Dog owner opts for DNA testing, hoping her dog will be safe from proposed bylaw

The wording in Montreal’s proposed dangerous dog bylaw has some pit bull owners wondering if their dogs are actually safe.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said owners will be focus of new legislation more than their dogs

Verdun resident and dog owner Savannah Sher DNA tested her dog to make sure of its breed ahead of Montreal's dangerous dog bylaw. (Submitted by Savannah Sher)

The wording in Montreal's proposed dangerous dog bylaw has some pit bull owners wondering how safe their dogs actually are from being taken away.

The bylaw defines pit bulls as Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, any mix with these breeds or any dog that presents characteristics of one of those breeds.

Verdun resident Savannah Sher's problem is with the last two parts of that definition. She believes it labels her dog Nori a pit bull, but isn't sure. She's paid a Toronto company $70 for a DNA test to find out Nori's exact breed.

But she realized that even if the results show her dog isn't a mix of any of the breeds the city outlines in its bylaw, she can still run into trouble since Nori looks like a pit bull.

Verdun resident Savannah Sher adopted her dog Nori from a shelter in Ontario that specializes in finding homes for dogs that may be targeted by that province's pit bull ban. (Submitted by Savannah Sher)

Sher's dog has "a pretty blocky head," which is usually a characteristic attributed to pit bull-type dogs, but could also come from American bull dogs, or boxers, she said.

The bylaw will force those who own dogs that fall under the pit bull definition to register their dogs with the city and require the owner follow a specific set of rules.

"That is the part I think is really, really scary about this law. I think there are lots of people who are not going to think their dogs are pit bulls, or who know their dogs aren't pit bulls, who are not going to do the special registration ... I don't know what's going to happen to those people," she said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said Tuesday the city is targeting a type of dog, rather than a breed. He said there are no DNA tests to be done as far as the city is concerned. 

"For those people who have pit bulls, they will be allowed to keep them but they will need to fulfill certain criteria."

A city spokesperson said lists of physical traits belonging to pit bulls, compiled by breed associations, already exist and the city will use those lists, not DNA results, to determine what counts as a pit bull.

Coderre added that the focus of the new bylaw will be owners — from looking at if they have criminal records to possibly making demands on how high their fences be.   

'What defines a pit bull?'

Christina Mussachio lives in LaSalle and owns two dogs she believes are mixed with one of the three breeds considered to be pit bulls under the bylaw. She wonders what exactly constitutes pit bull-type characteristics.

"How is this going to be decided? The length of the snout, the width of the eyes, what is it that defines a pit bull?"

Christina Mussachio's said she won't test the DNA of her dogs, Shiloh and Patch. (Submitted by Christina Mussachio)

Mussachio said she won't get her dogs a DNA test because she doesn't see a point.

Proposed bylaw is 'unenforceable'

Verdun city councillor Sterling Downey said he thinks the city didn't do its homework before drafting its proposal.

He raised the issue of cross-bred dogs, wondering what per cent pit bull a dog has to be before it's subjected to the new rules.

"Boroughs will be bogged down with trying to figure out what's what," he said.

He acknowledged the death of Christiane Vadnais was a tragedy, but pointed out the dog that bit her may not have been a pit bull and had previously attacked people.

Downey said the city is replacing an animal control bylaw that wasn't properly enforced with a bylaw that is "unenforceable" and won't increase security.

Both Sher and Mussachio say legislation around dangerous dogs should deal with just that — dangerous dogs, not specific breeds.

The results of the DNA tests on Sher's dog is expected to come in a few weeks, but she said regardless of what they show, she plans to get a pit bull licence for her dog just in case.

"I don't want to risk her potentially being taken away from me," she said.


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