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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