Written by: Heather Clemenceau
In the last two years, nearly 20 people and animals were injured or killed by pit bull type dogs in the province of Quebec. Pit bull type dogs have inflicted a disproportionate number of serious bites and maulings to people, pets and livestock. Multiple sources – independent, retrospective and/or longitudinal studies available on National Institute of Health databases, opinions of reconstructive surgeons, epidemiologists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, insurance companies, and trauma units all arrive at the same conclusions.
The debates occurring as a result of the BSL legislation passed in Montreal and Quebec might lead the casual observer to conclude that the ban (but apparently not the maulings) is the greatest social problem in the entirety of the province. In reality, the requirements of the ban are not unreasonable; the Montreal and Quebec legislation still guarantees rights of current pit bull owners provided they adhere to the licensing, muzzling, neuter/spay, and leash regulations. Opponents to Montreal’s BSL regs usually cite the “Calgary Model” as the ideal success story of responsible dog ownership – a model they believe that Montreal councilors should have implemented instead. Calgary may not have banned pit bulls outright, but the program is not a sweeping success. Even with a potential $10,000 fine, serious dog bites continued to increase in the city.
Before his retirement, Head of Bylaw Services (which includes animal control) Bill Bruce became well known for Calgary’s pet management “success.” Indeed, there were many positive aspects of the model and pet registration itself was phenomenally successfully relative to registration rates elsewhere. Bruce however, maintained that in other jurisdictions breed bans did not reduce “the overall number of bites in the community.” If he were actually expecting to reduce bites, Bruce would have to ban all dogs, since all dogs of all sizes and breeds will bite and this fact is not in dispute. Breed bans cannot stop all bites and are not designed to – the goal is to reduce the most statistically significant bites – maulings and fatalities, while balancing the rights of other people and animal owners for relative safety.
In 2004, the last full year before BSL was implemented in Ontario, there were 984 licensed pit bulls in the city and 168 reported bites. By comparison, in 2013 there were 501 pit bulls registered in Toronto, and just 13 bites. Yet in Calgary, the numbers show the real failure of the system – dog attacks in Calgary went from 58 in 2009 to 201 in 2014, a disproportionate number of them by pit bulls. Most concerning of all is that the severity of bites has increased – in Calgary in 2014, there were 244 dog bites of a Level 3 severity or higher. This is an increase over 2013, when 198 bites were reported at, or exceeding, Level 3.
Bill Bruce also had a serious conflict of interest while at Bylaw Services – he was an advisor to the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), an American lobby group that is funded by the Animal Farm Foundation, who promote the concept of a pit bull in every home, over and above any other breed of dog. The fact that Bruce was aligned with the NCRC means that pit bulls would very likely receive favourable and preferential treatment over people, other pets, and livestock while he was in charge.
Bruce’s successor, Ryan Jeslin, Calgary’s current director of Animal and Bylaw Services had a different view of the animal control model he inherited:
“I’m very concerned about pit bulls and Rottweilers. There’s a history, there’s a reason why places like the city of Toronto have banned them outright,” After a series of attacks by pit bull type dogs in 2015, Jeslin went on to say, “The evidence clearly here is about pit bulls. That specific breed has caused real damage over the last five days.”
Except for the focus on pit bull type dogs, there are actually many commonalities between the Montreal/Quebec legislation and recommendations for safer communities proposed by SPCAs:
Key Points in the Montreal and Quebec Bylaw/Bill
Montreal: By-Law 16-060
“Pit bull-type dog” is defined as being:
- a dog belonging to the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier race [breed];
- a dog born of a crossbreeding between one of the races [breeds] mentioned in paragraph (1) and another dog;
- a dog showing several morphological traits of the races [breeds] and types of crossbreeding listed in paragraphs (1) and (2)
Licenses will be issued for Pit bull-type dogs if the following conditions are met:
- the first application is filed before December 31, 2016
- the applicant provides proof that the dog has been sterilized or a written opinion from a veterinary surgeon establishing that the animal cannot be sterilized;
- the applicant provides proof that the dog has been vaccinated against rabies and proof of follow-ups, as applicable, at the city’s request;
- the applicant provides proof that the dog has a microchip;
- the applicant provides a certificate of negative search of a criminal record or, in the case of a certificate of positive search of a criminal record, a certificate issued by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal confirming that the applicant has not been declared guilty, in the five years prior to the date of filing or renewal of the licence application, of an offence under a provision listed in schedule 1 of this by-law;
- the applicant is 18 years of age or older;
- the applicant provides a document indicating that:
- at the date of coming into force of this by-law, the applicant was the owner of the dog referred to in this application;
- the applicant is a resident of a city borough where, under the by-laws applicable up until the date of coming into force of this by-law, it was possible to obtain a licence to keep a Pit bull-type dog
When outside, the dog guardians must ensure that the dogs are:
- Muzzled at all times
- Kept on a leash no longer than 1.25m, except in an exercise area or in an area closed off by a fence at least 2 m high
- Under the supervision of a person 18 years of age or older
- Displaying the tag issued by the city with the special licence
Charges for offences range from $300 to $4000.
Quebec Bill 128 – An Act to Promote the Protection of Persons by Establishing a Framework with Regard to Dogs.
The Bill makes it obligatory for veterinarians to report dog related injuries.Veterinary surgeons are also required to report, to the municipality concerned, any dog that they have reasonable cause to believe constitutes a risk for public health or safety. In cases where a dog has inﬂicted injury on a person, physicians are required to report the fact to the local municipality concerned without delay, and communicate the seriousness of the injury and, if known, the breed or type of dog that inﬂicted it. The local municipality may also declare a dog that has bitten or attacked a person or domestic animal and inﬂicted injury potentially dangerous
In the case of a dog that has bitten or attacked a person and caused death or serious injury, the local municipality must order the dog’s owner or custodian to have the dog euthanized.
Dogs that are deemed to be potentially dangerous:
(1) pit bulls, including American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers;
(3) a crossbreed of a dog listed in paragraph 1 or 2 and another dog;
(4) hybrid dogs that are a cross between a dog and a canid other than a dog; and
(5) dogs trained to protect, guard, ﬁght or attack
For more detail, please read:
Quebec Bill 128
The catalyst for the Montreal and Quebec legislation seems to lie with Franklin Junior Frontal’s aptly named dog “Lucifer” – a dog he had owned since puppyhood – a dog who ultimately
killed Montreal resident Christiane Vadnais in 2016. According to his lawyer, Frontal had approached the SPCA in the past for help in dealing with the dog’s aggression and behavior problems. Pit bull activists have long questioned whether the dog that killed Vadnais was in fact a pit bull, because it had been registered as a boxer. Despite these claims, a veterinarian confirmed that the dog that attacked and killed the victim was indeed a pit bull and not a boxer.
Public health decisions are not always made on the basis of the number of people negatively impacted. The population in question can be large as the inhabitants of several continents (as in the case of a pandemic) or as small as a few individuals. For instance, over 2 million baby cribs were recalled in 2009 after “only” 4 infant deaths. BSL demands a phase-out of breeding and importation, and the dogs must be on a short leash and muzzled when appearing in public. These are reasonable, logical and ethical measures and not entirely dissimilar from what the Montreal SPCA has proposed as an “alternative” to BSL.
People who care about dogs won’t care that they can’t import or breed more pit bulls. They can go to the shelter, Petfinder, or many other rescues on Facebook and choose to help a dog that is sitting on death row, which is far more ethical than breeding or importing (and ultimately euthanizing) more prohibited dogs into the province.