November 27th, 2005, 08:14 AM
Well I hate the title but it makes a few good points.
It mentions the attack in Toronto and I’m still not sure about those two dogs and the owner and his so called trainer\breeder who was the ‘victim’. The dogs were already known to be a problem.
In the Thorold (a local city so I know the story) the man tried to protect his dog from two unlicensed unneutered loose pit bulls once again pointing to the types that irresponsibly own these dogs.
Pit Bulls: Urban thug accessory
Nov. 27, 2005. 08:05 AM
Here I am. By the skin of my dastardly sharp puppy teeth,I say. All four pounds of me. Phat Boy. That's my name. Don't you love it? Phat as in cool, because I'm way cool and — here's a huge break in my favour — born before the deadline beyond which puppies born in this province will be euthanized. That would be — hold on, let me check my Daytimer — tomorrow!
No, not all puppies. Just "pit bulls," which, I have been advised, includes me. Grr.
I'm going to show you my sad face. Watch this. I'm wrinkling my brow and my eyes are drooping. My owner says I have character. In spades, I say.
I may be small but I'm not stupid. I've been thinking deeply for weeks about this pit bull ban, when I haven't been deeply napping and when I haven't been deeply plotting how to steal that biscuit from the toy poodle over there. After all this thinking I've got just one question: why won't you love me?
As Sylvia Barkey answers the door at Toad Hall, her 80-hectare spread north of Claremont, a 58-pound caramel-coloured Staffordshire bull terrier with a head the size of a basketball comes bounding forward in greeting, flops over and waits for a scratch. His name is Hannibal the Cannibal. It's a joke. Still, people are so jittery about the dog issue these days that Barkey has taken to calling him "Hanney" in public.
The Barkeys have about 200 horses here — they lease horses to kids' camps and run an auction barn — and 150 or so head of cattle. They run a gas station in town too. For 30 years Sylvia Barkey has been breeding Staffordshires, including the most titled Staffordshire in the world (his name is Domino and he lives in Mexico). Barkey has sold a Staffie to Ray Romano, of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, and to a reportedly very cute Tommy Hilfiger underwear model. And then there's Phat Boy, or Rolona's Phat Boy, son of Rolona's Rest in Pieces, or RIP for short.
The breed, contrary to the spoofing names that Barkey bestows upon her dogs, is renowned for its loving temperament. Advocates point out that in the United Kingdom, Staffies are known as the Nanny dog for precisely this quality. And yet, in compliance with Bill 132, an act to amend the Dog Owners' Liability Act, the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the American pit bull terrier, pit bulls, and any dogs that may appear to be pit bulls, are categorized as pit bulls and are thereby banned.
The province's pit bull ban came into effect in August. As part of the legislation, a grace period grandfathered pups born 90 days from that date. Hence tomorrow's deadline.
The story, however, will not die. The definition of what constitutes a pit bull remains elusive, statistics supporting the ban remain ephemeral, breeders of pure bred dogs lament that they have been unfairly singled out, stray puppies are being airlifted out to safety and the ban's objective — protecting the public — may not, after all that, be achieved. Oh, and a constitutional challenge has been launched, arguing that the ban contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Because of the court challenge, the attorney general's office would not comment for this story.
On this morning, snow has lightly dusted the ground, Hannibal is sitting in his favourite chair by the window, and Phat Boy is trying to wrest a small, pyjama clad Sylvester the cat from a toy poodle named Itsy, also known as It's a Bit Bonkers.
Barkey is wearing an "Unlearn" T-shirt upon which a color palette of pink and brown and beige and tan and black marches across her chest. Under each coloured square is the word "fleshtone" and as she points to each square she sighs an exasperated sigh and likens the ban to being stigmatized by colour or race. "It's stupid and unliberal," she says, contending that breed bans don't, in fact, work.
Barkey argues that the ban will do nothing to prevent someone from finding a big dog of another breed and turning into a big bad dog. "They're going to be walking down the street with their balls hanging down to their knees and no muzzle on," she said. She meant the dogs.
Back to me. Observe. Delightful white coat. None of that brindle colouring that my breeder finds so uninteresting. Deep tan markings — I prefer to call them highlights — around each eye and my tail and even, and I really like this part, my shoulders. Smokin'. I think I look like something right out of Disney.
I'm so damned adorable that my owner decided not to sell me after all because I'm headed for the show ring. And to think! She could have made $1,200 had she gone through with the sale. Hey. Staffies don't come cheap.
I know. It's immensely amusing that my owner's surname is "Barkey."
Look, I'm not making light of this whole mess. I don't like those bad dogs any more than you do. I'm just sayin', I'm being made to be the fall guy here. And I ask you, Is that fair?
In the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 28, 2004, a 25-year-old man was viciously mauled by two pit bulls he had been walking for their owner near Church and Isabella Sts. Police shot both dogs and ultimately suffocated one with a mattress. On the front page of the Star the next day a witness called the scene "a bloodbath." Sgt. Greg Cole described what he saw: "I believe the dogs were sort of working their way up — from his feet up — had they gotten to his neck who knows what would have happened."
The attack came within two weeks of an attack on a man in Thorold and a week after a woman's dog was attacked in Toronto. The mauling at Isabella became the last straw in what was starting to look like, or be portrayed as, a rampaging urban menace.
Within days, Attorney General Michael Bryant announced that the province was considering a province-wide pit bull ban. "Some animals," he said, "amount to nothing less than dangerous weapons." His comments spurred an intense reaction from the public. Bryant would later say that his office was flooded with emails (the attorney general's office tallied more than 5,000) and telephone calls from people "informing me of pit bull incidents that had never been reported, and pit bull owners, of course, expressing their concerns."
Accompanying the initial story was a chart, compiled from reports of dog attacks that had appeared in the media. Of 15 attacks cited, the greatest number — six — were Rottweiler bites. Five were pit bulls. One of the most gruesome attacks was the death of a Stouffville girl by a 130-pound bullmastiff in 1998.
It would be fair to point out that such a report lacks any statistical validity. In the case of dog attacks, the devil is in the statistics, or rather the lack of them. An oft-cited figure for the number of annual dog bites in Canada comes from the Canada Safety Council, with an estimate of 460,000 bites per year. But, says Ethel Archard, spokesperson for the council, "We have based our estimates on extrapolations... they're really rough."
The council based its figure on a Quebec coroner's report released in 1999, which had documented bite reports from Quebecers in 1997 and 1998. The statistics were not, however, broken down by breed, though the council did cite a number of high-profile maulings, two involving Rottweilers, one involving "mastiff-cross dogs" and a fourth by a dog whose breed was not identified. "We have been concerned for a number of years that there are no national statistics," says Archard. "We don't have statistics on the breeds involved, whether they're licensed animals or not... whether they are neutered or spayed." The last point, adds Archard, is a known factor in dog aggression; one American study found that "sexually intact dogs are more than two and a half times more likely to bite than neutered dogs." More recently, the Canadian Institute for Health Information conducted a tally of people visiting Ontario hospital emergency wards because of dog-related injuries. In 2003-2004, 10,883 made trips to the emergency department. Of those injuries, 85 per cent occurred in the home.
The need for hard data has been apparent for years. After the death of the girl in Stouffville, an inquest was held and subsequent jury recommendations included the implementation of a centralized database by the provincial government for reporting dog bites. That didn't happen.
In October, 2004, the McGuinty government introduced Bill 132. On Aug. 29 of this year, the amendments to the Dog Owners' Liability Act came into effect, banning all "pit bulls" while making restrictions for those dogs already resident in the province and those born prior to Nov. 28. Among the requirements to be met by owners of so-called "restricted" pit bulls is that they be sterilized, muzzled and leashed. (Some latitude around the sterilization requirement was made, including allowing the dog owner to wait until the pup is 36 weeks of age, or, in the case of an old and infirm dog for whom an anaesthetic may be too much to bear, to skip the sterilization requirement altogether.) Fines to owners of dogs deemed dangerous and thereby posing a threat to public safety were increased to $10,000, and jail sentences can now be imposed of up to six months for those same owners.
Toronto Mayor David Miller said he supported the government's "swift action," which he applauded as "the best solution... to keep Ontarians safe from dangerous dogs."
One of the jurisdictions Ontario looked to in crafting its legislation was Winnipeg. "We were seeing a large number of pit bull related incidents," says Tim Dack, chief operating officer of the city's animal services agency. Similar to Toronto, there was a particularly horrific attack, this one involving a nine-year-old girl in 1989. The city's pit bull ban went into effect in June, 1990, and, says Dack, the city has seen no bites from pit bulls in the past two years.
Does this suggest that breed specific bans work? Animal rights groups have consistently said "No," and have persistently argued that banning a breed will only result in the numbers of bad biters increasing elsewhere in the canine chain. Their voices have been joined by those of breeders, animal shelter workers, veterinarians and kennel clubs.
"Dog trainers are not usually considered animal rights activists and they're usually at odds with one another," says Julie King, who runs a computer consulting firm, breeds Staffordshire bull terriers as a hobby and was one of many to make an anti-ban presentation to the legislative committee on Bill 132. The Staffie, she says, is not a "pit bull," but making that argument "can be taken in the wrong light to mean we can support the ban as long as you don't include us." The cultural battle lines were thus roughly drawn between the disparate dog community on the one side, and pro-ban politicians on the other, each backed to varying degrees by members of the public who may or may not be possessed of the facts.
To return to the Winnipeg example, 28 bites by "pit bull type" dogs were recorded in the city in 1989; 34 bites by German Shepherds were recorded in the same year.
One of the most irksome issues in the "pit bull" saga is that there is no such breed, a point on which players on all sides of the debate readily agree. There is no dispute, however, that the American pit bull terrier, by example, was developed more than 100 years ago with the precise intention of pit fighting. Stamina. Aggression. Strength. A high pain threshold. Tenacity. "It's not a great surprise that border collies like to herd things and retrievers like to retrieve things," says Shelagh MacDonald, program director for the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. "You cannot ignore what the breed was inherently created for."
Yet MacDonald is of the view that a breed ban, "is not going to solve the problem ... There have been incidents with Akitas, Rottweilers. A couple of decades ago, Dobermans were the biggies. Where do you draw the line?"
A report published in 2000 by Vet Med Today, an American publication, assessed available data over time and reported that in 1979-1980, Great Danes caused the most reported dog-bite-related fatalities. Measured across a longer period (1975-1980), the German Shepherd dog was responsible for the highest number of fatalities. In 1997-98, the latest data reported in the study, Rottweilers were the most commonly reported breed in fatal attacks.
Still, in that same year, Rottweilers and "pit bull type dogs" together accounted for 67 per cent of human fatalities, which certainly suggests, said the report, a "breed-specific problem."
Attorney General Michael Bryant echoed the disproportionate weighting of attacks prior to passing of Bill 132. "`[L]ow number/high attacks' spells danger," he told the Legislature.
To those who argue that a breed ban is not an effective way to control dog behaviour, Bryant argued that there must be an exception to that general principle. "Are we," he asked, "going to risk having these ticking time bombs out there in the province of Ontario?"
The Canada Safety Council offers this answer. "For people who want aggressive dogs, if there's a particular breed that they're not allowed to have, they'll find something else," says the council's Ethel Archard.
Is the issue the breed or the owner? If common characteristics are unneutered male dogs that can be trained to be aggressive, there are innumerable breeds to turn to for potential nasty-dogs. Shelagh MacDonald tosses some suggested names onto the list: the Argentine Dogo, the Fila Brasileiro, and the Perro de Presa Canario. The latter made headlines in January, 2001, when two Presa Canarios fatally mauled Diane Whipple outside her San Fancisco apartment. The incident drew blazing international headlines, and the first-ever murder conviction in the case of a dog mauling in the state of California. More than 30 witnesses testified that they had been terrorized by the pair of dogs.
It was 4 in the morning, Friday, Nov. 18, when Operation Puppy Rescue was engaged. A worker with the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA drove up to the back entrance of the city's animal control facility and spirited away six pit bull puppies, all under four months of age.
"They had to be on a 7:15 flight and WestJet needed them two hours early so they had to be at Pearson at 5:15," says president Jim Sykes. We've all been there.
The puppies were strays, destined under the new legislation for either euthanization or a research facility registered under the Animals for Research Act. A third option is an out-of-province transfer by a pound. Sykes found a welcoming home with the British Columbia SPCA in Victoria. "We had a couple of e-mails from people who said if donations were going to be used to ship genetically defective animals on vacation they weren't going to support us any longer, " he says.
The majority of SPCA donors were supportive, including the four who paid the $400 puppy freight. Sykes believes there exists still a lack of public awareness of the life and death decisions now being made.
"I think people who just want to abandon them are going to do it now."
The deadline has left the Staffordshire breeders feeling bereft. Julie King says she will follow the ban directive and will breed no more. Sylvia Barkey has dogs placed out of the province, which leaves her with breeding options outside of the legislation. Sitting at her kitchen table, with now five dogs bounding about, she can't help but express her frustration.
"The legislation is not protecting anybody," she says.
"The people who are having a fit about this aren't the bad people who dumped their dogs in the pound and then went and got something different. The people who are upset about this are people who love their pets."
I wouldn't hurt a flea. Oh go on. Pick me up. I just want to nuzzle in that neck of yours. Gently! No, I don't know how that sock ended up lying across Itsy's back. I've got other things on my mind. Like my professional career, which I'm thinking of launching in about six months or so, after I've bulked up a bit and after I've learned how to listen and after I've figured out when not to piddle.
You should come and see me some time. I may be one of the last Staffordshires born in the province. Ever. My owner predicts that I'm destined to be a fabulous ambassador. But for what? Now I understand what humans mean when they talk about a "dying breed."
Barkey, King and the rest of the dog fraternity can but wait now for the constitutional challenge to Bill 132. Court dates have been set. Commencing May 14 lawyer Clayton Ruby — who perhaps could have been described as a pit bull before the term became so incendiary — will argue in Superior Court that the legislation is overbroad in part due to the provision that allows for the imprisonment of owners who do not obey the law. The legislation, he continues, "is not tailored to the harm the government is seeking to prevent."
The harm, of course, is dog attacks. "There are people who really want vicious dogs and they train them to be vicious and they breed them to be vicious," says Ruby. "Those people, when they can no longer have pit bulls they will move to Rottweilers or shepherds or corgis."
The corgi reference is not in jest. The list of banned or restricted breeds in Italy has gown upward of 90, including the Queen's own, though any thoughts that the corgi could become a cultural brand for urban toughs the way pit bulls have is amusingly absurd.
Similarly, the image of Phat Boy as an urban thug accessory seems equally surreal. Look at him. Sitting there.