Pitbull pitfall? City survey poses breed-specific set of questions

The City of Calgary is seeking input for phase two of engagement on its responsible pet ownership bylaw — and a portion on nuisance dogs is receiving particular attention.

Pitbull advocates argue changes could pave the way for Calgary to enact a ban on the breed

A series of questions on a city survey focused on nuisance dogs, specifically mentioning pitbulls. (Getty Images/EyeEm)

Should dog owners who choose pitbulls as pets be required to have special insurance? Should there be a one pitbull or nuisance dog per household rule?

Those are some of the issues the City of Calgary is seeking input on during phase two of engagement regarding its responsible pet ownership bylaw.

The bylaw hasn't changed in a dozen years and the city thinks it's time for an update to align it with what's important to Calgarians.

This round of questions asks people to weigh in on everything from urban hens to household pet limits and fines.

But it's a series of questions regarding pitbulls that seem to be attracting the most attention — the survey asks about nuisance dogs in a more general sense, but pitbulls are the only breed mentioned specifically.

The city's website defines a pitbull as a pitbull terrier, Staffordshire terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and American Pitbull terrier, or a dog with a similar appearance or physical characteristics.

Many on social media said the questions pave the way for Calgary to enact breed-specific legislation or even an all-out pitbull ban. 

The discussion subsequently led to the back-and-forth discussion surrounding the breed — a debate between those who feel that bad dog owners are always to blame for bad dog behaviour, and those who say pitbulls are just too dangerous based on their strength.

Brad Nichols, senior manager of animal cruelty investigations with the Calgary Humane Society, said he doesn't believe an all-out ban is in Calgary's future, but said the society was surprised by the pitbull-specific questions posed.

"The use of breed-specific language is not something we have seen in the city in recent memory," Nichols said in a statement.

Nichols said the society is not in support of any breed-specific legislation.

City response

"We recognize this is a sensitive topic," said Jennifer Lawlor, a business strategist with the City of Calgary.

Lawlor said the questions now online originated from what the city heard from citizens during the first round of surveys a year ago.

"What we heard in that first phase engagement is that some Calgarians want stronger enforcement, including harsher penalties and closer monitoring, for dangerous animals," Lawlor said. 

"So what we did is take a look at other jurisdictions and what they are doing in those areas and those are some of the things we have proposed. We are really interested in hearing Calgarians' thoughts on this."

Justice for Bullies, an advocacy organization that fights for breed-neutral laws, argues that legislation based on breed hasn't proven effective at reducing dog attacks in other jurisdictions that use it.

Chantelle Mackney, the founder of the organization, said factors behind dog aggression include poor breeding, poor socialization and inadequate training or lack of training.

"And we know those are the factors in dog bites and nuisance behaviour, so knowing that breed-specific legislation has been proven to be ineffective, why don't we focus on the factors that we know are an issue and work with those?" Mackney said.

The city notes on the questionnaire that while pitbulls are not involved in a higher number of bite incidents compared to other breeds, the dog's strength means it can inflict more severe damage, and that's why questions were asked regarding pitbulls specifically.

It's the severity of the bite and the ability to inflict damage if they do bite that has some people in favour of tighter restrictions.

On Friday evening, a small dog was attacked and severely injured in the city's southeast.

Police couldn't confirm the specific breed of the dog, but said the incident happened at around 7:20 p.m. in the 2600 block of 43 Street S.E.

According to police, the small dog was being walked on a leash when it was attacked by a "pitbull-type dog."

Lawlor knows the debate can be polarizing, but said any changes to the current bylaw are still more than a year away.

"No decision has been made. We are looking for feedback. We are asking Calgarians to let us know what they think and if there are alternatives that should be explored, we want to hear about those," Lawlor said.

The survey is online from now until Sept. 17. Any amendments to the city's bylaw would likely come into effect in late 2021.


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