Friday, October 3, 2008

Bullshit and lies

With the upcoming Ontario court appearance of Gabriela Nowakowska, owner of pit pull Rambo, BSL has been on my mind. BSL, otherwise known as Breed Specific Legislation, is a generalized term for any law that specifies special treatment for a specific breed(s) of dog. And by special treatment, I don't mean they get a steak dinner or a spa day. The goal of BSL is almost always breed extinction either through attrition or more proactive gathering and destroying. BSLs always target pit bull type dogs, though by no means are they exclusive to pit bull type dogs. Many places are currently considering implementing some form of BSL. Many places, including Ontario, have fairly recently done so. Some countries, like Denmark, have implemented BSL and have then revoked it once they discovered it didn't reduce dog bites. Other countries, like Italy, keep adding to their list of banned breeds so that now they have almost a hundred unwanted breeds (although they too may be in the process of repealing BSL).

BSLs kinda makes sense though, right? If a breed is bad, why should we allow people to own dogs of that breed? Like handguns, which are used to kill on average over 1200 Canadians a year (, dangerous breeds of dogs should be banned as they're responsible for at least, uh, 1 - 2 deaths/year ( Funny that. Handguns are involved in 1200 deaths/year yet are not banned but some dog breeds which are responsible for only 1 - 2 deaths/year are banned.

Some might argue that even 1 - 2 deaths/year is enough for instituting a ban. After all, two wrongs don't make a right. Well, first of all, I'm not entirely sure that those deaths were actually caused by any one specific breed (the stats aren't that clear in Canada). And, secondly, if we use 1 - 2 deaths/year as a criteria for banning stuff then why aren't we banning cars, slippery bathtubs, tall ladders, everything that toxifies our waters, everything that pollutes our air? We don't ban those things because the benefits they provide us outweigh the costs. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to minimize risk but an outright ban goes too far. Of course that's just my opinion and a lot of people would disagree.

A lot of people would say that the risks involved with owning a pit bull are too high. A lot of people would say that owning any large dog is too risky. Or any mastiff or terrier type dog is too risky. A lot of people would say owning any dog is too risky. A lot of people just distrust and hate dogs or think of dogs as inanimate and disposable objects. Sure, the latter might still claim to love dogs, well certain types of dogs anyway, but probably in the same way they love their cars or Blackberries.

I'm not going to present arguments for or against BSL in part because there are many better informed and researched websites and news articles on-line dedicated to doing just that. I'm just going to tell you how I feel about it.

When I was younger, the only pit bull I knew about was that one on Li'l Rascals, Petey, and it seemed charismatic enough, as well-behaved and friendly as any tv dog. Other than that, pit bulls as a breed didn't make any significant impression on me. Later, even after the media started publishing pit bull attacks, I didn't give much thought to them with respect to being a dangerous breed.

And then I moved into Parkdale. At that time, there were several noticeable pit bulls in the neighbourhood seen with their big stud collars on, dragging their wannabe gangsta owners around by a chain or rope. I wasn't as much put off by the dogs as I was by their skanky owners. I remember one guy who punched his dog in the head and called it a "fucking asshole" when it started pulling on the leash trying to reach my dog.

One day I was at the dog park and saw a teenage girl with a puppy and of course I walked over to see it. It turned out to be a pit bull pup. It was ferocious. I'd never seen a puppy actually attack dogs before but that's what this one was doing. It was attacking all the dogs who came near it. It would growl and bite and hold on and try to shake. It would do this to dogs five times its size. The dogs being attacked would immediately back off or start to fight but the other owners always pulled their dogs away before anything serious happened. The teen, the pit's owner, just sort of chased after her dog and giggled but didn't really put a stop to its behaviour.

About a year after that incident, two guys were walking up my street with a black pit bull straining on its leash. There was a cat on a driveway a few meters ahead of them. One of the guys, seeing the cat, bent down and released his dog. The cat tried to run but the dog caught up to it, grabbed it and started to bite and shake and bite. The two guys were laughing but possibly it was nervous laughter. They walked up to the dog and managed to leash it back up and got it to release the cat. The cat crawled under someone's open front patio. It was severely mauled, blood all over. The cat was brought to Toronto Animal Services by someone who was at the scene but I'm not sure what happened to it as that was before my time volunteering at TAS. Nothing happened to the two guys, of course. They just walked away.

So now I'm thinking, okay, pit bulls, maybe they're not such a good breed after all. Maybe a breed ban, a BSL, would be the right thing to do.

I continued to feel this way until I started volunteering at Toronto Animal Services. The pit bulls were usually kept in a room to themselves and volunteers generally weren't supposed to walk them for legal reasons. I encountered a couple of really nasty ones there. And then there were some that were average, typical dogs. But then there were some that were amazing dogs. That's where I met B and Rex and a bunch of others. They were friendly, had great personalities, acted like clowns, loved affection, sought out physical contact. They were everyone's favorites when they were in the shelter. They were amazing creatures because they changed my mind about dogs in general and pit bulls in particular. What they made me realize was this, something which should have been obvious right from the start: that every dog had to be judged on its own merit. Breed stereotypes are not a fair or just or realistic representation of what each individual dog is or can be. Especially in cases of life or death, to kill a dog simply because of its outward appearance is stupid and wrong. And it's heartbreaking.

I started to think back about that incident on my street with the pit bull and the cat. So often, we let our dogs (and cats) chase squirrels or other smaller animals in our parks or backyards. So often that results in severe injury or death to the other animal and yet we would never consider euthanizing or muzzling or otherwise restricting a pet for doing something like that. How's a dog supposed to know that it's not supposed to chase down a cat especially when its owner gives it permission, even encourages it to do so? What's the difference between a cat and a squirrel to an untrained dog? Both are equally non-human, small furry creatures and thus can be prey. Who was really at fault for causing the cat's suffering? Who let the dog off its leash in eager anticipation of violence? Who is almost always really at fault? Why do dogs have to suffer the ultimate sacrifice for their owner's misdeeds? Why do we have Breed Specific Legislation that kills innocent dogs instead of enforceable laws that address the criminals?


Ian said...

Why indeed?
Great Post
That`s all we need.
Enforce existing laws.
Assess dogs as individuals and punish the Owners who don`t obey the leash laws and who allow their dogs to be a problem.
And I mean punish them big time.
All responsible Owners would support that.
Calgary has a fantastic AC program with great results and has no BSL.
This Blog has some info on their program.

The fact that Ontario wouldn`t even take a look at this proven program tells me that this Ban had absolutely nothing to do with Public Safety.

The OVMA testimony at the Public Hearings was quite an eye opener for me.

If Breed Bans worked and Public Safety was really the issue wouldn`t it make more sense to ban the 4 most common biters according to CHIRPP and the Breeds responsible for the most fatalities in Canada which are Huskies and Husky type dogs?
Why would they ban the Breeds which are responsible for 1(possibly 2) fatalities EVER?
Plus I guess they`re back to blaming that fatality a few years ago in Kingston to a pit bull terrier now.

It makes absolutely no sense.
I wish everyone in Canada would read that OVMA testimony.
It had me scratching my head.

Lynda said...

Great post as usual, Fred! I as well oppose BSL, mainly because I believe owners are responsible for their dogs' actions, no matter what.

What we need is better enforcement and putting an onus on OWNERS to be responsible.

My friend was attacked by a dog a few weeks ago. 30 stitches to his face (I can show you pics if you'd like, they're horrible) and the owners haven't even called him to see if he's ok. The owners are his COUSINS. So sad. He's now deathly afraid of all dogs and since I have 2 great danes, I no longer see him.

Oh, and what happened to the owners? Nothing. They still have the dog, they're not putting him down and they haven't even called their cousin to see if he's alright. My friend is going to sue them. Why weren't they charged? So strange. Peterborough hospital says this is the 36th dog attack in Peterborough hospital alone this year. Unbelievable.

Fred said...

Thanks for the links, Ian. Toellner also writes KC Dog Blog which you probably know about already. He does a lot of analysis of media reports concerning bull breeds.

Lynda, I'm sorry to hear about your friend. I hope he's able to make a full physical as well as emotional recovery and that one day you'll be able to visit him again. I'm not surprised his cousins aren't calling him, though. Aside from being utterly callous, they're probably in shock as well. And now they've got the added worry of losing their dog. Bad situation all round but especially for your friend.

Ian said...

Yeah I`m familiar with KC DogBlog.
Great info there.

Peterboro has been in the News a lot recently re dog bites.
Their Humane Society has been pleading with people to contain their dogs.
This was a recent article.

I`m not sure why they`re just threatening to lay charges.

I also read a while back that they have a lot of Pit Bull cases clogging their courts.Course none of those dogs have done anything wrong.
Once again AC Resources taken up by non problem dogs while these other dogs with irresponsible owners get off the hook.