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Positive Article

October 22nd, 2004, 04:11 PM
Leash the owners, not the dogs

And while we’re at it, let’s muzzle politicians who ignore the causes of canine violence and who propose breed bans, says ERIC SPARLING

I love Pixie. I love her smile, the way her little rump wriggles when she gets excited. I love the way she makes me feel, knowing she’s waiting for me to get home.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Pixie hasn’t even been born yet.

Pixie is a dog. Or rather, she will be. My wife and I have ordered a puppy. We’re thrilled. When we take our pup home in December, it’ll be my best Christmas present ever. There’s just one problem: Pixie is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier – yes, one of the breeds constantly being lumped in with pit bulls, a.k.a. “four-legged assault weapons.”

It’s a rough time to be a fan of the so-called “bull” breeds. Tuesday’s attack by two dogs on Carl Koerner, 19, as he was mowing a lawn in Toronto will, no doubt, lend ammunition to Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant’s campaign to ban Pit bulls. If Mr. Bryant has his way, Pixie will be a puppy for all of two months. Then she’ll be a vicious beast who needs to be…muzzled, chained, or worse.

All because of ignorance.

You see, purebred Staffordshire Bull Terriers are not Pit bulls. They are a Canadian Kennel Club-registered breed. While some Pit bulls are registered with U.S. clubs, the vast majority are mutts. (The situation is further muddied by owners who call their mixed-breed dogs “Staffordshires.”) What does this mean? Well, purebred Staffies were registered by the CKC in 1953, which means that for more than 50 years, the Staffie gene pool hasn’t mixed with the general population. Pit bulls haven’t had intimate knowledge of Staffies for five decades, a long time in dog years.

So, if the Staffordshire Bull Terrier isn’t a Pit bull, what is it? According to the Canadian Kennel Club’s website, “no breed is more tractable or trustworthy with children.” The American Kennel Club website describes the Staffie as “gentle, affectionate, trustworthy and loyal.”

It’s confusing, I know. The media and the government have done a poor job of informing the public. Instead of looking at the complexities of a problem, politicians look for quick fixes that will be popular with the public they neglected to educate.

Banning breeds is a classic example. The Canada Safety Council, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and the Canadian Kennel Club all agree: Breed bans are not a long-term solution.
Who listens to the experts? This week, we not only learned of the teenager attacked while trying to mow a lawn, but also of a Halifax girl,5, bitten in the face by a Rottweiler.

I’m not downplaying the pain and suffering of dog-attack victims. But you don’t base public policy on a handful of, for the most part preventable tragedies.

That’s what these are. Well-raised dogs, even Pit bulls, don’t just mentally snap. With the exception of a few deranged animals (presumably mental illness isn’t unique to humans), there’s almost always a reason why a tragic incident has occurred. A parent who expects his dog to be a babysitter. An inexperienced owner who buys a breed better handled by someone with experience. A prospective buyer who can’t be bothered to go to a reputable breeder. A teenager who encourages her dog to lunge at people. A criminal who beats, starves and fights his animals.

What’s the common thread here? Irresponsible people.

Existing laws can go a long way toward dealing with the problem but they’re not enforced. How many people actually get prosecuted for animal abuse or ticketed for having an unleashed dog? How about requiring a breeding license to possess an adult dog that isn’t spayed or neutered? Or perhaps owners should have to take a course and get a license before buying a dog. Make the license cost a few hundred bucks, enough to make a person reconsider dog ownership, and use the money to enforce dog bylaws.

What will breed bans accomplish? Not much. Any dog will become vicious if you treat it badly enough for long enough. Ban Pit bulls, and the thugs and morons who hurt animals will just move on to another breed. And thousands of dog-loving households will face a family crisis.

Have I gotten Pixie of the hook yet? I hope so. But there’s more then one fallgirl here. American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, Bull Mastiffs, German Shepherds, Dobermans and, yes, even the lowly Pit bull mutt have all been the victims of witch hunts.

All these dogs can make wonderful pets if their owners are committed to raising them in loving households.

All can be dangerous if they’re repeatedly mistreated.

Frankly, given the amount of abuse dogs suffer at human hands every day, it’s a wonder that serious attacks on humans are so rare. Vicious dogs? More like models of restraint.

Eric Sparling, a Guelph, Ont., writer, was an editor at Oxygen, a fitness magazine. The Sparlings’ last dog, Wiley, was a golden retriever.

Originally published in the Globe and Mail, September 30th, 2004.
The above article was posted with the author’s permission.