Advocates weigh in on Ontario government's plan to revisit pitbull ban

The Ontario government is taking a look at changing rules that ban specific breeds of animals.

'They are considered wonderful pets' says anthrozoology professor

Conservative MPP David Piccini is among the legislators working on examining the province's Dog Owners Liability Act. (CBC)

The Ontario government is taking a look at changing rules that ban specific breeds of animals.

A Conservative MPP confirmed Tuesday that the Progressive Conservative government is in the process of reviewing legislation that governs dog owner liability, with specific consideration aimed at rules that target specific breeds.

David Piccini, responsible for the Northumberland-Peterborough South riding, said the province is "looking at all aspects" of the Dog Owners Liability Act "and ways to improve it."

Piccini said he's working in collaboration with the Ministry of the Attorney General, fellow Conservative legislators like Chatham-Kent—Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls, as well as "caucus colleagues … across the aisle."

"We've held a number of animal welfare roundtables looking at how we can do better as a government to ensure animal well-being in this province, and of course, we know there are a number of ways we do that, that don't discriminatorily and inequitably target specific breeds," said Piccini.

Among the most notable breeds legislated under the province's dog owner liability rules are pit bulls, a breed which includes pit bull terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers among its ranks.

Legislation introduced in 2005 by the province's then-Liberal government, the ownership, breeding and importation of pit bulls is banned under the terms of the act.

Progressive Conservative Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls is also involved in examining one of the province's dog owners act. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Piccini said there's no scientific evidence to back up what he called the "draconian" targeting of specific dog breeds.

"We as a government, and I think as a society, need to foster appropriate education for responsible pet ownership," he said, adding that steps include "taking a look at penalties for those that do not responsibly breed and raise animals."

Though he didn't explicitly outline the contents of any legislation set to be received by the provincial legislature, Piccini said educating owners is among the core themes he hopes to address.

"There are ways that we can responsibly educate families, individuals, societies, municipalities, etc. on responsible animal ownership," he said.

Piccini referenced Calgary's approach, highlighting the city's "tiered approach to penalizing those who are found to abuse dogs and animals, and that's been proven to reduce dog bites."

"That's been proven to more appropriately address the issue," he said.

Jennifer Bluhm, the acting chief of animal protection with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), said the province's dog owners act fails to adequately protect animals.

"The Dog Owners Liability Act in its current form falls outside the scope of our mission in animal protection, and the [OSPCA] is absolutely in favour of repealing the pit bull ban," she said. 

'Breed bans are not effective,' says University of Windsor professor

While the province continues to plug away at the dog owners act, University of Windsor anthrozoology professor Beth Daly was clear that "all the evidence indicates that breed bans are not effective."

Daly agreed that it's often more effective to penalize owners, rather than punish animals.

"The American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Canine Research Council, most humane societies including our local Humane Society … [are] very opposed to pit bull bans or to any breed ban," she said. 

If the province does lift the ban, municipalities would have to make decisions if they keep their own bans in place.

Windsor is one of those municipalities with a ban. 

"It might be a better thing for Windsor to look at their dangerous dog bylaw and decide if it's really a good idea to keep that ban in place," said Daly.

She added that pit bulls are banned in a number of other jurisdictions, though she said "we're starting to see a trend in reversing that ban."

Daly praised Calgary's rules around dog ownership.

Anthrozoology professor Beth Daly says breed bans don't adequately address concerns over animal attacks. (Tom Addison/CBC)

"If you look at Calgary, they didn't do a pit bull ban," she said. "They heightened their education campaign and that has made a big difference."

Daly added that evidence suggests reports of dog bites in Calgary have dropped, whereas reports of dog bites in Ontario have not experienced a similar reduction.

And though pit bulls have gained a reputation for being aggressive, Daly said overrepresentation in the media has, in part, contributed to a poor image of the animals.

"Many of my colleagues in the field of anthrozoology have pit bulls," she said. "They are considered wonderful pets. And veterinarians will also tell you they are among the sweetest, most well-behaved, docile dogs."

With files from Windsor Morning


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