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Ottawa Article: Victims of Injustice

December 9th, 2005, 10:38 AM

Pit bulls victims of injustice

Kelly Egan, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, December 09, 2005

Imagine the state passed a law that required -- on a first, minor offence -- that green-eyed, red-headed people be put to death. A barking-mad proposition, surely.

Yet this is precisely what has happened to Ontario's pit bulls. Except the truth is even worse.

The death sentence, in our analogy, would apply to anyone who, more or less, has green eyes and, more or less, has red hair. And the death sentence is mandatory, regardless of the severity of the offence.

What a truly awful piece of legislation. Ontario's ban on pit bulls came into effect on Aug. 29 and the City of Ottawa is now in the midst of prosecuting its first significant case against a pit bull and its owner.

Dozzer, a six-year-old pit bull-type with a wide, white ban across his face, may not see Christmas. Owner Jeff Hickey faces a Dec. 15 court date, a possible fine and even jail time.

Every dog had his day; Dozzer's might be with the hangman.

The McGuinty government has done much crowing about how the new law will enhance public safety on the streets of Ontario. In a year when young men in Toronto are gunning each other down at a record rate -- it hasn't been a great week in Bytown, either -- here is Queen's Park cracking down on a dog.

Comical, really.

The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association has prepared an 18-page document that explains its opposition to breed-specific dog legislation. Quite illuminating.

Almost every organization that knows anything about dogs -- the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Canadian Kennel Club, the Canada Safety Council -- opposes laws that single out certain breeds for punishment.

Importantly, Ontario already had laws that deal with dangerous dogs, regardless of breed, with hefty penalties, including possible destruction.

What a dog's breakfast are these amendments.

There is, for starters, no such thing as a "pit bull." The association says it is a term that describes a number of breeds and cross-breeds, and it supplies photographic evidence to illustrate the confusion.

The Ministry of the Attorney General deals with this problem of identification with a big broom. The act defines "pit bull" as a pit bull terrier, a Staffordshire bull terrier, an American Staffordshire terrier, American pit bull terrier or "a dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar to any of those dogs."

Guess Chihuahuas and Dalmatians are safe. Everybody else, look out.

The new law orders those who already own pit bulls to keep them on leashes and muzzles when taking them out in public. The leashes cannot be longer than 1.8 metres. Huh?

The amendments also have a provision whereby an individual can initiate a court case against a pit bull owner. In that case, if the court is convinced the dog has bitten, "attacked or posed a menace," destruction of the animal is mandatory.

The dog owner, in this type of proceeding, is handed the onus of proving his dog is not a pit bull. With a cross-breed or a dog reclaimed from the pound, how on Earth would he establish this?

All that aside, the veterinarians' association says there are even bigger problems with this type of approach.

Any dog can bite and become aggressive; largely, this is a product of genetic selection, rearing and training.

"Banning pit bulls," the association wrote to Attorney General Michael Bryant, "would simply transfer the problem to other breeds, which could result in a call to also ban those breeds in the future."

The association did its homework. It looked at U.S. research that examined breed-specific legislation in a number of states. Guess what? It doesn't work very well.

Those who breed pit bulls as aggressive "guard dogs" will simply switch to another breed. There will no doubt be a drop in pit bull bites in Ontario, but what of the broader problem of dangerous dogs?

It isn't even clear how big a hazard pit bulls are in Ontario.

A national survey in 1995-96 of dog bites treated in six large hospitals found German shepherds topped the list of offenders, followed by cocker spaniels, Rottweilers and golden retrievers.

When Kitchener banned them in 1997, the association reports, pit bulls ranked eighth in terms of bites the previous year.

It also took a close look at the Winnipeg experience. In the 12 years after it banned pit bulls, the city reported 3,099 bites from 85 breeds and 94 crossbreeds.

Finally, the association reports it wasn't even consulted before the ban was announced in October 2004. "If the province really has consulted the experts, it has failed to heed their advice."

From 2001 to 2004, there were approximately 900 dog bites reported in Ottawa and fewer than 10 involved pit bulls. The most common breeds in dog-bite cases were golden retrievers and black Labrador retrievers.

Simply put, it's a dangerous dog problem, not a pit bull problem.

Dozzer, unfortunately, is a doozie. He has a nasty record of biting innocent people and there may well be a case for putting him down and punishing Mr. Hickey.

But destroy the dog for his deed, not his breed. There is a world of difference.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

December 9th, 2005, 12:18 PM
Some facts in the media, excellent.

December 9th, 2005, 12:48 PM
Brilliant article...I really like how it was written...I am going to forawrd this on to people and print a few copies to post in the workplace!:)

December 9th, 2005, 04:43 PM
This is a great article! Is this from a major Ottawa paper? I will Email the writer a heartfelt thankyou!:) :thumbs up

December 9th, 2005, 05:00 PM
I sent her an Email, I signed it from the Black family including Rocky the Staff.:)

December 9th, 2005, 05:53 PM
A little unbiased reporting for once .
Has anyone been following this case about "Dozer" The story says the dog has bitten before , does anyone know if this is a "fact" ?

December 9th, 2005, 06:25 PM
Has anyone been following this case about "Dozer" The story says the dog has bitten before , does anyone know if this is a "fact" ?

There is a thread in the newspaper section:

December 9th, 2005, 07:31 PM
Great article. Very accurate and I love the analogy (I once used a similar blue eyes, brown eyes analogy on my manger who just didnít get it....then he did).

We need articles like this and this writer and the editor should be encouraged to continue writing and publishing articles like this.

:thumbs up

December 9th, 2005, 10:01 PM
There is a thread in the newspaper section:

Thanks . I had read most of that before . I was wondering if anyone had heard of these socalled previous incidents about the dog biting people . To me it sounds as if the woman got bit trying to get the 2 dogs apart and not because the dog attacked her . I know under the law it now makes no difference but IMHO it is a lot different .

December 13th, 2005, 07:38 AM
The dog Dozer (who was PTS on Thursday the day before the atricle was published) has infatc bitten twice before and the bites were listed with the city of Ottawa 2 years prior. Why this was never followed up on I have no idea.

Mr. Egan did a wonderful job in my opinion of writing a fair article.

Its too bad that Dozer had to die and his owner will be an example of many more to follow but thats the reality we are facing I guess.


December 21st, 2005, 08:38 AM
What a great article by a great journalist :)


December 21st, 2005, 07:37 PM
I read this article and it was brilliant!!! I was so happy that someone finally decided to shed some light on all this and how ridiculous it is! I kept reading it to friends and family...i laughed at some parts because things are so out of whack they are just funny!