Montreal is bucking a North American trend by enacting an ordinance that bans “pit bull” and “pit bull type” dogs within city limits, setting the stage for the possible euthanasia of hundreds of dogs who’ve done nothing wrong and are targeted solely because of how they look. Most jurisdictions with similar bans, whether cities, counties, states, or provinces, have repealed them over time as unworkable, since there’s no breed known as a “pit bull” and so many dogs are mixed breeds and it’s impossible to determine their lineage.
By a vote of 37 to 23, in the wake of the fatal and tragic mauling of 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, Montreal adopted its ban this week. Under the new law, among other regulations, it will be illegal to acquire a pit bull or a pit bull mix starting Monday, October 3. Those who already have pit bulls or pit bull mixes would have to get a special license pending criminal background checks, and would be required to muzzle their dogs in public and keep them on a four-foot leash at all times.
Quebec is considering a province-wide policy. Ontario, the largest of Canada’s provinces by population, also has a breed-specific ordinance targeting pit bulls.
Breed bans typically follow tragic incidents, where policy makers struggle to deal with the grief and pain of families that have suffered an injury or, in the worst of cases, a loss of life. Tragic cases, however, don’t necessarily translate into good law. The dog who took Ms. Vadnais’s life was unneutered and unlicensed, and had attacked someone on a prior occasion (reports suggest there may have been others). The city did not intervene or enforce the dangerous dog bylaws that it already has on the books. In fact, the city did not take any action to seize the animal, have him evaluated, or impose restrictions, although the existing statutes allowed for those remedies. The HSUS and Humane Society International support the adoption of dangerous dog laws, and urge their vigorous enforcement, allowing authorities to identify animals of any type that exhibit menacing or dangerous behavior.
Ironically, there’s been no consensus on the breed of the dog involved in the attack. Evidence suggests he was a mixed breed dog and our HSI/Canada team found out that he had actually been registered in his early years as a “boxer.” Also, to put things in perspective, there have been six cases of humans killed by dogs in the past 30 years in Quebec province, including this latest case in Montreal. Not a single one of those other cases involved a pit bull or a pit bull mix.
HSI/Canada has been campaigning for months against breed-specific legislation in Quebec. The Montreal SPCA, which we’ve partnered with, took a strong stand against the ban and has pledged to end the animal control contracts they have with the city and other municipalities if they are required to enforce the ban. The group courageously filed an injunction immediately after the vote on Tuesday.
We are also making sure our voice is heard in current ongoing discussions in Quebec for a complete ban on pit bull-type dogs across the province. We’ve been disappointed to see People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals endorse this Montreal ordinance and adopt an anti-pit bull mindset. Not only do The HSUS and HSI have long-standing anti-breed-specific policies, but so do so many other major organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Obama has also opposed such policies.
It is wrong headed for community leaders in Quebec province and the otherwise progressive city of Montreal to fall prey to fear-mongering and hysteria. Even if lawmakers see the light eventually and the ban is overturned, it would be too late for many animals in shelters who could die as a result of this new law.