BSL and the rights of the human animal

By Chantelle Mackney, Justice for Bullies, and April Fahr, HugABull.

“I don’t get what the big deal is. People choose to get those kinds of dogs. So what if they have to muzzle them? Isn’t that a small price to pay?”

“Muzzling/leashing/spay & neuter are things you should be doing anyway…why does it matter if you are required to do them because of breed-specific laws?”

Have you ever heard comments along these lines, sometimes even from people who claim to be allies? Statements like these lead us to believe that many people are unaware of what breed specific legislation really is, and how many areas of our everyday lives it can effect.

You vote for government trusting that they will make sound, evidence-based decisions and that they will be your voice. But as we’ve seen in Montreal, change can happen in a flash. In the course of a few months, the government decides they do not trust your ability to be a responsible pet owner based on no other information than your pet’s shape and size.

You are no longer free to love the dog of your choice. You are free to love a dog that our elected officials approve of, or love your dog with blanket conditions that apply to every dog that looks like yours whether they are a puppy, a therapy dog, a couch potato, or a senior with no teeth.

In most communities, dogs get at least one “strike” for behaviour before the law steps in to tell you how you must manage your pet. BSL means that we live with one or two strikes under our belt, even when our dog has done absolutely nothing wrong.

We already live with preconceptions and stigma that we are working every day to change. Every time BSL is passed, it reinforces the mythology that only some dogs are a risk and if we can make a small group of pet owners suffer, we will somehow be safe. It gives businesses, landlords, and others justification for passing their own breed restrictions on levels that affect even more aspects of our lives.

This is happening all across the world right now. Our elected officials are placing restrictions on our lives due to the shape of the dogs in our home. These restrictions take away our rights to make informed decisions on which pet we want to share our home with, how we wish to raise our pet, where we wish to live/work/go to school/travel, how we want to use parks and facilities our tax dollars pay for, and how we wish to live our everyday lives. These restrictions and or bans can be found in towns, cities, provinces, condo boards, private communities, military bases, campgrounds, and airplane carriers. Those who serve in our military are told every single day that they are capable of fighting to keep our countries safe, but are not capable of being responsible pet owners and managing their pet dog.

Breed specific legislation rules your life if you have a dog that is targeted by it.

People may be under the impression that BSL simply limits the dog’s rights and freedoms. That leashes and muzzles are “no big deal” or “ a small price to pay” . But in reality, it affects basic human and property rights. Your rights as pet owners, renters, property owners, taxpaying citizens and electors are stripped from you – not because of anything you’ve done or any real risk to anyone else – but because of the shape of the dog in your home.

 

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Does your home insurance protect or discriminate?

For those of us concerned about breed-specific legislation (BSL), finding housing requires extra steps and research. You need to scrutinize your city’s bylaws as well as any strata bylaws or rental policies that might affect you.

Once you’ve found a home where your entire family is welcome, do you know that the same level of research is required when procuring home insurance? Unfortunately, many companies have breed and other exclusions in their policies. What’s more, it can be very difficult to pin down exactly what these mean to you.

We began researching insurance policies with the intent of providing an easy reference guide for dog owners looking for insurance providers. You’d think it would be a matter of calling an insurance representative and getting a simple answer to the questions “do you have breed exclusions in any of your home insurance policies?” and “what is the nature of these exclusions?”

It’s definitely not! We found that most policy advisors are not well versed on breed exclusions that exist. Some were not sure if breed was an issue at all; if it was, no one we spoke to could readily answer questions like how the breed of dog was to be determined in case of a claim, and how mixed breeds would be treated. We also got the impression that advisors may not be proactive in asking detailed questions about family pets – and people assume if they are not asked, the breed is not a consideration.

As far as we can tell, breed restrictions only apply with respect to liability coverage for something dog-related. So if your house burns down it shouldn’t matter what breed your dog is, which is a relief. But if there is an accident or injury caused by your dog, and you are insured with a company that has breed exclusions, your liability insurance may not cover this.

You may be tempted to think this doesn’t affect you if you have a friendly dog. “My dog would never bite anyone!” What if your friendly dog knocks someone over and they sprain an ankle? What if another dog starts a fight and your dog is blamed for responding? What if your dog is blamed for something a similar-looking dog did? This last scenerio may seem far-fetched but we know of this happening, and legal fees may be involved to exonerate you and your dog.

The following companies, at the time we did our research, appear to be breed-neutral:

  • Wawanesa Insurance
  • Intact Insurance
  • Optimum West Insurance Company
  • Aviva Canada
  • CNS
  • Travelers Canada
  • Family Insurance Solutions

In other conversations, we were told that companies like The Cooperators and BCAA, will insure all breeds but only under specific circumstances. They will ask questions if they learn that certain breeds – including pit bull breeds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Akitas – are in the home. They will be looking for any sign that the dog is a guard dog, has an aggression history, or poses a bite risk.

Also – and this surprised us – these companies may consider a dog to be aggressive if local bylaws deem it to be so. That means that your well-trained, family pet won’t be a problem when insuring your home in Vancouver, but if you moved to Burnaby (a city with BSL) the insurance company may now consider that same dog to be aggressive.

Some insurance companies exclude certain breeds altogether. A rep at Westland Insurance told us pit bulls and Rottweilers are excluded entirely. A Global article from 2012 listed Canadian Direct, Allstate, Scotiabank, and Alberta Motor Association as companies that won’t insure certain breeds of dogs. We have attempted to reach out to these companies but have not received a response.

Breed issues aside, did you know that owning more than two dogs might be considered an additional risk? The insurance company may consider it additional liability and this can affect your coverage.

We will continue to research this topic and provide updates. In the meantime, if you are purchasing or renewing your insurance policy, we recommend asking your advisor directly whether there are any restrictions based on the type or number of dogs you own. If they respond immediately and confidently that they are breed-neutral, that’s good news. For full peace of mind you may want to record the date, time, and name of the rep you spoke to, or ask them to confirm via email. And when you receive the actual policy, take another look at any pet-related sections to ensure nothing was missed.

If your representative can’t provide you with a satisfactory answer, or they require more information based on your dog’s breed or perceived breed, ensure that everything is documented. Perhaps ask them to send their questions by email so that you have a paper trail of your responses should it be an issue down the road.

Liability insurance is important, and you are paying for it. We feel that every consumer should be aware of what they are buying – and if you don’t own a targeted breed you can still choose to support companies that implement evidence-based, breed-neutral policies.

Please note
This research was done by volunteers as a public service, over the course of several months. It is focused on companies serving BC at this time, as that is where we are based. We strive to provide correct information but cannot guarantee it due to changing policies and human error. If you have any information that contradicts or adds to the above article, please contact us at info@dogbitefacts.org. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Negative media: clicks and dirty tricks

By Chantelle Mackney, Justice for Bullies, and April Fahr, HugABull.

When it comes to media coverage of dog attacks, we are all aware that things quickly become sensationalized and devolve into emotional conversations about breed. Reporters rush to publish their articles before deadline, pulling shocking statistics from online sources or interviewing pro-BSL advocates to create a tried-and-true story format that will generate clicks.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 2.19.38 PMAnd then there’s the inevitable “Op-Eds”  by luminaries like Barbara Kay, Lori Welbourne, and Bill Tieleman who LOVE publishing “ban pit bulls now” pieces and revelling in the outrage that ensues. Their host publications (National Post, The Province, The Tyee, and 24 Hours Vancouver) receive all the clicks with none of the accountability for content because it’s an “opinion” piece.

When we see these articles we are understandably outraged because they are wrong and contain clear misinformation. Followers will often post them to our pages or to discussion groups, encouraging people to speak up. But is doing so a good use of our time, or are we simply giving these articles more reach?

We all want to jump in and defend our cause, show our support, provide factual information and put these people in their places, so to speak. Many of us started our advocacy efforts by doing these things and entering the fray of online comment sections, but we found that these efforts were pointless and not the best use of our time.

These articles are created to get a response from us. They are created to polarize people and create anger. The authors want those clicks and comments; they want us to act out and become the stereotypes they created for us. Kay and Tieleman have both published articles recounting the abusive responses they receive to their columns, placing themselves as the victims and the “pit bull advocates” as irrational, abusive rednecks.

These articles also draw “trolls“* . There are a couple of pro-BSL groups that share any “pit bull” or BSL articles so that their followers can flood the comment sections. If you click through the comments on a BSL article in your local paper you’ll see many of the most prolific commenters are from people in the US. It’s easy to set up a Google News Alert for “pit bull” or “breed specific legislation” and fill up comment sections in their spare time. They may also use “bots”** to do this.

An example of the high-level insights you'll find on comment threads.

An example of the high-level insights you’ll find on comment threads.

The newspapers that publish these articles could not care less if they are receiving negative or positive responses and or views from the population. All they care about is numbers, because numbers drive advertising revenue. They could not care less what is mentioned in the threads of these comments, nor do they care about the damage these articles do. “Pit bull” headlines sell and that is all that matters to them.

Our advice? Stay out of the comments sections. No one is there to learn – if they are wading through the hundreds of posts, it’s because they enjoy drama or they already have a polarized opinion of their own.

Instead of spending your time with drama and negativity, think about other ways you can actually help people become more informed and think critically. Is it worth your time addressing or even thinking about some inflammatory article that will be tomorrow’s compost bin liner? Instead of adding to the thousands of clicks and comments, is there something else you can do? Perhaps you can find a balanced article and post that to your social media instead, encouraging intelligent discussion. Or send a letter to a city councillor, policy maker, or political candidate asking about their stance on these issues. Or spend time volunteering with a shelter or educational organization!

If you do feel strongly about addressing a negative article on social media, you can do so by naming the article and quoting short pieces of it without providing a link. If someone is interested enough they can find it, but you aren’t providing clicks and shares to the original media outlet.

If it is a news article with clear inaccuracies, it’s appropriate to send a polite and focused email to the reporter. If it’s an Op-Ed, you can try writing to the publication but we’ve found that with people like Welbourne, Tieleman, and Kay, they make a living from being inflammatory and aren’t receptive. You can contact the editor and/or advertisers at the papers that provide them with column space though. For more information on how to respond to media, visit DogBiteFacts.org and click on “Media” or “Resources > Communications Templates”.

Keep up the great advocacy work, but spend your time wisely and don’t contribute to hype!

—-

*people who start arguments on the Internet or upset people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off topic messages to an online community deliberately trying to provoke a negative emotional response from others.

**in this context, a software application that searches phrases or terms and automatically posts repetitive and malicious information.

Photo by Eirick Solheim via Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo by Eirick Solheim via Flickr/Creative Commons

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Rescuing a banned breed – Sit With Me’s story

Ronda, adoptable through Sit With Me.

Ronda, adoptable through Sit With Me.

People across the world have their eyes on Quebec as legislators debate Bill 128, which will ban “pit bulls”, Rottweilers, and mixes of those breeds. People are understandably outraged and people have been showing solidarity against breed discrimination across the country and around the world.

However, while speaking out against the developments in Quebec, it’s important to remember and support our colleagues in Ontario, where a provincial breed ban has been in place for 12 years. While the intent of the ban was to eliminate the population of pit bull type dogs, they are still common in shelters. People continue to breed them and bring them into the province where they are later surrendered, found as strays, or seized. And as long as there are stocky, short-haired dogs in the population there will always be mixed breed dogs that show up in the shelter and risk being branded with the “p” word.

Jolene, adoptable through Sit With Me.

Jolene, adoptable through Sit With Me.

What is the fate of these dogs? We know that several rescues work hard to give these restricted dogs a chance, and we spoke to Tanya Beauchemin of Sit With Me Dog Rescue to find out what rescue looks like within the confines of North America’s largest breed ban.

Tanya operates out of Ottawa, where the City has announced publicly that they have no interest in enforcing the breed ban, presumably because it ties up resources chasing down and evaluating dogs based on physical appearance alone. That leads some people to think that Ottawa is a free zone where you can own a pit bull type dog with impunity. Tanya struggles with this perception and warns that it’s much more complicated.

“The City of Ottawa states on its website that it doesn’t enforce the pit bull portion of the Dog Owner’s Liability Act (DOLA) but that doesn’t make it a breed-neutral city. Animal Control Officers will still instruct people to muzzle a pit bull type dog. They won’t harass you on the street about your dog’s breed if you are minding your own business, but if there is a complaint about your dog’s behaviour, they will respond a lot more quickly if a restricted dog is involved.

“People may feel comfortable bringing in their bully type dog and things might be okay for months or years. But if they can’t keep that dog – which could happen because of personal reasons or other forms of BSL, like housing issues – they have very limited options.”

Azura, adoptable through Sit With Me.

Azura, adoptable through Sit With Me.

Private re-homing is not easy and it’s a legal grey area, even within Ottawa. BSL underscores existing stereotypes and people use it to justify discrimination in housing and elsewhere, so there are plenty of places your blocky-headed dog won’t be welcome. Even if you own your own home, and have peace with your neighbours, what if you have to move or travel? DOLA allows a peace officer to stop you and seize your dog if they judge it to be “substantially similar” to one of the named breeds.

So if you bring a “pit bull” into Ottawa and can’t keep the dog, re-homing is going to be a massive challenge. The Ottawa shelters do not wish to euthanize healthy dogs and work hard to find other options, partnering with groups like Sit With Me whenever possible. Tanya says she receives calls every week about bully breeds in the shelter, and Sit With Me works tirelessly to move as many as she can into rescue. At this time many Quebec families foster and/or adopt these Ontario refugees, but we might see that change if a ban is adopted there. In that case, rescues will need financial, transport, and adoptive support to minimize the number of good dogs that die because of this legislation.

Layla, adoptable through Sit With Me.

Layla, adoptable through Sit With Me.

Keep in mind also that Ottawa’s non-enforcement status is a policy, not a law. A change in government or leadership (or a well-publicized “pit bull” incident) could change the status quo very quickly. And it is only one community in a very large province. The fate of pit bull type dogs will vary enormously from city to city. Some have a looser version of Ottawa’s policy, because enforcing BSL is a waste of resources. Some do actively enforce the ban and seize dogs based on visual appearance. Some release dogs to rescue. Some don’t, and there’s no question that “substantially similar” dogs of all sizes, shapes, and ages are being killed across the province. There are rescues doing their best to help, but every dog in their care is a massive expense (consider the transport logistics alone) and they can only do so much.

Please support all efforts to reverse and reject breed bans. If you wish to help a “death row dog” there is no need to look beyond our borders. Here are just a few ways you can help:

Support efforts to repeal Ontario’s BSL and resist Bill 128 in Quebec:

Looking to help an Ontario dog directly?

And continue to educate others. Remind them that Ontario is still in the throes of a breed ban, dogs die there, and bite rates have gone up in the last 12 years. If you know people who live there, encourage them write to their MPs and vote wisely in the upcoming election.

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Living with BSL – Lori’s Perspective

loris dogAs part of our #BSLbytes campaign, we asked people to share their personal experiences and insights about BSL. Lori Gray, Ontario Director and board member of ASTCC (American Staffordshire Terrier Club of Canada) wrote this on Facebook last year and we felt that it deserved a wider share.

In Canada we live in a bubble, taking quite a few things for granted.

We travel freely, are free to choose who we hang out with, who we marry or don’t, where we live, what kind of house or how much property we can afford to own or rent. We can get a great education, job, raise a family. We can speak freely without censorship. We are entitled to fair and equal treatment… or are we?

If you live in Ontario or some municipal jurisdictions in Canada, you live with a law that bans certain dogs based on their appearance. In Ontario you are not allowed to travel freely across or enter the province with a dog that is one of the named purebreds or the much more popular short-haired mutt. It doesn’t matter what you consider your dog to be –  it’s what the enforcer’s opinion dictates. There have been myriad shapes, sizes, and colours of dogs that have been targeted by animal control, police officers, or SPCA agents.

You are not allowed to own the dog of your choice in these jurisdictions. You may find the dog of your dreams but that can all become a nightmare quite quickly by a nosy neighbour with an irrational fear of dogs, or an Animal Control Officer passing by your car or backyard.

If you have a dog that is “grandfathered”,  that dog will now be over 12 years old. They must be spayed/neutered, muzzled, leashed, not allowed in most dog parks, etc. If the targeted dog is less than 12 years old they are automatically considered to be illegal or prohibited by law. They can be seized, killed, shipped out of province never to be seen again, or sold for research.

You can fight the allegations that a dog is a “pit bull” because this term is not a breed name but a slang term for the APBT and has now become generalized as a term for any short haired mutt. The only way to prove breed in dogs is if the dog is a registered purebred. Under Canadian law (Animals for Pedigree Act) purebred animals must be chipped or tattooed so they are easy to distinguish. All others are classified as mixed breed.

Of the cases where people have gone to court, they win, but most people feel they cannot afford a lawyer or they become too afraid of the extortion tactics from the enforcers: “sign your dog over or else you will receive a $10K fine and jail time”.

I am going to attempt to describe to you what life is like living with BSL.

Luckily, my neighbours are great, but one of them recently mentioned they are going to be listing their house in the spring and moving down east to retire. My first thought was not, “How nice for you!” but rather,  “Oh no! What if the new neighbours don’t like dogs or have an irrational fear of pit bulls?” My dogs are registered purebred American Staffordshire Terriers. The one saving grace is that nearly all people who meet them say “what breed are they?” Most people have never met a real one since they are extremely rare in Canada. There were less than 30 in the province of Ontario when the ban was passed and they aren’t rare because of BSL. They were rare to begin with.

I have lost over a decade of my life fighting for a repeal of BSL in Ontario. Countless hours spent working hundreds of booths. Fundraising to pay the $750K legal case where the government of Ontario fought us (at the taxpayer’s expense) every step of the way. We went all the way to Supreme Court of Canada but did not make the cut and were not heard. They only hear roughly 10% of cases filed.

I continue to volunteer countless hours helping those who have been targeted. This law targets those who cannot fight for themselves. Lower socioeconomic brackets and visible minorities are most often the targets of this law. We say we live in a free country. Some of us beg to differ.

How has this changed me?

I am extremely distrustful of the government because I’ve witnessed first-hand the dismissal of factual evidence in favour of fear -based opinions that suit a politician’s agenda.

I have become hardened. I am tired of explaining myself and why “pit bulls” are the perfect red herring in the history of nefarious lawmaking. Your rights and freedoms are stripped while people run around with their hair on fire about so-called “pit bulls”, or rather dogs with short hair and unknown lineage. The only thing theses dogs have in common is that they are dogs. The rest is myth, urban legend and – frankly – BS.

I have lost my sense of safety within my own home, community, province, and country. I never used to worry too much about who might live next door or who might see my dogs while I’m out walking or in the car. Now I worry that someone might report some fabricated story about my dogs being threatening or menacing. They barked at someone. Looked sideways at a cat. (Injuring a cat on my own property is punishable by death!)

I lost my zest for participating in dog-related sports, socializing and classes. I think twice about taking them with me when visiting friends or family. I worry about their neighbours and the reaction they may have.

I have considered moving away from my home in order to live without the stress of constantly looking over my shoulder but I refuse to be driven from my home because of incompetent government lawmaking. I don’t want to rebuild my home or business, and I don’t want to leave my family and friends or community behind. I have visited another province with my dogs that doesn’t have BSL and while it was freeing, I’ve become so conditioned that I don’t know that I could ever go back to not looking over my shoulder. I am confident we will see a repeal but I don’t feel I could go back to feeling safe.

I worry that in case of an emergency my dogs wouldn’t be saved based on their appearance.

That’s just a taste of what it’s like living with BSL. It leaves you with a sick feeling. I feel hyper sensitive about protecting my dogs. At the same time, though I am very vocal, I don’t personalize my position or involve my dogs personally. It’s not about them or me. It’s a big picture. It’s about standing for what it means to live freely in a so called democratic society.

It irritates me that those who don’t live with BSL don’t learn from what we live. It bothers me when people refer to their mix breed dogs as “pit bulls” based on their looks. Even if you don’t currently have BSL why take chances? Why feed the beast? It can happen in the blink of an eye. Recently the city of Montreal banned the three typical purebreds and “pit bulls” based on a knee jerk reaction to a dog bite related fatality in the city. The breed was never determined of the dog involved in the incident. Even if breed was or could be determined, how does it make sense to blame an entire population of dogs for the gross incompetence of a specific dog owner?

There is no evidence to support that any dog is dangerous based on breed or appearance. That is a fact.

The province of Quebec is planning to pass Bill 128 this year banning the three typical breeds, “pit bulls “, and they also plan to add Rottweilers. American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are among Canada’s rarest breeds. Rottweilers are also quite rare in Quebec. Here are the past decade’s stats for registries with the Canadian Kennel Club for Quebec and nationwide.

 lori AST table

lori rottweiler table 

I guess its human nature to not pay attention when it doesn’t directly affect you but I do remember prior to the ban here: I was very plugged in and horrified at what was happening in the UK, Germany, Denver, Miami, other jurisdictions with BSL. I learned all I could learn because at that time I had two awesome short-haired mix breed dogs that could have been targets of BSL. I remember thinking we are smarter or better than that here in Canada.

Boy was I wrong!

loris dogs2

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Take a byte out of BSL

33797198734_c4a1aa1acd_zIt’s unbelievable that in 2017, we are in the position of fighting a second provincial breed ban in our country. To keep it in perspective, remember that on the whole, BSL is on its way out. There are many more jurisdictions rejecting or repealing breed-specific legislation compared to those implementing it. It’s being actively challenged in places like the UK, Australia, and Ontario, where this kind of legislation has been entrenched for a decade. Half of American states have state-wide legislation prohibiting laws that discriminate by breed.

However, despite this progress, we are facing Bill 128 in Quebec – a law that is poorly written, vague, and does nothing to address known factors for dog aggression.

Bill 128, like all breed-specific legislation, is fear-based. And although we are limited in what we can do from this side of the country, we can fight fear with facts. HugABull, in partnership with Justice for Bullies and the Ontario “Pit Bull” Co-op, we’d like to announce a brand-new educational campaign: 150 BSL Facts for #Canada150.

Starting May 15, 2017 we will post daily for 150 days, sharing a bite-sized fact, insight, story or trivia about BSL. The aim is to encourage people to share education rather than discrimination and keep this topic in the public conversation. Let us remember that while in many ways we are fortunate to live in Canada, there are some areas in which our policy makers fail us and need to do better. In support of the campaign, we will use the hashtags #BSLbytes #notoBill128 and #Canada150.

Send us ideas! You can send topics you’d like to see covered, a story that touched you – or create a BSL byte of your own. Text-based bytes should be no more than 90 words and any statistics or quotes should be cited. Photos and videos under 1 minute are welcome too.

Email info@hugabull.com or justiceforbullies@gmail.com, or post on any of our respective social media sites. And share!

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Speak up against BSL on May 13

Quebec posterIt’s almost a week away! On Saturday, May 13, groups across Canada will be marching against the proposed breed ban in Quebec. In BC, you can join groups in Vancouver, Victoria, or Coquitlam. See our previous post for event details.

Below are a few resources to spread the word:

Event poster for Vancouver and Coquitlam events. Please feel free to download, print, poster, and share.
PDF version
JPG version

 

Social media graphic
18301914_10154493310593016_6040632428835784383_nJPG version

 

 

 

If you aren’t able to attend on Saturday, May 13, please show your solidarity by posting an educational message on social media. We will provide images for re-sharing, and we encourage you to post a thoughtful, fact-based message about BSL. Tell someone something new and unexpected about breed-specific legislation, or talk about how it’s affected you or someone you know. Please help us create a sea of solidarity for those in Quebec living in fear today.

Here are some great sources for facts and talking points around BSL:

HugABull.com (click on BSL)
DogBiteFacts.org
Montreal SPCA’s Safer Kinder Communities campaign
Animal Farm Foundation Talking Points E-Book

You can also choose to make a small donation to a rescue, advocacy, or education group working with affected dogs and families. There are several groups that are active in Quebec and we hear they are doing amazing work – but because we are far away and can’t vouch for them personally at this time, we are directing people to the Montreal SPCA’s Safer Kinder Communities campaign (visit saferkindercommunities.com and click “make a gift” in the top right corner). And of course, you can also donate to HugABull and request that your donation be directed to BSL work.

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Show Your Solidarity for Quebec on May 13

6Quebec’s proposed Bill 128 will be a major step back for animal welfare in Canada. In its current form, it:

  • Violates the province’s current legislation declaring animals to be sentient beings.
  • Proposes a ban on pit bull breeds, Rottweilers, and their mixes (the nature or percentage of a mix is not defined). Also bans wolf and other “non-canine” hybrids.
  • Allows other breeds to be added to the list at any time.
  • Dogs “trained to protect, guard, fight or attack” are also prohibited, but these terms are not defined.
  • Defers to veterinarians for breed identification and behaviour assessments (vets are medical professionals, not behaviour or breed experts – this is like asking your doctor to assess your ethnicity!)
  • Allows family pets to be destroyed or sold to research laboratories.
  • Allows city staff to be designated as “inspectors” to stop citizens or vehicles, interrogate them, and order them to produce paperwork for their dog.
  • Does nothing to address known risk factors for dog aggression such as irresponsible breeding, poor socialization and care, and owner behaviour.

This is fear-based legislation that will destroy families and kill dogs based on nothing more than visual characteristics. Canadians deserve better. Quebec advocates are hard at work, and to show our solidarity, rallies are planned on Saturday, March 13 in BC:

muralVancouver
11am at Science World
1455 Quebec Street
Info and updates on the Facebook event page.

Victoria
11am at the BC Parliament Buildings
501 Belleville Street
Info and updates on the Facebook event page.

Coquitlam
11am at Lafarge Lake
(Town Centre Park)
Info and updates on the Facebook event page.

Dogs are welcome at the above events if they are leashed and well-mannered. This is a public event and media will likely be present – all eyes will be on us so it’s important that we present a positive presence. Signs, shirts, and slogans are welcome as long as the tone is respectful and constructive.

Interested in seeing an event in your community? Check the “Solidarity Against Quebec’s Canine Discrimination” Facebook page for listings. If you don’t see your city there, organize one of your own! Email us at info@hugabull.com for tips.

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Talking BSL with your Strata – Joanne and Brian’s story

joanne-blog-postWe are frequently contacted by people in strata and rental housing that are affected by breed-specific language. Sometimes those in charge stand by these policies, even though they are outdated and ineffective, and turn away responsible owners. But many policy makers will respond favourably when presented with breed-neutral, common-sense alternatives. If you face a situation like this, visit the BSL section on our website  and contact us for advice and resources.

It began simply enough. Joanne and Brian Windsor, along with other owners in their building, were each asked to pay $80 for a lawyer to update their bylaws. To their dismay, however, one of the proposed changes would bar “pit bulls”, American Staffordshire Terriers, bull terriers – and any combination thereof – from living there.

“We have a bully breed named Loda,” explains Joanne, “and our daughter, Kyla, who lives with us, has Loda’s sister Jayden. Both dogs would lick you to death before they attacked you.”

With no breed-specific legislation in the City of Port Coquitlam, and determined to fight the strata’s proposed changes, Joanne not only contacted us, but did her own research online. She came to the strata meeting fully prepared.

Granted the floor when the matter of the bylaw was brought up, she asked the property management representative who had requested that the original wording of “no dangerous animal” be changed to the breed-specific wording. The answer: the lawyers had been responsible for the new wording.

“Armed with that information, I stated my opposition to the bylaw and said there was no breed-specific bylaw in the City of Port Coquitlam. I discussed the media’s often erroneous, irresponsible and inflammatory reporting, and how their skewed views have affected public opinion, making people want to ban German Shepherds in the 1980’s, Dobermans in the 1990’s, and Rottweilers in the 2000’s.

“I offered statistics showing pit bulls rank seventh in bite frequency, while conceding theirs were obviously more severe than those of Chihuahuas. I showed them an article from our local newspaper about a Bichon Frise, deemed by the city council to be vicious and dangerous, when this small breed is usually sweet and docile.

“I pointed to an article about a 6-week-old baby who was bitten by the family pit bull, and mentioned how irresponsible the parents were to have allowed the dog near their child WITHOUT adult supervision. I emphasized that, in cases like these, the DOG is not at fault, and that it’s the duty of all dog owners to raise their dogs properly and responsibly, no matter the breed. I argued that most pit bull owners ARE responsible, and shouldn’t have to pay for the irresponsible ones. I referenced the ‘fight or flight’ principle, in that, like humans, dogs, when feeling threatened, will either flee or fight.”

joanne-blog-post-2A lawyer had already told her that if the matter went to court, Loda and Jayden would be considered members of the family, and that they couldn’t be removed from the premises without any prior complaints against them. Using this as part of her final argument before the strata, Joanne requested the wording of the bylaw be returned to read “any dangerous animal” and focus on behaviour rather than breed.

To the delight and relief of the entire Windsor family, a vote was taken and 100 percent of those in attendance agreed. The previous language stood, and no dog would be targeted by the bylaws simply because of his or her appearance.

Written by Nomi Berger

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Radio-Canada takes a bite out of pseudoscience

freedom-glassesWhen reporters are tasked to investigate stories, including dog bite stories, they are looking to include a few key things in their rush to deadline. They look for juicy quotes. They look for digestible statistics. And they try to make a nod to “both sides” of an issue, whatever they define those to be.

So when they seek information to support the position that “risk factors exist to predict aggression but breed is not one of them” there are a lot of sources to use – advocacy groups, veterinary/animal control/animal behaviour professional organizations, peer-reviewed research, and these days, pretty much anyone who works first-hand with dogs.

When they are looking for something to support the argument that “certain breeds of dogs are inherently more dangerous” they find one source on the internet. They might find a few sites, but they all lead back to two related groups. These groups manufacture their own “studies” and generate “statistics” that sound horrifying. It doesn’t take much to scratch the surface and see that the numbers don’t make sense, but few people take time to do so, and these numbers are seen in reporting and in BSL discussions everywhere. The truth is, NO reliable numbers exist for overall bite rates, serious bites, or breed and bites, because this is not tracked systematically. Anywhere.

Alas, in the wake of the proposed Montreal breed ban, one news outlet took the time to really dig into the phenomenon of these soundbite-oriented statistics. Bouchra Ouatik of CBC Radio-Canada dug into these numbers and the characters who generate them. The article has been shared widely but until now, only a Google Translate version has been available. One of our bilingual volunteers has been kind enough to translate it for us for easier reading. Please read, share, and click on the original link so the article gets the hits it deserves!

Pit bulls: Non-scientific data frequently quoted by media.
Friday September 9th, 2016
Bouchra Ouatik

Statistics on dog bites, coming from anti-pit bull groups, are often quoted in Canadian and American media as being reliable sources. These figures are however very far from reality.

The two groups in question, Animals 24-7 and DogsBite.org, often campaign openly to ban pit bulls. They regularly publish statistics on deaths and bites caused by dogs. However, their figures only represent a tiny portion of serious attacks, and those from Animals 24-7 contain many errors.

A tiny portion of serious attacks.

The author of the Animals 24-7 site, Merrit Clifton, publishes data every year on the number of attacks by dogs in Canada and the United States. The group’s most recent report claims to account for almost every serious attack having taken place between September 1982 and September 2016, a period of 34 years. M. Clifton claims to get his data solely from media reports, but he maintains that he has a comprehensive picture of the situation.

According to this report, during the 34 years studied, there would have been, all breeds included, 5756 dog attacks causing serious injury, 4194 attacks having mutilated or disfigured the victim, and 652 deaths. The author defines serious attacks as being those where the victim has been killed, mutilated, or has received wounds necessitating serious medical care. According to these same figures, pitbull type dogs were responsible for 78% of serious attacks, 70% of attacks causing mutilation or disfigurement of the victim, and 53% of deaths.

This would mean there would be on average 169 serious attacks and 19 deaths every year in Canada and the United States.

But these numbers are very far from reality.

 

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in 2008, in the United States, almost 9500 people have been hospitalized due to dog bites, and roughly 40 died from their injuries, or substantially more than the numbers put forth by Animals 24-7. Of this amount, there were 600 fractures, 300 surgeries requiring skin grafts, and 1100 operations on muscles or tendons. These figures however do not mention the breeds of the dogs involved.

Even so, in only one year, more people have been hospitalized for serious injuries due to dogs than Animals 24-7 has compiled in 34 years.

Deaths and serious injuries caused by deaths

Category Animals 24-7
(annual average)
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (for 2008)
Attacks requiring hospitalization 169 9500
Deaths 19 More than 40 (only in hospitals)

The figures from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons follow the same direction. In 2015, in the United States, there were 28079 reconstructive surgeries for dog bites, and in 2000, that number rose to 43089. We should also note that a person can require more than one surgical procedure for the same injury.

This important discrepancy between the figures from Animals 24-7 and reality can be explained in part by the fact that the majority of dog attacks are not reported in the media. The owner of Animals 24-7, Merrit Clifton, has pointed out via email that it is possible that he has missed a few cases of serious injury.

Meanwhile, the DogsBite.org site regularly publishes the numbers from Animals 24-7, in addition to maintaining its own list of incidents. Colleen Lynn, the founder of DogsBite.org, herself a bite victim, explains that her site does not claim to tabulate all serious dog bites, but that it tabulates the majority of deaths. She also claims that her site does not only rely on media reports, but also draws its figures from other sources, such as police reports, and that her site sometimes publishes cases that have not been mentioned in the media.

Several inconsistencies

The figures from Animals 24-7 underestimate the attacks perpetrated by breeds other than pit bulls. For example, according to this group, in 34 years, throughout the United States and Canada, there were 66 serious attacks by chow-chows, and 67 by Labradors. However, according to the Texas department of health, in 2000, in that state only, there were 67 severe bites from chow-chows, and 39 from Labradors.

In Animals 24-7’s report, the same breed of dogs can be found in many categories, or several different breeds can be grouped in a single category. For example, the author considers the Presa Canario and the bull-mastiff as a single breed which he counts in the same category. In reality, these two dogs are of different origins, and even have a different physical appearance. The Presa Canario saw the light of day in the 15th century in the Canary Islands, whereas the bull-mastiff appeared at the end of the 19th century in England.

Conversely, we find a category for the “Blue Heeler”, one for the “Australian Blue Heeler”, and another for the “Queensland Heeler”, while these all refer to a single breed of dog, the Australian Cattle Dog. We can also see breeds of dogs that do not exist, such as the East Highland terrier.

Merrit Clifton also claims on his site that the Cane Corso is a cross between pit-bull and mastiff, which is impossible, since the Cane Corso is an Italian dog which has existed since Ancient Rome, whereas the pit bull saw the light of day in England in the 19th century.

Additionally, when many dogs are involved in an attack, it is possible that the incident is classified solely in the pit bull category. For example, in 2007, an 18 year old man was attacked by 13 dogs, including one pit bull and 12 of unidentified breed, but this attack is regardless counted in the pit bull category.

Statistics from classified ads

In his report on dog attacks from 1982 to 2016, Merritt Clifton indicates what proportion each dog breed makes up in the total population of dogs. However, there is no dog census throughout the United States and Canada, and the mandatory registration imposed by municipalities is not always observed by owners, which makes it impossible to know the population of each dog breed in North America.

Hence, to estimate the dog population, Merrit Clifton explains that he checked the dog sales classified ads on various web sites for the month of July 2016. He concludes that pit bulls represent 5% of dogs and he considers that this number is representative of dog populations throughout Canada and the United States for a period of 34 years.

Merrit Clifton replies that he has proceeded this way because there is no other database of dog populations. “In Canada and the United States, only 10% of dogs were registered in 1982 and it’s roughly 25% today. No American city has a registration rate above 40%”, he explains.

Deaths indirectly attributed to dogs

The Animals 24-7 site sometimes considers that a person has been killed by a pit bull even if the dog was only indirectly involved. These cases are counted in the same category as those where the dog has bitten the victim, even when the coroner maintains that the dog was not responsible for the death.

Here are some cases that Animals 24-7 considers as deaths caused by pit bulls:

  • In 2009, in Wisconsin, Louanne Okapal, a 55 year old woman, died after having been struck in the face by her horse. The horse had been frightened by a pit bull.
  • In 2009, Teresa Foss, a 48 year old woman, died from a head wound after having been knocked over by a pit bull. The dog had not bitten her.
  • In 2010, Richard Martratt, a 64 year old Texas man, stabbed a pit bull and slaughtered a Catahoula because the two dogs had attacked a border collie on his property. The man was not attacked by the dogs, but when the authorities arrived, he collapsed and died from a heart attack.
  • In 2010, in Georgia, Miracle Parham, a 14 year old teenage girl, fled after having been frightened by a dog that witnesses described as a pit bull. She was fatally struck by a car.
  • In 2013, James Harding, a 63 year old man, was struck by a car after having attempted to get away from two pit bulls.
  • A 6 year old girl was strangled by a chain to which a pit bull was tethered. The year and location were not specified.

Another case mentioned on DogsBite.org deals with James Chapple, a 57 year old Tennessee man who was seriously injured by pit bulls in 2007. Four months later, he died of atherosclerosis and complications from alcoholism. Despite that, DogsBite.org counts him as a death caused by pit bulls.

At odds with the scientific community

Both groups are very critical of scientific experts. The DogsBite.org site even goes as far as using the term “science whore” to describe some experts. Colleen Lynn, the site founder, defends herself by saying that the term did not originate from her and that it was only used on three occasions since the creation of the site in 2007.

In addition, as opposed to studies published in scientific journals, the statistics from these groups are not reviewed by independent experts in order to verify their validity.

Karen Overall, researcher in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania, has analyzed all the studies of dog bite statistics published between 1950 and 2000 throughout the world. Her research shows that the dog breeds responsible for the largest number of attacks vary based on the year and the region studied.

She is critical of the methodology used by the groups who depend mainly on media stories. “The reports by the media and by the police are almost always incomplete, she says, and there is no independent confirmation of the breed involved. These publications use these reports as if they were infallible.”

CORRECTION:
A previous version of this article erroneously reported that Animals 24-7 had tabulated over 34 years, 7045 dog attacks causing serious injury, 4424 attacks having mutilated or disfigured the victim, and 657 deaths and that pit bulls would be responsible for 64% of serious attacks, 66% of attacks having mutilated or disfigured the victim, and 51% of deaths. Regardless, this in no way changes anything in the analysis of it which was done nor in the conclusions we have reached.

Translation by Phil Boutros.

For more information on this topic, visit the HugABull website.
Statistics and soundbites
– Breed and bites

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