The Fallacy of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to provide an informative and open forum with a real honest look into veterinary medicine, not just in my home of Kingston, but also from a larger world-wide perspective.  Right now, with an upcoming election in Ontario, there is a small focus on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL for short) and in many places are slang-termed “pit bull bans.”  What really needs to happen is that BSL needs to be brought to the forefront of the discussion within the public and veterinary community.  The short and long of the discussion is that BSL is ineffective and ethically wrong.  Here’s why…

 

MLK paraphrase pit bullIn short, Breed Specific Legislation is tantamount to discrimination.  The majority of the world has morally accepted and even placed laws into effect to ban discrimination.  So why are we taking a step back and writing laws to encourage a bias against a group?  It’s not 19th century America anymore!  What kind of lesson does this teach children especially in today’s world and the ever present topic of bullying?  Society is encouraging the picking on of some dogs for what amounts to how they look, not how they act.

 

The roots lie in the Dog Owners’ Liability Act which was amended in 2005 to include a specific ban on “pit bulls.”  The act was originally intended to protect victims of dog bites while at the same time offering some degree of protection to the dog owner but also holding them liable.  In theory, it’s a good idea by enforcing leash & muzzle use for a previous offender and requiring spaying or neutering.  The problem goes back to the amendment that placed a specialized ban on “pit bulls” which in itself is “a misnomer and does not refer to a singe, recognized breed of dog, but rather to a genetically diverse group of breeds which are associated by certain physical traits.”  The act defines multiple breeds to be considered “pit bulls” including American Staffordshire Terrriers & Staffordshire bull terriers.  This creates a potential problem for the dog owners as there may not be a way for them to prove that the dog is not a pit bull.  But in some cases, a DNA test will show that a dog is not a pit bull even if it has visible physical characteristics as was the case of a court action I was involved in back in Florida.  This helps prove the old adage, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

pit bull with tennis ball, playful dog

Does this dog look dangerous? Don’t judge

 

Let’s look at part of an example of a breed description from United Kennel Club, which is one of the groups the DOLA directs us to use in identifying a pit bull.

  1. SKULL – The skull is large, flat, deep, and broad between the ears.  Viewed from the top, the skull is square.  There is a deep median furrow that diminishes in depth from the stop to the occiput.  Cheek muscles are prominent.  MUZZLE – The muzzle is broad and thick, with a very slight taper from the stop to the nose.  TEETH – Has a complete set of 42 large, evenly spaced, white teeth.  NOSE – The nose is large, with wide, open nostrils.  Black color is preferred, but shades of red or brown are acceptable.  Lack of pigment is a cosmetic fault.  EYES – Eyes are medium in size, round to almond shape, and set well apart.  All colors are acceptable, but dark brown is preferred.  Haw is not visible.  Black eye rims are preferred.  EARS – Ears may be cropped, but natural ears are preferred.  Natural ears are small to medium size, high set, and may be drop, semi-prick, or rose.
  2. SKULL – The skull is large, flat or slightly rounded, deep, and broad between the ears. Viewed from the top, the skull tapers just slightly toward the stop. There is a deep median furrow that diminishes in depth from the stop to the occiput.  Cheek muscles are prominent but free of wrinkles.  MUZZLE – The muzzle is broad and deep with a very slight taper from the stop to the nose, and a slight falling away under the eyes.  TEETH – Has a complete set of evenly spaced, white teeth meeting in a scissors bite.  NOSE – The nose is large with wide, open nostrils. The nose may be any color.  EYES – Eyes are medium size, round and set well apart and low on the skull. All colors are equally acceptable except blue, which is a serious fault. Haw should not be visible.  EARS – Ears are high set and may be natural or cropped without preference. Prick, or flat, wide ears are not desired.

Can you tell which dog is a pit bull?  They sound pretty similar.  The other dog is not listed in the breed ban but is in fact an American Bulldog.  The second description is that of the American Pit Bull Terrier.  This again presents the problem of how these dogs are identified based on appearance and ultimately leads to the killing of thousands of innocent dogs.

pit bull puppies

Puppies like these are condemned to die because of how they look

Now, most veterinarians are against BSL in any city or municipality, including here in Kingston, Ontario.  We have 8+ years of university education behind us and realize that the behavior of dogs is not tied to their breed but rather their handling and socialization.  The act goes on to insult the veterinarians by placing the onus of writing a letter after a violation of the act (your dog bites someone) stating that a dog is a pit bull.  This is wrong because I feel we cannot morally condemn a dog without knowing the facts.  What caused the person to get bit?  Did they approach the dog’s home? Did they try to pet it without asking the owner first?  Was the dog running loose?  Were any warning signs of defensive behavior shown?  And most importantly, why are we not asked to write such a letter when the family Golden Retriever, Pug, or Border Collie bites someone??  This is flat out discrimination.

 

Who now is the vicious dog? It's not fair to generalize.

Who now is the vicious dog? It’s not fair to generalize.

Sure, I’ve been bitten before; I remember my first dog bite back in 1999.  You know what it was?  A dachshund!  I’ve also been bitten by chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, and Jack Russell Terriers.  You know what’s missing?  Yeah, “pit bulls” are not on my list despite seeing 2-3 a day when I used to practice in Florida.  Of course, I’ve come across a few that growled at me but who likes to go see the doctor anyway.  Just a few days ago, I was nearly bitten again…by a labrador.  The time before that I was lunged at by a Saint Bernard.  Now, let us look at some facts.

 

The Canadian Veterinary Journal (distributed by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association) published an article in 2008 listing fatal dog attacks in Canada for the preceding 18 years.  Of these 28 fatalities, only ONE dog deemed to be a pit bull was involved.  The remaining dogs were husky breeds, rottweilers, a bull mastiff, a border collie, malamute, chow chow, and mixes including German Shepherds or labradors.  In a few cases, the dog breed was not identified.  A majority of these attacks (18 of 27)were also by dogs known to the victim or their family.  Upon further review, a majority of these fatalities were due to the victim entering the dogs’ area/yard.  Looking further at US statistics, since BSL was introduced in various parts of the countries, dog bite fatalities have actually increased.  When you review the accurately detailed list on Wikipedia, numerous breeds are implicated.  Yes, pit bulls are there but so are Rottweilers in large numbers, Saint Bernards, dachshunds, huskies or husky mixes, English sheepdogs, chows, and even a Pomeranian.

Is your dog next?

Is your dog next?

 

You’ve made it this far.  I hope you’re getting to the same conclusion I am…it’s time to repeal the breed ban and end the discrimination.  If the fallacy of the BSL isn’t apparent through statistics, the difficulty in breed identification, or the simple fact that thousands of dogs have been condemned to die for simply being from the wrong gene pool, perhaps the testimony of a parent named Donna Trempe who lost her child to a dog attack.  It was not a pit bull either; it was a bull mastiff.  You can read the full statement before a committee here but I have included a few excerpts.

  • I applaud certain sections of the bill: doubling fines to dangerous dog owners up to a maximum of $10,000, jail sentences, the requirement for dog owners to pay restitution to victims, and giving police and municipal bylaw officers the authority to search for dangerous dogs. What I don’t agree with is banning specific breeds.”
  • In my opinion, Bill 132 has its good points and its bad points. A bull mastiff, not a pit bull, killed my daughter. Rottweilers killed a three-year-old boy in Vancouver. Presa canarios killed a woman in San Francisco. Even small dogs such as west highland white terriers and cocker spaniels have been recorded as killer dogs.”
  • Am I against dogs? Not in any way. I love dogs and own a German shepherd. What I am against is irresponsible dog owners. I agree with the Humane Society of Canada that banning only pit bulls will not solve the dog-biting problem. German shepherds, cocker spaniels, Rottweilers and golden retrievers are actually the most common biters.”

 

educate not discriminate

Photo from Smilin’ Pit Bull Rescue

Ultimately, the root of the dog bite problem lies with the owners who don’t properly socialize their dogs and potentially those few who train them to be aggressive.  The main facet of all this still remains that ANY dog can bite, maim, or kill a person.  The problem lies with the people; not the dogs.  It’s been suggested by numerous people and groups (including the OVMA, the Humane Society of Canada, and the Canadian Kennel Club) that Ontario replace this heinous legislation with the Calgary model which aims to prevent bites through education, spay/neuter programs, and penalties for owners.  One of the reasons I believe that pit bulls have been targeted, is that the media hypes these reports up as they always love a good story.  Other dogs bite too but you NEVER hear about it because it doesn’t get people’s attention.  Despite the bans, bites haven’t decreased.  Multiple attempts have been made to repeal the law but the government here in Ontario has always found ways to kill the bill.  Fortunately, you can elect leaders who will support legisislation such as Hershey’s Bill.  It’s time for a change.  It’s time to end the Breed Specific Legislation in Ontario.

 

Me with 2 great pit bull/mixes, Dagny (left) and Ethy (right) - some of my favorite patients ever. Very well behaved and a prime example of responsible owners.

Me with 2 great pit bull/mixes, Dagny (left) and Ethy (right) – some of my favorite patients ever. Very well behaved and a prime example of responsible owners.

 

Acknowledgement: Inspiration for this post and major assistance with research go to @MacBarksBack or visit her blog mac.bravesites.com for more info about what you can do to help end BSL.

Additional Links:

Kerry Vinson’s Toronto Pet Blog (expert witness in Trempe inquest) article discussing BSL

Ontario Veterinary Medical Association letter to political parties in 2012

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) position statement on BSL

Trempe Inquest recommendations

Testimony before Committee prior to enactment of BSL from the CVMA, OVMA, & OSPCA

Letter from Kerry Vinson read into record by Randy Hillier during hearings in 2012

Toronto Humane Society position letter on BSL

Legal Senselessness of Doggie Racism by Gordon Campbell, attorney

The Majority Project – They’re Just Dogs

Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion and do not reflect those of current or former employers.

Don’t forget to check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest to see more events in my day & more shared info!  And on the right side of my blog you can now subscribe so you can always get the updates when a new post is published!

29 Comments

  1. Hi Ryan! Have you heard of the organization Bullies in Need? They rescue and find homes for Pit bulls. We got my Doberman from them because they rescued her as well. They have a page on Facebook too if you want to check them out.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 10, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Brittany! I have actually, just found them last night. I am now a follower of theirs on Twitter & Facebook 🙂 Thank you for the recommendation though and thanks for sharing the post!

    • There’s also rescues in ns specifically for the bully breeds! Buddy’s bully rescue and nova Scotia pit bull rescue they are amazing people and do an awesome job with find the best homes for each dogs specific needs 🙂

      • Dr. Ryan Llera

        June 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        It sounds like they are responsible groups by researching potential homes. I’m sure a number of bullies have been sent out of Ontario to avoid euthanasia so I’m wondering if NS has some of our Ontario pups…

  2. THANK YOU for taking the time to write this blog. I will be sending it out to ALL the candidates looking for election in my riding.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      No problem Fran and thank you for reading & sharing! I can’t even vote as I’m not Canadian but I hope that what I’ve written will help inspire others to become active in choosing their elected leaders and somewhere in the mess that politics has become, some sense of reason can come to pass and the BSL will be repealed.

  3. Thanks for such a great article. As the owner of an amazing Staffordshire Bull Terrier (my last one, before the ban I never saw myself not having one of these amazing dogs, now my girl is almost 12, end of a line, she is one incredible, smart, funny, sweet girl), I appreciate all you say. Let us hope this nightmare ends soon.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Hi Terry and thanks for reading. I am happy to hear that you still have your sweet girl and saddened that laws & people have ruined some wonderful dogs. I would love to have a little pit bull myself but the laws need to change first. The whole issue is really misunderstood and misdirected.

  4. Great blog and good insight on this important issue affecting so many people inside and outside of Ontario. I am sharing far and wide.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 10, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      Yes Liz, the problem does extend beyond Ontario unfortunately. Thank you for sharing! And be sure to check back on here other times for my thoughts on other animal related topics.

  5. Thank you for this. Thank you! Truly… it was so amazing to read. Fighting BSL has seemed like a useless battle sometimes and it just restores my faith to read something like this, especially from someone in your position. I myself own a dog that is not a pit bull but meets the criteria listed. And I feel in constant fear… I have been bitten by 1 dog, a toy poodle… The BSL has got to end. Thank you again and again for this.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 10, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      You are very welcome! This was a timely topic for my blog and it’s something I do believe in personally. I hope you & your dog continue to stay safe and continue to do your part to help end the discrimination.

  6. Hi there!
    I loved your article and preach this nearly everyday! I’m involved in dog rescue in windsor ontario and was just in a heated discussions with an individual over a dog that came into our humane society that looked pit. DNA came back as american bulldog/bassit mix. She kept saying DNA is not accurate and the dog looks like a pit therefore it is. I was feria is to say the least, but very nicely cited many sources for her saying exactly what is above. She told me I wasn’t worth her time and should stop reading the pro pitbull sites. I was quite miffed bc I asked her to provide me the info she was relying on so I could read it and she would not. Long story short, how are we ever going to make headway with such closed mined individuals that won’t even acknowledge the research against bsl? This research is conducted as you know by individuals like you…veterinarians. And the funny thing is I have also been bitten in my fostering career not by a pit, but an old English sheepdog (which I did not fault him based on his terrible past of neglect and so on). I’ve fostered pits and they have been some of the best dogs.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 10, 2014 at 7:37 pm

      Thank you for your comments and insight into the far opposite end of Ontario where I am! It’s sad that people are so narrow-minded. Make sure you cite this link from one the DNA test companies: http://www.wisdompanel.com/why_test_your_dog/faqs/#783
      Keep up the fight to end BSL!

      • What if mutts that don`t have the “look” were tested & came back as having more than a certain am`t of Staffy or American Stafforshire Terrier?Would they suddenly become ‘pit bulls’ in the eyes of the law or do they get a pass because they don`t have that “look”?
        What % is acceptable or too much?

        • Dr. Ryan Llera

          June 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm

          Excellent question! My understanding of the law is that the dogs are identified by “look” as there is no mention in the law of a DNA test. I do know from the previous court case in Florida that the DNA company we used didn’t list “pit bull” as a recognized breed in their database (but that was a few years ago). That dog came up with mastiff & whippet in it’s breed makeup which is why the owner won. So in short, I would say since there is no provision in the law and the fact that the breed “pit bull” doesn’t truly exist, the DNA tests would not be useful to uphold the law but might benefit in the case of defending a dog. No idea on percentage…

          • I`ve thought of getting my mutt tested.She looks Lab like but a sibling of hers that I saw when it was around 2 yrs had the “look”
            When I took my mix breed dog to my Township(to prove a point) to see if they would def exclude her as a pit bull under this Legislation(In writing),they said they couldn`t because they were unable to determine her genetic makeup.Mother was a mix breed of unknown genetic lineage,father unknown.
            Of course she would never be targeted but I did prove that they won`t exclude mix breeds w/o the look,at least not in writing.
            That`s another reason this law is crazy.If U don`t have the look you get a pass even though you could be genetically linked to the 3 banned Breeds.

  7. Sharing on my FB page – the people in Miami Dade County need to read this! We’ve been trying to overturn our ban for years, but, as you said, it always gets killed at the last minute. All it takes is one person coming out and crying over how they were attacked by a dog that “looked like a pit bull” (doesn’t matter whether it was some other kind of dog) and the legislature just won’t overturn it, no matter how much other people beg. Dogs are only as good as their owners. And despite some pretty bad owners, a lot of dogs can overcome, if given the chance with good people (thinking of the Vicktory Dogs at Best Friends – a LOT of them have passed the canine good citizen test and found permanent, loving homes). I follow a lot of the former Best Friends dogs – going to share your blog with them, too!

  8. Virginia Greenwood-Warner

    June 11, 2014 at 2:22 am

    Good Morning, I live in South Africa where we do not have all these laws in place and I wish we did, however, I know many Pit Bulls and I adore them. Every single one has the most gentle nature ever. As always, the owners are fully responsible for their dogs behavior. Punish owners and not dogs! Also I fully believe that no dog should be walking in the street without supervision. Regardless of breed.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Hi Virginia! I am so surprised that this post has reached to multiple points around the globe! And thank you for supporting the perspective that the fault lies with the owners and not the breeds. Leash laws need to be better enforced as most of the injuries that happen are either due to dogs running loose or people entering the dogs space uninvited (which you can’t blame the dog for).

  9. Great article! This legislation is ethically, morally and legally ridiculous! Some of the worst biters I’ve seen have been spoiled lap dogs. And as you point out, “pit bull” is not a breed.

  10. Nice post.

    I just want to point out that a dog does not have to have bitten a person or domestic animal, or displayed “menacing behaviour” (whatever that is supposed to be) to be declared an illegal “pit bull” and condemned to death.

    He might have escaped the yard and gone for a romp, for example, and been noticed and reported to animal control. He might be too young to be “grandfathered” (actually, it’s the exact opposite of grandfathering since the law specifically targets an existing class and allows no new members of that class into the province); he might not be neutered. Somebody might have a nasty neighbour – you’d be shocked at how many cases are caused by people being turned in to authorities for owning a perceived prohibited dog. And so on.

    In Ontario, “pit bulls” – three purebred dogs and any mutt construed to resemble them by pretty much anybody – start off as dangerous dogs regardless of their behaviour. Their owners are targeted for discrimination, again, regardless of their actions.

    This is the section that we had struck at Superior Court as violating the right to trial fairness:

    Identification of pit bull
    19. (1) A document purporting to be signed by a member of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario stating that a dog is a pit bull within the meaning of this Act is receivable in evidence in a prosecution for an offence under this Act as proof, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the dog is a pit bull for the purposes of this Act, without proof of the signature and without proof that the signatory is a member of the College. 2005, c. 2, s. 1 (16).
    Immunity
    (2) No action or other proceeding may be instituted against a member of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario for providing, in good faith, a document described in subsection (1). 2005, c. 2, s. 1 (16).
    Onus of proof
    (3) For greater certainty, this section does not remove the onus on the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. 2005, c. 2, s. 1 (16).

    I don’t want to blather on about why this section was struck, but vets can also provide a note saying a dog is NOT a “pit bull” – easy enough, since there’s no such thing. We have saved many dogs thanks to vets who understand the finer points of dog genetics and behaviour, and who also understand that a dog’s appearance – the only thing that matters in the law once you get into mongrels – is not a meaningful clue to his actual ancestry. It really is all about looks in those cases, since purebred dogs are, by law, registered with an accredited kennel club.

    Thanks for speaking out on behalf of beleaguered, oppressed, tired dog owners in Ontario. Let’s hope for a good outcome in tomorrow’s election.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 11, 2014 at 10:54 pm

      Thank you for your detailed and well written response. Yes, unfortunately there are some people who will turn in their neighbors either b/c they are too terrified or have a grudge against the neighbor. We similarly don’t get pets coming into the clinic b/c people are afraid we will turn them in so they don’t get appropriate vet care. And thank you for the idea about the note…I never thought to phrase such a letter that way even though I mentioned the breed of “pit bull” not really existing. Hopefully tomorrow’s election will bring better news for the end of BSL.

  11. Wow I`m late to the comment Party.Great to see so many responses & great to have you on board to help end BSL in Ontario.Great Blog Post & I hope people will continue to share it far and wide.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      June 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Yep, thanks for the inspiration. Let’s hope the BSL will die someday; keep up the good fight.

  12. Sadly, after publishing this 2 years ago, repealing the ban still falls on deaf, and astoundingly, uneducated ears in the legislature. good article.

  13. Good Evening Dr. Llera, Thank for the outstanding article on BLS. Although I’m not a dog owner but have cats and love all animals and hate the discrimination of the misaligned pit bulls. Wondering prior to the pitties being killed (sorry using the term euthanize seems to sugarcoat the deed) do the humane societies check their DNA or is their decision based on looks alone. This whole ban is disheartening but I continue to posting, sharing, sign petitions to the government and mail to Wynne when their is a call to action. Do you think Ontario, and now Montreal, will ever overcome the ban that kill so many innocents?

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      March 18, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      Hi Judith. Typically, shelters, officers, etc. are only basing their decisions on looks alone. DNA is almost never considered and can vary from jurisdiction. Sadly, as the years go on, I become less hopeful that the ban will be overturned but a small part of me keeps dreaming of the day when this discrimination will end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.