Toronto bans pit bulls and their dog bites increase

It’s been ten years since Ontario, Canada banned “pit bull-type breeds,” including Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and America Pit Bull Terriers.

The law required any dog of this “type” to be kept muzzed or leashed in public and they had to be spayed or neutered within two months of the laws passing.

In addition, no new pit bulls could be brought into the province.

Image source: @Mapliegirlie via Flickr
Image source: maplegirlie via Flickr

Attorney General Michael Bryant told the Ontario legislature in 2005:

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“If the Legislature votes in favour of this bill, mark my words, this bill will save lives and save injuries and, over time, it will mean fewer pit bull attacks and, overall, fewer attacks by dangerous dogs. That’s good news for public safety in the province of Ontario.” (ontla.on.ca)

It Seemed To Work

At first, it seemed that the ban worked. After 2005, dog bites did indeed drop for a time. The number of dog bites from pit bulls certainly dropped – from 112 in 2005 to just 11 in 2014. And so did the number of pit bulls in Toronto. In 2005, there were 1,411 registered pit bulls, but by 2014 they were just 338, according to City of Toronto data.



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If you stopped there, with just these statistics, it would make a strong case for breed specific legislature (BSL). However, this is only part of the story.

What The Other STATS Show

If you look at all the statistics, from 2005 on, the reality is that after the dip, dog bites INCREASED in Toronto, despite the ban on bully breeds. These numbers come from vets, as they are required by law to report dog bite cases.

In 2005, total recorded bites were 486. In 2014, that number had nearly doubled to 767! Ledy VanKavage, Esq., Sr. Legislative Attorney for Best Friends Animal Society, said this is not a stand-along occurrence.

“Studies in Europe have shown an increase when breed discriminatory laws are introduced” VanKavage told iHeartDogs. “The National Canine Research Council has an extremely complete list of peer reviewed studies.”

Image source: @Powderruns via Flickr
Image source: Powderruns via Flickr

In 2014, the top breeds involved in dog bites were:

  1. German Shepherds – 92
  2. Labrador Retrievers – 41
  3. Parson (Jack) Russell Terrier – 25
  4. Rottweilers – 25
  5. Boxers – 25

It’s interesting to note that in 2004, German Shepherds had 112 dog bite instances, while pit bulls had 86. Yet it was pit bulls, not the Shepherds, they chose to ban. Also, the largest number of dog bites in 2014 was for the “unknown” breed category, with 185.

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Surprised that America’s favorite breed for 25 years running has the second highest number of dog bites? Something to think about – the more there are of a breed, the higher the chances that some of them may bite.

Labs are also at the top of the popular breeds list for Canada. So, it should be no surprise that the most popular breeds are also at the top of the bite list, including the unkown or mixed breed dogs.

Image source: @smerikal via Flickr
Image source: smerikal via Flickr

What BSL Does

“There is nothing specific about breed ‘specific’ ordinances,” VanKavage said. “Breed discriminatory ordinances are simply panic policy making a knee-jerk reaction that fails to enhance public safety. We all want safe and humane communities for all people and pets. The most comprehensive laws focus on the behavior of the individual dog and the behavior of the owner.

Breed discriminatory laws are not only ineffective, they are extremely expensive to enforce and interfere with individual property rights.”

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VanKavage is not alone in this feeling. Mike Bober President & CEO of Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council told iHeartDogs:

“Breed specific legislation – bans on specific breeds and types of dogs – is based on a faulty premise. Pit bull-type dogs are not disproportionately dangerous, nor are they any more prone to aggression or attack than other dogs. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that municipalities across America are reconsidering these bans.

Bans are costly, as well. The time and money spent training animal control officers to identify and handle banned breeds could be better spent on programs with more universal benefit. When a banned dog finds its way into a shelter, it cannot be adopted back out and therefore either takes up a space on a semi-permanent basis or else it is destroyed. And efforts to circumvent bans by simply not registering banned breeds or registering them as other types of dogs contribute to an environment have a negative impact on the overall health and well-being of local dog communities.

From the Netherlands and Italy to Canada and the United States, these bans have been demonstrated to be ineffective or impossible to enforce. In England, numbers of dog bites actually increased after the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 and ownership of the prohibited breeds has absolutely continued. The Chief Inspector of the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit has been quoted as saying that the Act ‘does not work, it has never worked.’ We believe the same can be said for breed-specific bans in general.”

What You Should Take From All Of This

The breed does not make the biter! Clearly, when the largest number of dog bites are from unknown “mixed breeds” and when you ban a breed type and dog bites continue to increase, there is something else at play here.

And remember, these are just the bites that are reported by vets. Many times, people get bit and it’s not too serious so the vet or the doctor never knows about it. There is no way to know how many of those happen annually.

Mark Hi
Image source: Mark Hillary via Flickr

As Bober explains:

“These bans represent an overly simple response to the very complicated issue that is dog bites. Often, bites occur because of environmental or situational factors that trigger an aggressive response in an otherwise well-mannered dog. Human error – on the part of owners and the public as a whole – can also contribute to these incidents and is much more successfully addressed by public education campaigns rather than breed specific legislation.”

VanKavage added: “The American Bar Association passed a resolution calling for the repeal of all breed discriminatory laws and the enactment of good comprehensive breed neutral dangerous dog and reckless owner laws with due process protections for dog owners. Ontario needs to catch up with the times and protect people, pets and property rights.”

A Toronto area vet offered her candid explanation when it comes to why dogs bite:

“It’s the same as the discussions that we have about our own kids” Dr.Heather McGowan, Glanbrook Veterinary Services told iHeartDogs. “They all have the opportunity to be well behaved, polite little humans, but if shown the wrong examples, any kid can be disruptive and rude.”

Pit bulls have been given a bad name in Heather’s opinion. They were originally bred as fighting dogs and now have a bad rap. Heather says she has had several “American bull dog” breeds in her clinic and most of them are the sweetest dogs you will ever meet. Why? Because their owners have taken the time to socialize them properly as puppies. They spend time with them, nurture them, and teach them how to behave around other dogs and people.

Heather actually euthanized a Shi-Poo this week for trying to take off his owner’s hand.

“That’s right, a little fluffy, cutsey dog, which we couldn’t get near to put a catheter in and had to sedate it for euthanasia,” she explained.

Heather says that she has even had Golden Retrievers who bit their owners, as well as Shepherds, Rottweilers, you name it.

“If you do a poor job as a pet parent, and don’t take the time to teach your cute little puppy how to socialize in the real world… you can breed the meanest little white fluffy dog,” she added.

As an alternative, Ledy VanKavage suggests: “Comprehensive Dangerous dog laws that focus on the behavior of the dog and the behavior of the owner. Some cities in the U.S. have enacted reckless or negligent pet owner laws- prohibiting bad owners from owning pets for a period of time.

I love these laws, because usually someone will make a dog mean, you take away that dog and kill that dog and they just get another dog and make it mean. The cycle starts all over again- they are recidivists. We must break that cycle in order to protect people and pets.”

puppy1
Image source: redjar via Flickr

That’s right – make the owner responsible for what the dog does. It makes sense, after all – they should be socializing and training their dog or be aware of their dog’s temperament and not put in a situation (such as a public place) where it can cause harm.

We want to know what YOU think about BSL and these statistics. Tell us in the comments!

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