Yesterday, Canada’s second largest city, Montreal, passed a controversial ban on Pit Bull-type dogs. As a Canadian and as a dog lover, the headlines reminded me of a question commonly posed in the form of internet memes: What’s it called when we repeat the same thing over and over again expecting different results? Insanity, right? Often misattributed to Albert Einstein, this quote was more likely birthed by Narcotics Anonymous. The origin of the phrase is fitting, though, because I don’t know what Montreal’s city council was smoking when they decided to ignore history and ban an entire classification of dog.
At a time when other jurisdictions around North America are starting to view breed-specific legislation as regressive and ineffective, Montrealers were shaken this past summer when 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais was fatally mauled by a neighbor’s Pit Bull in her own backyard. I completely understand why Montreal’s civic leaders would want to make sure something so utterly horrific doesn’t happen again, but banning Pit Bulls-type dogs (defined by the ban as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, any mix of those breeds, or any dog that presents characteristics of one of those breeds) will almost certainly not result in fewer dog bites. I know this because Canada has been through this before.
Montreal’s city councillors don’t have to look far to see the long-term results of breed specific legislation — just one province over, in Ontario, a decade-old ban on Pit Bulls has not resulted in fewer dog bites. According to a report by Global News, Toronto has actually seen a rise in dog bites (from other breeds) at a time when the city should be practically Pit Bull free.
Ontario may be a Pit-free zone officially, but somehow, the province’s shelters still end up with Pitties who they can’t legally adopt out. The shelters must either euthanize the dogs or find a way to ship them to other shelters in places like Halifax, Saskatoon, and (prior to Montreal’s new ban) Quebec. The city of Winnipeg, Manitoba has an even longer standing ban on Pit Bulls — this one dating back to 1990 — but somehow the Winnipeg Humane Society still ended up with a handful of Pits in 2016. It seems to me that breed specific legislation is a band-aid solution that passes the buck onto other jurisdictions that don’t have the ban by forcing shelters to adopt the dogs into other communities.
These bans are too focused on getting rid of specific animals when they should be focused on changing the behavior of humans. Ban supporters claim BSL protects Pit Bulls — a commonly abused breed — by keeping them out of the hands of irresponsible, unethical people, but shouldn’t we be doing something to make sure those people can’t have any dog at all? Sure, you can take the Pit Bulls out of Montreal, but won’t another breed just take their place?
That’s why I just can’t understand why Montreal’s city council would decide to pour resources into a divisive breed ban when another Canadian city has already come up with a better system focused more on the human at the end of the leash. The Calgary model pioneered by the former Director of Animal & Bylaw Services for the City of Calgary, Bill Bruce, is built on a responsible pet ownership bylaw. As Bruce explained to the Calgary Herald, dog owners must get their pet licensed and sterilized, microchipped or tagged, and train the dog to not be a nuisance or a threat. High fines combined with education programs and subsidized spay and neuter services have seen the number of aggressive dog ingredients in Calgary plummet as licensing rates have increased. Something is working in Calgary, and it’s about as far from a breed ban as you can get.
I hope our neighbors to the south look to Calgary’s progressive policies and ignore Montreal’s regressive blast from the past breed ban. It’s been three years since the White House called breed bans “largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources,” but somehow, communities on both sides of the border continue to hold onto these antiquated ideas.