Letter to Montreal City Councillors

muralThe letter below was sent to all Montreal City Councillors on September 23, 2016, on behalf of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada, HugABull, Justice for Bullies, and the Ontario “Pit Bull” Co-op.

September 23, 2016

City councillors
Montréal, Québec

Dear Sir/Madam:

In June of this year, the Dog Legislation Council of Canada offered assistance and experience to Mayor Coderre in drafting an effective animal control bylaw.

Three months later, we find ourselves in the same position again – offering help and hoping for a reasonable and personal reply, rather than an automated computer-generated e-mail response.

We would like to put aside, for the moment, the many arguments against breed-specific legislation such as breed identification problems, behaviour prediction by appearance, mixed breed dogs, and the targeting of purebred dogs, some of which don’t exist in the entire province of Québec.

We would like to focus on one thing only: Breed specific legislation does not work.

It has been proven, over and over again, that breed-specific legislation fails to reduce dog bites and fails to reduce serious injuries or deaths from dog attacks.

It is possible that some city councillors believe that authorities will be able to identify every “pit bull” in Montréal or that “pit bulls” are inherently dangerous or any number of other scientifically disproven theories.

To the citizens of Montréal, to the voters of Montréal, those theories are irrelevant.

The only question they have is, “Are you going to keep us safe?”

The data proves, unequivocally, that breed-specific legislation fails to do that. The experts agree, unanimously, that breed- specific legislation fails to do that.

The experiences of Ontario, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Denver, Ohio, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, and Australia, as well as countless municipalities throughout North America and numerous studies by scientific experts prove that breed-specific legislation costs more money, fails to improve public safety, and kills thousands of unoffending family pets based solely on the way they look.

Finally, a couple of very important closing points:

1. Just in case some city councillors have not read the bylaw in its entirety, there are some clauses that should concern any animal lover, regardless of their position on this subject:

During the transitional phase until special licensing is granted to “pit bulls”, these dogs will be required to be muzzled at all times, including inside their homes and cars. There is no exception for puppies, old dogs, sick dogs, therapy dogs, or service dogs. After the transitional phase, they will be required to be muzzled in their own backyards. There is also no exception after the transitional phase for puppies, old dogs, sick dogs, therapy dogs, or service dogs. Any animal behaviourist will tell you that the negative impact on these dogs will actually create fear and aggression that was not there before.

Every “pit bull” in every shelter or rescue group in Montréal will be required to be destroyed immediately. There is no transfer of ownership allowed so if an owner dies, their dog must be killed. There is no provision for dogs who defend their property, their owner, or themselves. Those dogs must be killed. Any dog that is found without a muzzle/microchip/tag or that it is picked up by animal control for any reason must be killed.

2. We’ve noticed an increase in letters to city councillors from U.S. based anti “pit bull” groups. It can be overwhelming to receive the massive amount of “data” that they send to city officials. It is important to note that these groups consist of a very small number of people who get their data from a single person in the United States. His data has been carefully analyzed and it is the conclusion of analysts and researchers that his data of bites, deaths, and canine population has been highly falsified, is incomplete and incorrect to the point of being unusable, and cannot be relied upon to make any conclusions regarding dog bites and public safety. If you would like more information about that, we would be happy to send it to you. In the meantime, his supporters (even “disciples” would not be too strong a word) inundate thousands of websites and Facebook groups with copies of this data and then distribute it to the general public through journalists such as Lori Welbourne (Vancouver Province), Barbara Kay (National Post), and Marie-Claude Malboeuf (La Presse). The latter’s “investigative reports” have now managed to become a quoted source in the working group report commissioned by the government of Québec and, as such, are going to influence provincial policy decisions, all based on one man’s falsified data in the United States. That alone should worry you enough to, at the very least, delay this decision until you have had the opportunity to verify the data you are being sent.

If you would like any more information about fair and effective animal control legislation that has been proven to reduce dog bites and improve public safety, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

LeeAnn O’Reilly
President
Dog Legislation Council of Canada

Mireille Goulet
Quebec Region Representative
Dog Legislation Council of Canada

Steve Barker
Head of Research
Dog Legislation Council of Canada

April Fahr
Executive Director
HugABull

Chantelle Mackney
Director
Justice For Bullies

Debra Black
Founder
Ontario “Pit Bull” Co-op

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September’s Foster Roster

August kicked off to a great start, with Moxie busting out of boarding and settling into a new foster home. She’s been having an absolute blast with her new foster brother Rowan, but she is still on the hunt for a forever homemoxie. Moxie is full of energy and loves life – she wakes up every morning with her bum wriggling in excitement for the day to begin.

She’s looking for a home where she can enjoy an active lifestyle which could include running, hiking, or even dog sports. Moxie excels in learning new things, is crate trained and adores other dogs – so much so that she can come on a little strong and needs to be coached through calm introductions. Overall Moxie is a one of a kind and would make a wonderful companion for someone who’s looking for an active dog to keep up with them.

Coco is also currently available for adoption. Sweet Coco is a young, energetic dog who is looking for a special someone to show her the ropes.  Coco is still a puppy at heart and needs someone who will continue to work with her on img_20160415_160110her training and leash manners using lots of positive reinforcement.

She tends to be a little on the anxious side, so she would do best in a home with consistency and boundaries so she can continue to build her confidence. One of Coco’s best qualities is her eagerness to learn, and with her awesome personality so we know that with the right home, she will excel and be the best dog she can be.

If you would like to learn more about Moxie or Coco, or how to submit an adoption application please check out our adoptables page or email hugabullfoster@gmail.com.

Moxie is sponsored in loving memory of Jessica Coulter-Brown. A special thank you to Dierdre, Kayla, Helen & Ruth, Sonya & Amanda, Kimberley, Torin and Rita for being Moxie’s HugABull Angels!

If you are interested in sponsoring a dog, please click here for more information.

 

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Media case study – the mastiff mixup

Yesterday in Langley, a dog attack with an especially unfortunate outcome made the news. A loose dog attacked an on-leash dog, then died after being subdued by the leashed dog’s owner. While this wasn’t reported as a “pit bull” attack it does provide another example of the media’s propensity to pin a breed label on a dog early, even when few facts are known.

Initial reports were of a Cane Corso attacking a Labrador. A stock photo of a Cane Corso was sourced.

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Then, perhaps when new information was gleaned, the breed ID stopped appearing so prominently in headlines, but still remained in body copy. The stock photo remained also.

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The dog was eventually identified and found to be a Dogo Argentino. Some ensuing reports used photos that appeared to have been provided by the Dogo owner, and added information based on interviews with him.

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In a Reddit thread by a family member of the victim, the attacked dog was described as a Golden Retriever. So depending on how exacting you want to be, both breeds in the original headlines appear to be incorrect.

A 2013 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association pointed out that a reliable breed identification was only available in 18% of cases they studied (in this case, dog bite related fatalities). They found that media reports did not match other sources of breed data up to 40% of the time.

With this potential for error, we have to question why reporters are so quick to publish these breed guesses. Why not report a dog attack as a “dog” attack? In these stories, more often than not the dog identified as a “pit bull” turns out to be a Rottweiler/Husky  or an American Bulldog or a big old mixed up mutt. And that’s when we have an owner or a DNA test to reference, usually after the initial reports are yesterday’s news. In most cases we never know an offending dog’s parentage.

Is breed really so important to the story that a reporter needs to nail it down right away in the headline, based on unsubstantiated reports by witnesses who may be emotional, traumatized, and certainly not breed identification experts?

Considering that that media gets it wrong more times than not, it seems that the standard should be to refrain from reporting a dog breed unless a reliable source can substantiate it: for example, an owner who knows parentage, vet/animal control records, or a statement from the City’s Animal Services Staff. Given that other circumstances around the attack are probably more relevant, like known risk factors that are identified by reputable studies – this seems to make more sense and be more useful for the community as a whole.

It is time to stop irresponsible reporting when it comes to dog bites. Journalists must take responsibility and stop assuming, speculating, guessing or providing unsubstantiated identification about the breed of the dog involved in an incident. The current practice hurts our communities, it deepens stigma and superstition around certain categories of dogs, and it prevents us from engaging in more productive conversations about dog safety in our community.

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New faces at the HugABull helm

Team HugABull has a few new faces on its leadership team, and while the dust settles on a busy summer, it’s time to introduce them!

apbt club

Lauren and Bronte

But first, a goodbye – Lauren Calbeck has been a part of the HugABull  world since 2008 when she fostered her first dog, Rex. She adopted him and soon after, Bronte, another “failed foster”. She joined the board and became a Director of Foster and Family Placement. In those years she has worked tirelessly to build relationships with local shelters and unite dozens of dogs with loving forever homes. Lauren was offered a job earlier this year with a local shelter and is already proving to be a fantastic resource to the community, but balancing a Board role and a management role is a lot to manage, and she will be stepping down from the Board to focus on her career. She will remain in the community and we look forward to working with her in her new role to help dogs and people.

Christine and Bailey

Christine and Bailey

Taking over her role is Christine Crunican who has been working closely with Lauren over the past two years, and volunteering for many years prior to that. Christine has a substantial background in dog behaviour and management, and  knows the foster/adoption program inside and out.  She will be taking over Lauren’s position on the Board and has been a whirlwind of activity, finding three foster homes in two weeks, all while taking care of an infant son.

Christine will be assisted by Steering Committee member and brand new foster coordinator Kim Federico! Kim has been a familiar face at events and has been our Sponsorship Coordinator for the past year. She is lovely to work with and when

Kim and friend

Kim and friend

she told us that she was looking for more “hands on” experience with the foster dogs, we knew she would be a great right-hand woman for Christine.

Another new addition to the Steering Committee is Genna Thies. Genna has been an active volunteer doing absolutely everything – planning events, staffing events, collecting donations, walking dogs, you name it! She has been our go-to girl and we wanted to take advantage of her creativity and her people skills, so we “promoted” her to Fundraising Coordinator.

A list of our leadership team members is below and on our website. Feel free to touch base at info@hugabull.com if you have any questions about any aspect of our operations, or if you have the time and commitment to take on a Steering Committee role with the organization.

Officers

Shelagh Begg, President
Kathleen Wee, Vice-President/Director of Fundraising
Christine Crunican, Secretary/Treasurer/Director of Foster and Family Placement
April Fahr, Executive Director

 

Steering Committee Members

Kim Federico, Foster coordinator/Sponsorship coordinator
Genna Thies, Fundraising coordinator
Brittnee Van Bruegel, Volunteer Coordinator
Jeff Warner, Events Coordinator
Dave Davies, Special Projects

Genna's dog, Jackson!

Genna’s dog, Jackson!

 

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Montreal – countdown to September 26

montreal mural

Protest mural by Jean Labourdette http://goo.gl/Y1fX2C

On Monday, August 22, the 19 boroughs of Montreal voted to consolidate animal control bylaws, so that when new animal control legislation is voted in on September 26, no single borough will be in a position to challenge it.

The proposed bylaw is endorsed by mayor Denis Coderre and will ban “pit bulls” (defined as American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, any dog with one of those breeds in it, or any dog that looks like one of those breeds) within the city. It places restrictions on all dogs and leaves a clear path to including other dogs on the restricted list:

  • Pit bulls are banned unless owner has special licence, only available up to December 31, 2016. No new pit bulls after that time will be allowed in the city and no pit bulls not licensed in Montreal. This will include visiting dogs.
  • Existing pit bulls must have special (more expensive) licence, be vaccinated against rabies, be sterilized, be microchipped, wear a muzzle and 4-foot leash outside, be behind a 6.5-foot fence and muzzled on own property, be owned and walked by someone over 18, be owned by someone who has no criminal record, especially any related to violence (but not limited to those), must always wear its special licence tag. Violation of any of the above will result in the immediate destruction of the dog.
  • ALL dogs must be microchipped and sterilized by December 31, 2019 unless you can provide a medical note from a vet or unless you have a “breeding dog” (not defined)
  • A limit of four pets, only two of which can be dogs, will be imposed. There is no grandfathering option imposed for those who currently have more than two dogs, so presumably they will have to choose which ones to keep and which ones to get rid of.
  • Permission granted for the Executive Committee to add other breeds as they see fit.

Thank you to Steve Barker of DLCC for the translation and summary. Full document can be downloaded here.

It appears that Mayor Coderre and some key policy makers have made up their mind on the breed ban, expressing their clear and unequivocal support and declining to answer specific questions on Monday. The final vote will take place on September 26.

From Monday's protest in City Hall.

From Monday’s protest in City Hall.

There is similar talk happening about a breed ban at the provincial level as well, but the Montreal vote is more imminent and will likely set the stage for the conversations to take place provincially.

We urge you to take this window of time to take action, especially if you have a connection to Montreal or Quebec. The mayor and official opposition can be emailed through the Ville de Montreal website, and a complete list of Montreal city councillors is available here.

A few other useful links…

Petition Sites

Montreal SPCA: saferkindercommunities.com
Boycott Montreal Tourism: http://goo.gl/F53ygW

 Facebook
Tourism Montreal
City of Montreal
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre
Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard

Twitter
Montreal Tourism: @Montreal
City of Montreal: @MTL_Ville
Phillippe Couillard: @phcouillard
Denis Coderre: @DenisCoderre

Please keep it civil – while the issue is an emotional one, this is no time for strong language or abusive content. You can certainly speak from the heart or simply tell them that BSL is a bad idea for everyone in the province. You can also share any and all of the following.

  • Specific ways that BSL doesn’t work: http://hugabull.com/bsl/
  • Let them know you personally pledge never to travel to Quebec/Montreal and spend tourism or other dollars there.
  • If this legislation passes, let them know you will contribute to a legal defense fund for those within the province to fight this legislation at every possible level of the justice system. Groups in Western Canada are working together to set up this fund so that crowdfunding can begin the moment the new legislation is passed.

If you have any updates, social media handles, or tips to add to the above, please email us at info@hugabull.com.

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A dog’s fate in Montreal

Rocky, currently for adoption through a Montreal rescue.

Rocky, currently for adoption through a Montreal rescue.

In Montreal tonight, Canada’s second largest city will vote on whether to proceed with a proposed ban on pit bulls. The entire province of Quebec has announced they will be pursuing similar measures. Advocates in Quebec will be protesting, and are circulating petitions:

Montreal SPCA: saferkindercommunities.com
Boycott Montreal Tourism: http://goo.gl/F53ygW

Breed bans are ineffective, inhumane, and they are plain old bad policy. Based on our experience with the Province of Ontario, here’s what we see, and foresee, happening:

As talks of legislation escalate, people start to worry. If someone was already on the fence about keeping their pit bull type dog, this will push them to make a decision, and shelters will start seeing more of them. At the same time adoptions will decrease because even in this window of time where the dog might be legal, most adoptive families aren’t going to sign up for a host of restrictions on their family dog for the next 10-15 years. An increase in abandonments was noted a few months ago  in Quebec (due to a number of factors but it’s reasonable to assume that the proposed legislation was among them). We have also been contacted by a number of shelters directly looking for options for the dogs in their care.

The legislation allows irrational fears to take seed and grow. Pit bull owners have been experiencing verbal abuse and much worse, including attempts on their dogs’ lives. Businesses and landlords have started to restrict opportunities for families with blocky-headed dogs because of fear or concern for liability.

Ontario puppy labelled a "pit bull" cross. We don't know its fate.

Ontario puppy labelled a “pit bull” cross. We don’t know its fate.

Many shelters and animal control departments will begin euthanizing blocky-headed dogs. They may do so because they don’t have the resources for re-homing, or because someone in management is on board with the legislation and wishes to see it to its natural conclusion. Now, keep in mind that most dogs in our communities are mixed breed, and the ability of even trained professionals to identify breed visually is abysmal. This has been shown in academic studies, and in the many cases brought before the courts in Ontario. So inevitably, pit bull breeds will be euthanized – but so will mastiff crosses, boxer crosses, lab crosses, and many others. If a dog is reported as a suspected pit bull at any point, or if an official declares that it’s coat is short enough and head is wide enough to fit the description of the breed, it’s a death sentence.

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Hugo, brought from Ontario through HugABull and Bullies in Need.

Some shelters and groups will find ways to send dogs out of the Province. This has been able to happen in Ontario thanks to partnerships across Canada. We participate in this system out of compassion for the dogs, but it not a solution:

  • The resources involved in cross-border adoptions are immense. With restrictions in the home province and with many airlines, it is expensive and logistically difficult to ship a dog out. If the province of Quebec adopts legislation similar to Ontario, this means that a good chunk of the country will be off-limits for dogs to travel through.
  • Cross-border adoptions rely on the non-enforcement or civil disobedience on behalf of the rescue and foster home. Because of the logistics involved, these dogs are often in foster care for months. Some parts of Ontario, like Ottawa, have openly stated that they don’t enforce the breed bans, so a foster home may feel safer there. For now. Others simply take chances for the sake of the dog, risking their own safety and well-being since the law allows police officers to enter your home and seize your dog if a suspected pit bull lives there.
  • Streets was abused by her owner, but she was considered the dangerous breed in Ontario. She was relocated to BC by HugABull and Bullies in Need.

    Streets was abused by her owner, but she was considered the dangerous breed in Ontario. She was relocated to BC by HugABull and Bullies in Need.

    Only the very best dogs get saved. Because of all the factors above, the rescues participating in this “underground railroad” can’t afford to take dogs with behaviour problems. A reactive or noisy dog will attract attention of neighbours. A dog that needs training or boarding will probably not be serviced by local businesses. Think about the dogs in your life and how many of them are perfect, or were perfect at the time they were placed in your home. Not many, right? Imagine them as a pit bull in Montreal in a few months, and they will die because of their poor leash manners or separation anxiety.

  • Rescues in the receiving province need to commit to a dog sight-unseen. When we commit to an Ontario dog, we are providing them a spot and allocating donation dollars that could be given – and could probably do more for – a BC dog. This is a constant ethical battle for us, because in some cases both dogs face death if we can’t take them.

Ten years after the breed ban in Ontario, there is no shortage of “pit bull” breeds there. We are contacted regularly by shelters and the rescues working in Ontario who are caring for dogs that need out. We are currently supporting the efforts of Bullies In Need to free the Chatham 21 dogs who have been impounded in concrete kennels, at the cost of the taxpayer, for nearly a year.

Monkey, currently up for adoption in Montreal.

Monkey, currently up for adoption in Montreal.

Our foster program is full now, and we are just barely breaking even on vet bills. The other reputable bully breed rescues in BC are in a similar position. Once the Quebec legislation passes, we will help if we can, but at most we are talking about a handful of dogs over the next year. The will is there to help, but the resources simply won’t be.

The legislation is a crime, and it will absolutely result in the death of dogs and puppies. Please speak up against it now, while there is a sliver of a chance that it can be reconsidered. Sign and share the petitions, stay informed about what is going on, and mobilize anyone you might know in the Province of Quebec. Write to government officials and to tourism organizations.

If this legislation passes, we will be working with other advocacy groups to step up the boycott campaign, and to invest in a legal defense fund. Please stay tuned and be ready to provide your support. While the US is moving towards mandatory breed-neutral legislation in almost half of its states, Canada is moving backwards. We will need every voice and we can’t afford to be complacent.

Petition links (again):
Montreal SPCA: saferkindercommunities.com
Boycott Montreal Tourism: http://goo.gl/F53ygW

If you would like to donate to anti-BSL efforts, use our donation page and indicate that you would like your donation directed this way.

Donate

 

 

 

 

 

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Be a part of our 2017 calendar

10957719_1023098057711915_3807010991286697025_oWe are putting together our 2017 calendar and it’s going to be a good one. This year’s theme is exceptional and very different from anything we’ve done before, thanks to the creative talents of Sit Stay Studio. We can’t wait to share it with you!

We hope you will choose to be a part of it, and we are officially opening up “mini-headshot” opportunities. For your donation of $25 or more, you can submit a photo of your pet that will appear in the bottom portion of our calendar. Any species of pet can be included, so show off your kitty or ferret or small furry cutie! If you own a business, a medium or large space can be used to place an ad.

Proceeds from mini-headshot sales cover our printing and shipping expenses, allowing 100% of sale revenues to be directed towards the dogs in our program. These donations are tax-receiptable – just provide us with your full name and mailing address and indicate that you would like a receipt mailed to you.

A $25 donation will reserve you a 2.5 x 2.5 inch space (small)
$45 donation – 5 x 5 inch space (medium)
A $65 donation – 7.5 X 5 inch space (large).

See below for an example of relative size and placement.

Interested? Here’s how to get your pet on the VIP list:

1. Email HugabullFundraising@gmail.com to reserve a spot. Indicate the size of headshot you want, and your pet’s name.

2. Send the photo to HugabullFundraising@gmail.com. High resolution photos are ideal (at least 1MB in size). Ensure the photo is cropped (or able to be cropped) into the space available. Close-up portraits often work well.

2. Provide payment.  Use the link below to pay by credit card/PayPal, or send an email money transfer to info@hugabull.com. If you wish to pay by cash or cheque, send us an email and we can arrange for pick-up or drop-off.

Payment and photo must be received by Monday, September 5 to secure your space in the calendar. Email HugabullFundraising@gmail.com with any questions. We look forward to another year of gorgeous close-ups!

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PAYPAL LINK


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Remembering Jessica, Patron of the Pitties

IMG_3465Last week, we heard that Jessica Coulter-Brown, one of our devoted community members, had passed away from pancreatic cancer. There are no words to express our devastation. Jessica was truly someone who made the world a better, happier, kinder place.

If you ever attended a HugABull event, or applied to adopt a HugABull dog – or did anything with HugABull, really – your life probably intersected with Jessica’s, even if you didn’t know it. She has been an active member of the community for a decade and in every capacity you can name. In preparing to write this post, we searched the HugABull email accounts, looking for photos and special stories about her.

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Bunny, Sage, and Ava, one of Jessica’s many fosters.

We found many. We also found countless emails along these lines:
“Hey Jess, we just had a puppy come into the shelter and there’s nowhere for it to go…”
To which she would respond asking when and where we’d like him to be picked up.

We found PayPal receipts for every major donation drive or fundraising campaign we’d organized over the years.

We found RSVPs to events and group walks, despite the fact that Jess lived in Squamish and had to drive an hour each way. The last time we saw her personally was close to midnight at our Fortune Sound club event last November. She had come by to say hello after her night shift, choosing to come support our event rather than heading to her comfy bed that surely beckoned.

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Bunny, when we first met her in 2007.

She marched in the Pride Parade. She did homechecks. She supported new adopters. And she was a poster child for responsible pet ownership. She had two bully mixes, Bunny, adopted through HugABull in 2006, and Sage, adopted through the SPCA with HugABull’s support in 2008. Both were dogs that needed help. Bunny had an advanced case of mange and Sage was from an SPCA seizure involving a momma dog and Sage’s littermates. Jessica offered both of them a place to heal and thrive, and both are healthy, happy, exceptionally well-trained dogs today.

Bunny today.

Bunny today.

Jessica was active, happy, and giving. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that her boundless positive energy is no longer with us. We have all been under a cloud of grief since we heard the news. When we sent a message to her husband, Paul, he told us that her instructions to friends and family were to direct donations to HugABull in lieu of flowers. This last gesture moved us to tears – it shows the capacity of this woman’s heart, right up to the end.

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Jessica and baby Sage.

There’s no question that Jess will be missed and mourned by family and friends, and by all of us on a personal level. She was a joy to be around. We will always remember her, and she will always be part of our organization. Working with this breed can mean facing negativity and stigma, and the only way to respond is from a place of love. Jessica exemplified this, nurturing individual animals in need and supporting positive education and advocacy at the same time. That love will live on forever – in our hearts, and in every family that she helped make whole.

Her life was too short but she made a difference to many. May we all be fortunate enough to do that.

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Jess and foster dog Rosie.

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Sense and Sensationalism

cbc screenshotAs we know, talk of breed bans in Quebec and recent dog attacks have fed media fires over the last week. In our last blog post we explored how “pit bull attacks” are covered differently from attacks by other breeds, a phenomenon that many of us are familiar with.

Yesterday we were able to watch the progress of what seemed to be a manufactured “controversy” story across CBC media outlets. Read/listen for yourself and tell us what you think.

The morning of Monday, June 27, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner joined Rick Cluff on the CBC Radio’s Early Edition (interview at 1:41:08). When asked about her response to recent dog attacks in the city, she said that she didn’t feel that bites were an “overriding problem”. However, she did intend to talk to City Council at that night’s meeting and recommend taking a closer look at the bylaw and convening an informed panel to see if it could be “strengthened and tightened”. Perfectly reasonable, right?

Several times, Mr. Cluff directed the conversation to “is it the owner or the breed?” or “pit bulls have a bad reputation”. Mayor Hepner gave balanced, reasonable answers each time, even though she indicated that she herself has mixed feelings about the breed (hey, that’s her prerogative; kudos to her for not letting it interfere with responsible policy making).

In her interview, Mayor Hepner said that she’s inclined to think that laws targeting owner behaviour will be more effective than breed-specific ones. She said that in the past, various breeds have been targeted and this changes with time. She said that if you start by banning pit bulls, another breed will become a problem and you’ll have to keep adding to the list. She also noted that Ontario’s ban hasn’t been effective.

It was not a bad interview. Yet when it was written up for the website, this is the headline they used:

Surrey to consider pit bull ban after latest attack. 

Wait….what? At no time did Hepner suggest that restrictions, let alone a ban, were being considered. While the article includes direct quotes from the interview, the overall message was that breed specific measures were on the table at that night’s City Council meeting.

This concerned us, of course. We visited the City of Surrey website and found no mention of animal control matters on the agenda. We called the city councillor’s office and were told that the dog matter was going to be a brief mention in a very full agenda.

Around 5pm, we received a call from CBC asking if we would be available for an in-person interview on the proposed breed restrictions and “concerns about recent pit bull attacks” in Surrey. We declined, as there was nothing, to our knowledge, to comment on. But we agreed to do a telephone interview following the Surrey Council meeting.

During the meeting, Mayor Hepner asked for Council’s support in bringing together a committee of experts to review the current bylaw. The Council voted in support of this. There was no mention of breed. There was no discussion. That was the end of it. On to the next item in the agenda.

CBC did not call us for that telephone interview. If they had, we would have told them that consulting experts to create evidence-based, common-sense legislation was a GREAT idea. But apparently, that doesn’t measure up as a news story.

 

 

 

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When other breeds bite

13552705_10157174258830249_1394094018_nHave you ever noticed that when there’s one “pit bull” story in the media, there are always two or three more that follow? Then the news outlets start reporting on this supposed epidemic, and talk of breed bans begins, with talk radio lines lighting up. It’s the same cycle, 30 years and counting.

Dog bites happen every day. Not because dogs are inherently aggressive, but because there are a lot of them in BC, and a small percentage of them will bite. Even a very small percentage of a large population will result in several instances to note.

Of these bites, some will be by pit bulls. They are in the population, so they will be represented in bite statistics. We can’t ignore the fact that some are from less-than-stellar breeders and living with less-than-stellar owners where they aren’t set up for success. The bottom line? If you go out looking for pit bull bites, and especially if you are generous in your definition of a “pit bull”, you will find them.

We sure heard about them this week.

On Monday, a woman was severely attacked by a large dog outside a convenience store in Surrey. Breed ID of “pit bull” was made by witnesses and this was reported by many media outlets.

The dog was eventually located by Animal Control and destroyed. No further breed ID has been released publicly. CBC featured a quote from the mayor stating that the dog was “supposed to be muzzled” which may indicate that the dog had past behaviour problems.

Within days, the media had located another “pit bull attack” as breaking news. This was to a small Pomeranian puppy. The owners of the puppy were understandably distraught, but the actual damage was minimal considering the size difference between the two dogs – a $400 vet bill for an extracted tooth was noted. In the news segment, the dog appeared to have no cuts or punctures, with no bandage or even a cone. While this was traumatizing to the family and should not have happened, we would argue that this is not “breaking news”. Dog altercations of this magnitude do happen on a regular basis.

Then there was an attack in Vancouver. The media was on site a few minutes after the victim left, zooming in on a blood-splattered sidewalk. They were responsible enough not to name a breed on site, but most reporting lumped this incident with other “pit bull” attacks and certainly caused people to wonder.

These incidences have been reported ad nauseum to fuel a week-long “pit bull debate” this week. It coincided with Quebec introducing various levels of breed-specific legislation following a death by “pit bull” in the province. This is the third dog-related fatality in 2016 in Canada, but the only one involving a pit bull. In fact, it’s the only death by a pit bull since 1995. Yet this single case has inspired overnight breed bans and provided media controversy gold.

But what else happened that week? Statistically, over 100 people were bitten by dogs in BC. Maybe a couple of hundred, depending on how closely our bite rates compare with studies in the US. Twenty, thirty, maybe more required hospital treatment. But we didn’t hear about them because they were dealt with as a private matter. Animal Control may not have been notified, and the media certainly weren’t.

But let’s be fair. This month, the media DID report on some serious bites by other breeds:

A young girl was bitten on the face by an Akita mix in Central Alberta at the beginning of June. It made the news when the parents learned that the dog had a bite history, and they made their story public to advocate for stricter enforcement. Note that the breed of dog is incidental here – the focus is on his past behaviour and the context in which the bite occurred.

Then there was this story in a local community paper. On June 17, a boy was attacked by a loose German Shepherd in Maple Ridge. Again, this wasn’t reported simply because the dog attacked. It became a story when the parent had a complaint about how the reported event was handled.

Or this one, which is pretty upsetting. This bite was from back in May but was reported recently. An Olde English Bulldog badly injured two young girls in Alberta. Despite the magnitude of the injury, this did not receive the same widespread coverage at the time of the event. Once again, the breed of dog was incidental and the story is focused around the dog being a repeat offender and whether this could have been prevented through better regulation.

All three of these incidents are worthy of public discourse if we are really concerned about regulation of dangerous dogs. But when a breed not perceived as a “pit bull” was involved, we see the following;

  • little to no reporting at the time the incident occurred (contrast this to cameras gathered at the Mac’s convenience store or photographing blood spatters in South Vancouver).
  • the “news” item is not that a dog attack occurred, but because a failure of enforcement or regulation was perceived.
  • breed is incidental to the story. It is reported as a “dog attack” with no speculation as to whether its breed was a factor in its aggression.

What if every dog attack was a “dog attack”? Could we then look at stories and see common factors like past history of aggression, quality of ownership, dogs running at large, and the vulnerability of children? That conversation doesn’t have the adrenaline-pumping, click-generating power of the “breed ban debate” but it just might lead to measures that actually keep us safer.


Note: statistics and links are the best sources available to the author at this time. If a better source is identified, please contact info@hugabull.com

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