Windsor

Ontario government 'playing with fire' by revisiting pit bull ban, says family of dog attack victim

Two women in southwestern Ontario whose lives have been deeply affected by pit bull attacks say the provincial government should not allow people to own pets from the controversial breed. One Windsor city councillor agrees, but an expert in pet behaviour says certain breeds aren't the problem; instead, it's a lack of proper training.

Municipalities would have to decide if they want to keep their own bans in place

The pit bull ban came into effect in Ontario back in 2005 ⁠— but the City of Windsor instituted its own ban one year earlier, according to one ward councillor. (EyeEm/Getty Images)

Two women in southwestern Ontario whose lives have been deeply affected by pit bull attacks say the provincial government should not allow people to own pets part of the controversial breed.

The province is taking a look at making changes to the Dog Owners Liability Act. Part of the act — which was passed in 2005 after two dogs mauled a Toronto man — includes a ban on the ownership, breeding and importation of pit bulls.

For Windsor resident Pam Robertson, however, whose then six-year-old granddaughter was attacked by a pit bull during a sleepover in January 2018, it's difficult to decide whether or not the province should lift the ban on owning pit bulls.

According to Robertson, the homeowners had two dogs, including one pit bull that was normally left in a cage — but it was not locked away during the sleepover.

Someone else had visited the house and dropped off other dogs which were much smaller in size.

"What I believe happened was my granddaughter got in the way of trying to pet the little dog when the large pit bull attacked her, biting her face and her legs," said Robertson, adding her granddaughter required more than 70 stitches for her facial injuries.

Almost two years later, the dog attack has left the eight-year-old girl with scarring on her face.

Still, Robertson said she used to raise mixed-breed dogs, rare-breed dogs and other dogs which are currently banned in other countries — without any attacks on people.

Pam Robertson, left, poses for a photo with her daughter, right, and six-year-old granddaughter, middle. Robertson's granddaughter has scarring on her face following a January 2018 pit bull attack. According to Robertson, this photo was taken nine months later. (Pam Robertson/Facebook)

Ultimately, Robertson said she leans toward keeping pit bulls out of her neighbourhood.

"I just don't think that there are enough people paying attention to dog licenses, shots — again, coming back to irresponsible owners who just don't have either the time or the sense to realize that this is an animal willing to attack," she said. "I think it's just a bad blood line."

Robertson said there are many pit bulls who live in her neighbourhood now and she's concerned about what would happen if one were to escape outside.

"I have, in my apartment building, a lady who sits downstairs in the front of the building with her dog. Her dog has been attacked twice, needing surgery from pit bulls. The threat is so real. It's one of those breeds I find is very scary and, in the wrong hands, can be deadly," she said.

"I think they're just playing with fire, because there will be more accidents guaranteed."

Postal worker's ear bitten off by pit bulls

Darlene Wagner, a postal worker from Dresden, Ont., said she'd be "really fearful if the ban got lifted."

Back in 2004, Wagner — who was 58 at the time — was attacked by two pit bulls as she was delivering mail.

"I approached the house and put the mail in. I heard noises in the house and I thought it sounds like dogs running," she recalled. "So I backed down the stairs and the dogs just busted out through the screen door and came after me."

Wagner suffered two broken wrists and lost her right ear in the attack, she said.

"I still have problems with my wrists. They still bother me because I had surgery on both of them. And my ear, I mean, they could only do so much reconstructive surgery on it. It still looks like an ear that's been chewed off."

Wagner said she feels much safer not having pit bulls in her neighbourhood and her hope is for the province to keep the ban in place.

Darlene Wagner, 73, was attacked by two pit bulls while on the job as a postal worker back in 2004. She says if the province were to lift the ban, she would no longer feel safe walking outside in her neighbourhood. (Darlene Wagner/Facebook)

"I don't want the ban lifted. I really don't — because I don't want to see anybody get hurt. I don't want anybody to go through what I went through because of it," she said.

"I just want Ontario to be safe, and if it means keeping the pit bull ban in place, then keep it in place."

Wagner, now 73, said she has "two little dogs" of her own. If the ban were lifted, she would be scared to walk them "knowing that there could possibly be a pit bull around somewhere."

"If they come back in and and one moves into our neighborhood anywhere, I won't be going out walking with my dog. I won't."

Be a responsible owner, advises pet behaviour expert

Tracy Calsavara, owner and operator of Absolutely Fetching Dog Training in Amherstburg, Ont., said she doesn't believe pit bulls are inherently more dangerous than other dog breeds.

She said her six years of experience in the humane society showed her that animal behaviour can be managed through early education at a young age.

"I would really like the bans lifted. I don't think that we should be focusing on that breed. I'd much rather be focusing on the education — on teaching people how to work with their dogs," said Calsavara.

Tracy Calsavara, owner of Absolutely Fetching Dog Training, wants to see the province lift its pit bull ban. She says the breed isn't inherently more volatile than others and owners just need to be better educated on how to stop pit bulls from being aggressive. (absolutelyfetching.ca)

"If you can get those puppies early and mould them just like children — and you're moulding them early and you're teaching them early, — then we wouldn't have the problems with the biting and aggression.

Calsavara said "a lot of other breeds" display aggressive behaviour, which can be mitigated by owners being more responsible.

"Even when you're getting a dog that is a puppy, you have to be responsible and know what you're doing with that dog. You can't put him in the house and just leave them in the house and they sit there until they're six months old and decide that they're not going to sit there anymore," she said.

If the ban were to be lifted, Calsavara suggested the province should enforce stronger penalties on breeders and owners who "aren't being responsible." She added that people who are nervous about permitting pit bull-ownership simply need to be educated on how to read dogs.

"That's what we do in my class. I point out what means what and when to respect it," she said. "It's not appropriate for your young child to be bouncing on a Rottweiler."

"Do your education before you get the dog."

Keep the ban, says city councillor

If the province does lift the ban, municipalities would have to make the decision to maintain their own bans. Windsor instituted its pit bull ban in 2004 — one year before the provincial government amended the Dog Owners Liability Act to include a pit bull ban.

Ward 6 Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac said she strongly opposes lifting Windsor's ban.

"When you say the province is going to be looking into it, I hope they're looking into doing it very carefully," Gignac said, adding she sat with the licensing commission during the hearings on Windsor's pit bull restriction.

"I heard from both community members who had experienced horrendous interactions with that particular breed, as well as postal workers who were very concerned with the fact that they were having to deliver mail in areas where there were pit bulls."

As part of the hearings, Gignac said she heard from "scores" of pit bull owners and understands that the breed isn't inherently more aggressive than others. Rather, it's how they are trained.

Ward 6 Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac says she's strongly opposed to the province lifting its pit bull ban. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"When I hear that the province is going to review the issue, I'm sure they will look at it in depth and I hope they will be prepared to keep the restriction in place," she said.

Gignac added that there are aspects to pit bulls which warrant a ban, including the difficulty of dislodging a pit bull's teeth from whatever it has attacked.

"There are many issues that the province will occasionally take time to review. I'm hoping that when they do review this, they're going to realize that the danger to the public is something they have to weigh very carefully."

About the Author

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at sanjay.maru@cbc.ca.

with files from Katerina Georgieva and Sameer Chhabra

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