Dog owners protest detention of family dog by Vaughan Animal Services

A Vaughan family just wants its beloved dog to come back home from the city's animal shelter after it was detained on the suspicion of being a pit bull, an outlawed breed in Ontario.

Blu not a pit bull, detention is illegal, protesters say

Melissa Chang, left, and Tommy Chang, right, at the protest in downtown Toronto. Chang's dog, Dwaeji, affectionately known as Blu, is currently detained by Vaughan Animal Services. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

A Vaughan family just wants its beloved dog to come back home from the city's animal shelter after it was detained on the suspicion of being a pit bull, an outlawed breed in Ontario.

Dog owners and others joined Tommy Chang and his family in downtown Toronto to protest Vaughan Animal Services' detention of their one-year-old dog Dwaeji, affectionately known as Blu. Protesters also called for the repeal of Ontario's breed-specific legislation, saying they believe the law discriminates against dogs based on their appearance.

It's that legislation that has separated Blu from his family for 22 days, Chang said.

"They've illegally detained our dog," he said at the protest at Dundas Square on Saturday. "Vaughan Animal Services is going beyond its scope of authority."

Blu is an American Pocket Bully, Chang explained, but Vaughan Animal Services told him he was deemed to be among the list of dogs prohibited in Ontario as per the Dog Owners' Liability Act (DOLA).

The act defines the following breeds to be illegal: Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and American Pit Bull Terriers.

While Chang has documentation proving Blu is an American Pocket Bully, Vaughan Animal Services doesn't accept it, he said. The act allows authorities to interpret the "appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to the aforementioned dogs," as written.

'Substantially similar' dogs allegedly also prohibited

"Our dog is an American Pocket Bully," Chang said. "But they've basically deemed him to be a dog that is prohibited in Ontario.

"In Ontario he's not prohibited, so we're challenging that," he added.

Chang received a letter from the City of Vaughan saying Vaughan Animal Services' assessment of his dog "determines that Dwaeji is a dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to banned breed under DOLA."

One of the protestors at the square, Fran Coughlin, is the co-founder of the Hershey Anti-BSL Group. She said her group has been fighting breed-specific legislation since it was introduced by the province in 2005.

"We know there's no dangerous breed of dog," she said. "We want to end dogs being taken from their homes based on appearance alone."

"The Dog Owners Liability Act needs a major overhaul," she added.

Tommy Chang attended a protest against breed-specific legislation at Queen's Park last week. His dog, Blu, can be seen on his sweatshirt. (CBC)

Chang said no one in his household has been charged for owning the dog, as per DOLA. He's convinced the city will lose the legal battle given the vague assessment of his dog's breed. Nevertheless, he fears Blu might be put down or sent out of the province.

Blu has never shown any signs of aggression or behavioural issues, Chang explained, and he hopes the protest against breed-specific legislation will get people's attention and possibly bring his dog back home.

Family is 'miserable'

"He was raised to be part of the family, raised to be a companion, without any regards for that they detained him," he added.

"It's been an unbelievable, miserable three weeks," Chang said.

It was three weeks ago, when while cooking, the smoke alarm in the family home went off. To air out the smoke, Chang opened the front and back doors, but forgot the yard gate was open. Blu got out and was located by Vaughan Animal Services.

When the family went to pick up their dog, Vaughan Animal Services didn't allow it, Chang said, despite all the paperwork he showed them.

"I have paperwork, we have documentation, we have documentation from experts, veterinarians, and the United Kennel Club, they've rejected it," he said.

"We've asked for evidence to show otherwise — how can you reject professional opinion?" he added.

DOLA needs to be repealed because it gives authorities the power to discriminate against dogs based on appearance, he said.

"The city is saying they're going to detain him indefinitely," he said. "We're fighting this right to the end."