Pet owners across the province are breathing a sigh of relief this week as the Ford government announced easing of the legislation banning pitbulls in Ontario. The move comes after months of complaints from owners of ‘bully breeds’, whose dogs were seized after being mistaken as pure or mixed breed pit bulls.
As it’s written, pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and American pit bull terriers are all named in the act as pit bulls and are currently banned in Ontario. These specific breeds must wear a muzzle at all times when in public, and are not permitted to breed.
In 2005, a series of pit bull attacks led to the implementation of this breed-specific legislation (BSL), causing a great deal of controversy among the pet community. Those who agree with the ban argue that pit bulls are an aggressive breed and should not be allowed in our communities for the safety of humans and animals alike.
However, advocates for the breed believe that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. Many critics have openly spoken against the ban since its enactment, stating that it is misguided, open for interpretation, and just plain unfair. Doug Ford has previously vowed to rescind the breed-specific ban, and changing the current legislation is a big step in that direction.
Under the existing legislation, known as the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, authorities may seize any dog that looks like a pit bull. This has led to a number of non-pit bull canines being taken from their owners and kept in holding facilities, despite never showing aggressive behaviour. A simple suspicion of being a purebred or mixed breed pit bull has been enough for animal control officers to detain any dog at any time.
In fact, the law currently states that any canine “that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to those four breeds” will be considered a pit bull. Dogs that are seized by animal control are either being euthanized or shipped to foster homes in Quebec, where the breed is legal. This has been a heartbreaking ordeal for many pet owners.
Most recently, Tommy Chang of Vaughan had his 12-month-old puppy held for 24 days by animal control, despite Mr. Chang providing documents from two veterinarians and the American Bully Kennel Club all stating that the dog was not a pit bull. This experience was devastating for his family, including his wife and two children. To add insult to injury, they were not allowed to visit their dog while it was detained, had no control over the dog’s care, and were also charged a daily boarding fee. Their story sparked outrage on social media and went viral in recent months.
Locally, Deanna Wheeler of West Grey had her two dogs detained, both American Bullies, in mid-March when they got loose. Animal control seized the pair, and Wheeler was forced to agree to send them to a foster home in Quebec.
Now, Doug Ford is returning seized dogs to their owners, who have the opportunity to prove their four-legged companion’s designated breed.
Jack Sullivan, a representative of the Minister for Agriculture and Rural affairs, recently went on record with CBC news, stating “Ontarians expect the rules that protect people and animals to be rooted in evidence. By making this change now, our government is returning impounded pets, that have not caused harm, to their owners under certain terms and conditions.”
It is expected that the Ford government will entirely eliminate this ban sometime in early 2022.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.