend.
(With notes from Lori Ennis)