In August of 2020, the City of Calgary released a survey asking people to weigh in on their proposed changes to the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw. Phase 1 of their engagement study indicated that people supported more stringent rules and harsher penalties for dogs that were determined to be dangerous. Somehow the word “dangerous” was extrapolated to include all dogs that have the capacity to cause harm as a type but have not shown a personal history for doing so. I grew up with pit bulls and have seen them demonstrate the most gentle, affectionate behaviour. In June of 2020, a pitbull severed and ate the top half-inch of my right index finger, causing me to require plastic surgery and learn to type with nine fingers. There are friendly dogs and dangerous dogs in this world and, as a dog lover, I have encountered both and suffered the consequences. Capacity for harm cannot be determined by the appearance of a dog and Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a step backwards in how we manage pet ownership and public safety.
Pitbulls are banned under the logic that these dogs have the capacity to cause harm and are therefore inherently dangerous. The City of Calgary terms pit bulls as “a pit bull terrier, a Staffordshire bull terrier, an American Staffordshire terrier, an American pit bull terrier,[and] a dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to those of dogs referred to in any of clauses (a) to (d); (“pit-bull”). Creedon and Súilleabháin surveyed animal control officers, determining that the majority of identifications are visual and indicating the challenges of identifying mixed breed dogs. The only BSL in all of Canada are laws that specifically affect the ownership of pit bulls and pitbull-type dogs. Despite this, majority of the dog bite fatalities that occur in Canada are from sled dogs and huskies, and there is general community consensus that all dogs will bite if sufficiently provoked. In 2000, Calgary noted that Labrador retrievers were the most likely to inflict bites, but there have been no rumblings of banning ownership of labs. The lack of consistency in choosing which breeds to ban indicates a ruling based on prejudice rather than logical fact.
No existing evidence indicates that legislating dog breeds has any effect on the number or severity of incidents involving aggressive dogs. Communities without breed bans have seen an overall decrease in the frequency of hospitalization due to dog bites. Many places that have implemented BSL have faced legal challenges and public backlash. Ontario, which banned pitbulls from the entire province in 2005, is currently re-evaluating the Dog Owner’s Liability Act as the result of a private member’s bill. Interestingly, the City of Calgary did not limit the availability of their survey to residents only which questions the validity of survey results. A scan of the comments section indicates that BSL would encounter significant opposition if passed and the Calgary Humane Society has issued a position statement decrying the banning of specific breeds.
Calgary was once hailed for its progressive views on responsible dog ownership when the city chose to place the onus on dog owners rather than the dog themselves. Studies have demonstrated a link between aggressive dog behaviour and the criminal convictions of the people that own them, suggesting that the issue lie less with the breed of dog and more with the type of person on the other end of the leash. Bill Bruce, former director of animal services for the City of Calgary, stated that “if you change the human behaviours, then the animal behaviours will be resolved” and that “in 98 per cent of cases, the nuisance order on a dog is lifted after owners fix the problem”. It seems counterintuitive for the city to reverse their stance on such a controversial topic when the system of responsible pet ownership has proven to be so successful with aggressive dog incident dropping from over 2000 in 1985 to 641 in 2014.
Being the victim of a dog attack is terrifying and traumatic. Almost three months later, I still wake up with my heart pounding as the blood-soaked nightmares recede. Ensuring the safety of both people and their pets is paramount, and the City of Calgary needs to ensure that they pursue legislation in keeping with that goal. Based on the vague categorization of breeds, the lack of evidence supporting the success of BSL and the positive outcomes that the City of Calgary has witnessed with a human-behaviour targeted approach, there is no reason for the city even consider enacting a pitbull ban. It is far better to continue with the proven method of education, dog licensing and spay and neuter programs rather than pass unproven legislation that is bound to stir up controversy without any guarantee of success.
Please fill out the survey and support responsible owners, not nonsensical bans
Bruemmer, Rene. “How Calgary Reduced Dog Attacks without Banning Pit Bulls.” Montreal Gazette, Montreal Gazette, 1 Sept. 2016, montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/how-calgary-reduced-dog-attacks-without-banning-pit-bulls.
Casey, Liam. “Private Member’s Bill to Overturn Ontario Pit Bull Ban Introduced in Legislature.” National Post, The Canadian Press, 19 Nov. 2019, nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/private-members-bill-to-overturn-ontario-pit-bull-ban-introduced-in-legislature.
Creedon, Nanci, and Páraic S. Ó Súilleabháin. “Dog Bite Injuries to Humans and the Use of Breed-Specific Legislation: a Comparison of Bites from Legislated and Non-Legislated Dog Breeds.” Irish Veterinary Journal, vol. 70, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.1186/s13620–017–0101–1.
Hunter, Susan, and Richard Brisbin. Pet Politics: the Political and Legal Lives of Cats, Dogs, and Horses in Canada and the United States. Purdue University Press, 2016.
“Position Statements.” Animal Welfare Position Statements, Calgary Humane Society, 7 Dec. 2018, www.calgaryhumane.ca/who-we-are/position-statements/.
“Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw Review.” Engage, City of Calgary, 2020, engage.calgary.ca/petbylaw.