Quebec's Order of Veterinarians has told members, as a bylaw banning new pit bulls in Montreal looms, that they have the right to refuse to euthanize healthy dogs, even if owners are found to have violated municipal rules. 

In a letter to its members, the order said veterinarians must weigh issues of animal welfare and public health in making their decisions, but ultimately, "no municipal regulation or provincial legislation can obligate a veterinarian to carry out any veterinary act."

City council is expected to pass new regulations Monday that would ban new ownership of pit bulls, and place restrictions on people already owning the breed, including:

  • Keeping the dogs muzzled at all times outside.
  • Keeping them on a 1.25-metre leash.
  • Paying a $150 registration fee. 

Owners who violate these rules could be ordered to have their dogs put down.

But some veterinarians say they will refuse to euthanize a pit bull based solely on a bylaw violation.

"I, professionally, morally, ethically am not required to euthanize those animals," said Dr. Karen Joy Goldenberg, veterinarian at the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital. 

"Now, if I actually witness or believe that a dog is dangerous to public safety, it has actually bitten someone, regardless of its breed, then absolutely I would agree to put it to sleep for its welfare and the welfare of the people around it."

Dr. Joël Bergeron, president of the Quebec Order of Veterinarians, says he has fielded many calls from veterinarians to clarify their responsibility in complying with a municipal order to put down a dog.

"They worry about that," said Bergeron. "Euthanasia is a big concern for our members when it's not based on a very scientific reason or [a] health condition."

48-hour window

Veterinarians who refuse to euthanize a pit bull, Bergeron said, must make an effort to refer owners to another professional who will agree to put down the dog.

Dr. Karen Joy Goldenberg

'We don’t euthanize pets that are healthy because the owner doesn’t have time for them and we don’t need to euthanize healthy pets simply because the city told us to,' said Dr. Karen Joy Goldenberg of the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital. (Ainslie MacLellan/CBC)

The problem is, under the new bylaw, owners have only 48 hours from the time euthanasia is ordered to find a veterinarian willing to perform the procedure, and another 24 hours to provide written proof that the dog has been put down. 

The SPCA, which currently holds the contracts for dog services in 10 Montreal boroughs, said it will not euthanize dogs affected by the new pit bull-specific rules.

"It's going to be very, very hard to find a big population of veterinarians who will sleep well at night, knowing they've put down a healthy animal," said Goldenberg.

Bergeron added that it is up to the city to clarify exactly what owners and veterinarians must do if they can't find a veterinarian willing to put their animals down. 

Anie Samson, the Montreal executive committee member in charge of animal control, declined to be interviewed on specifics about the new bylaw.

Identifying breeds

The Order of Veterinarians is also warning veterinarians they cannot alter a dog's file to list their breed as something other than a pit bull, unless there is a valid reason. 

Bergeron said a dog's veterinary files constitute a legal document and can only be changed if the owner obtains a breed certification from a kennel club, or a DNA test proving it's a different breed. But even that is not foolproof, according to Bergeron.

"It can then be a challenge to identify exactly, even with a DNA test, what kind of dog we have in our hands."