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

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A closer look at bite numbers

DrakeStatistics are invaluable in attempting to understand social problems. But as we all know, they can also be manipulated to suit one’s existing worldview. Check out our Statistics and Soundbites page for some background on interpreting studies in general, and dog bite studies in particular.

On June 22, Mia Johnson spoke to CKNW in support of restrictions on specific breeds of dogs. She claimed that 44 of the 184 dog bites in the city of Vancouver were from pit bull breeds, which to her indicates that the breed is a problem.

The source material backing this claim was included online, which almost never happens and this makes us very happy! We encourage people to do their own research and not blindly accept soundbites from people heavily invested in making an argument. We have yet to verify that it is the full data set from the City but will do so and provide an update.

Even a quick glance through the data points to a problem in its interpretation. Ms. Johnson included the following breeds in her analysis (spellings and categories are from the source data):

American bulldog/pitbull – 1
Bull Terrier – 3
Pitbull – 31
Pitbull X – 4
Staffordshire Bull Terrier – 5

Total: 44

Including Bull Terriers in the category is questionable, because it’s very rare for this breed to be included in BSL. Then again, it’s not unheard of.

There’s also the issue of breed identification and whether the breed ID was the initial impression of the animal control officer/victim/witness or whether it was added after further investigation. We suspect it was the former, because there are very few purebred American Pit Bull Terriers or Staffordshire Bull Terriers in the city of Vancouver, yet there are a LOT of mixed breeds. This is not reflected on the breed list. The list also has discrepancy in how dogs are recorded (Black lab/shepherd, shepherd/lab, and shepherd X are all used for example). So there are a few areas for further analysis.

But here’s what popped out immediately. Shepherds. If we are going to use “pit bull” as an umbrella term, let’s do the same with shepherd breeds:

German Shepherd – 22
Black lab/shepherd – 1
Lab/shepherd – 1
Shepherd – 6
Shepherd/Chihuahua – 1
Shepherd/lab – 1
Shepherd X – 6
Sher-pei/Shepherd – 2

Total: 40

Australian shepherds are on the list as well, with 3 bites. So if we were to include them in the total (in the spirit of Bull Terriers being pit bulls) we’re at 43.

44 pit bull bites and 43 shepherd bites.

Ms. Johnson used 2014 stats for this analysis. A CTV news report cited 2015 stats: 178 bites, 29 of them by pit bulls. This may be due to a less generous definition of “pit bull” on the part of whoever did the analysis, or it may be that 2014 was an anomalous year where there were a higher number of pit bulls bites (or reporting of pit bull bites).

These numbers could also be used to spark another line of inquiry. 184 reported dog bites in a year means that someone is being bitten every two days in the City of Vancouver. And since dog bites tend to be under-reported, especially when it occurs among family and friends, it’s probably safe to say that a dog bite happens somewhere in the City limits every day.

Add in the surrounding municipalities, assuming a similar population-to-bite ratio, and we should be hearing about a couple dozen dog attacks a week. From pit bulls, sure, but from shepherds and mixed breeds and labs and the other dogs in our community. Why don’t we?




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Stress management and BSL

13510505_10154109889441014_6668657_nWritten by Steve Barker of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada. Shared with permission.

How To Manage Your Stress When Fighting Breed-Specific Legislation

1. Do not read online comments under news articles. Online comments are made by two types of people: those who agree 100% with breed bans and those who disagree 100% with breed bans. They are almost always activists who are already involved in fighting the battle on either side. Nobody in online comments will ever be persuaded to change their point of view. Also, nobody except these two types of people read all of the comments under the articles.

2. Try not to click on obviously pro-BSL articles. They are looking for clicks which translate into advertising revenue for the news organizations. Why help them increase their revenue? Also, from a purely positive-reinforcement point of view, why give them a reward for publishing their crap? They’ll just do it more if it works. Plus, it will only raise your blood pressure so, for your own health, don’t click.

3. Do not share news articles that have false information in them. Again, if the news organizations can’t do adequate research, they don’t deserve to make money from their articles. If they did their job properly, we wouldn’t have to avoid clicking on their stories.

4. Don’t get into arguments online. If someone is asking a legitimate question and you can give them a reasoned, logical answer without overreacting, then by all means go ahead. But as soon as the other person gets aggressive, just end the conversation. It’s not worth it for your mental health and they’ve made it clear that you’re not going to persuade them anyway.

5. Protect your time religiously when it comes to talking to the media. They will interview you for an hour or more and then put your worst 10 seconds into a newscast. They will run you ragged. If your name is out there as someone to talk to, you’ll get 5 e-mail messages and 3 phone calls all asking for interviews. You’ll be on the phone for hours or running from studio to studio and, in the end, a tiny fraction of what you say will ever make it to the public and it’s never the part you’d like the public to read or hear. Live interviews (particularly radio) are best because you won’t be edited.

6. Take a break from social media and go do something else. You can spend hours reading and liking and commenting without actually accomplishing anything and you will be exhausted afterwards.

7. Consider the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle – look it up). Of all the things I’m currently doing, what 20% of those things will get me 80% of the results? What one thing, if I do it now, will have the biggest impact? Maybe that is writing a blog post or researching facts or writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper. Arguing online with a single person who doesn’t want to hear your side anyway would count as part of the 80% waste of time.

Hope this helps.

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BSL in Quebec – What you can do now

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 9.11.04 AMIn Quebec, BSL talks have gone from speculation to reality at a dizzying pace. Because things have happened so fast, people are just starting to organize. For now, here are a few things you can do to help:

1. Follow the story and the facts. The media will report the most sensationalistic soundbites, but organizations like HugABull will attempt to report balanced updates. The Montreal SPCA has stepped up, making a strong statement against the proposed breed specific approach, and will be posting updates in the days to come. Follow them!
SPCA Montreal on Facebook
SPCA Montreal on Twitter

2. Spread balanced, proactive information. Encourage anyone you know in Quebec to get involved and speak out. Here are a few specific opportunities:

13423724_903385393105666_3756843673374570305_nUse the hashtag #jamaissansmonchien on Instagram to share family photos of your blocky-headed dog in a family context.

There is also a petition circulating: NON au banissement des pittbulls au Quebec. . While most online petitions aren’t legally admissable, a large number of signatories will show support for this issue. English translation is below.

Protests are being organized on Saturday, July 16 in Montreal and Quebec City.

3. Contact the policy makers. Ask them to consider evidence-based, sensible alternatives to breed-specific legislation. Polite, well-worded messages ONLY please. Emotions run high on this topic, but strong language only perpetuates stereotypes about pit bull owners and supporters.

In Quebec City, where the mayor Regis Labeaume has pledged to ban pit bulls by January 1, 2017.
Email (links to an online form)
@villequebec on Twitter

In Montreal, a breed-specific approach to animal control has been proposed. Email Mayor Denis Coderre with alternatives.
Email (links to an online form)
Denis Coderre on Facebook
Denis Coderre on Twitter

Premier Philippe Couillard has indicated that the province of Quebec will “probably” follow Ontario’s model of a province-wide ban on certain breeds.
Email (links to online form)
Philippe Couillard on Facebook
Philippe Couillard on Twitter

13453376_10154060001546558_1327510693_oIn your communications, please keep the following in mind:

  • it’s okay to keep it short – in fact that is preferable to long essays that probably won’t be read anyway.
  • keep it polite and articulate.
  • try to find a French-speaking friend to translate, and if you have a connection to Quebec or one of the cities affected, emphasize this. They will be more interested in hearing from residents, potential tourists, or business people rather than random people half a country away. If you know people in Quebec, ask them to do everything they can.
  • try to share facts, but feel free to speak from the heart. A photo of your dog in jammies probably won’t change legislation, but a first-person account of how this legislation affects responsible citizens and average families might cause someone to think.

Some sample letters are at here and here. Information on breed-specific legislation is on our website and we will be sharing more resources soon.

English translation of petition at

NO to the banning of pitbulls in Quebec

After the headlines that have made the front pages in Quebec concerning an entire race that we are planning to ban, I believe it is important that we speak in the name of an animal who cannot defend itself.

An animal is an animal, regardless of the race or variety. We do not have the right to penalize citizens who have good pitbulls simply because they are born with the name of their race. Let us respect the families, the citizens, the good people who have a healthy animal in their homes.

To those who fear this race, please conider the legitimacy of your fear. Is it the media who is conveying an erroneous or inaccurate message? Is it the stories of dog attacks, poor treatment, or simply a fear of large dogs?

Considering that the banning of pitbulls by our neighbors in Ontario have demonstrated no resultsm and that worse yet, the number of dog bites is even on the rise, we find this strategy completely useless.

Considering the lack of comprehensive and serious scientific data on the subject, we refuse to let ourselves be seduced by this easy and irrational solution out of fear and disinformation.

Considering that veterinarians who specialize in behavior like Dr. Diane Frank agree and have stated that the solution is not the banning of a race, but the recognition, evaluation, and monitoring of mental illness among dogs as well as the education and socialization of normal dogs and the education of dog owners.

Considering that the solution comes from the education of society, from the awareness on the parts of dog owners. For example, by bite-prevention sessions for primary school students, from instruction on dog body-language, from the abolishment of puppy factories, from the obligatory sterilzation of animals belonging to companies without breeding permits, from the formulation of precise terms and conditions required for the use of terms such as “behavior specialist” and “canine instructor,” etc.

Considering that there are dangerous dogs of all races and sizes and that racism has never been an interesting solution for the advancement of our society.

Considering that there are extraordinary and well-balanced dogs of all races and sizes, we refuse euthanasia and the human drama that the banning of pitbulls would entail.

Via the Association of Veterinary Doctors of Quebec

The information above is based on our own research. If any links are faulty or there are better resources available, please email us at and we will update.

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Research and responsible rescue

Clover and PirateAdoption has become a popular option for people looking to add a pet to their home. And it should be! Animals in rescues and shelters can be ready-made pets.

Your local shelter is a great place to start your search. However, they have limited resources available for matching, so if you wish for a more personalized experience, or are looking for a certain breed/type of pet, you might look into local rescues.

But be ready to research! Not all rescues are equal. Some may have good intentions but are so focused on getting pets in homes that they miss important steps, setting dogs and owners up to fail. And sadly, there are some that take advantage of rescue’s popularity, running “retail” rescues that operate like a business. Their focus is placing dogs and collecting fees, without looking after the best interests of animals or humans.

How do you know you are working with a reputable rescue? Look for the following:

You should be encouraged to ask questions about your potential new family member, have a no-pressure “meet and greet”, and be given time to think about the pet’s fit with your family.

And the rescue should be concerned about screening YOU. Most will require a home check and/or references along with an in-depth interview to ensure you are a match for the pet. If a rescue offers to drop a dog at your door a day after receiving your application, or they are hosting “mass adoption” events, that tells you that screening is not their priority.

jake for webHealth care
The animal should be vet checked, spayed/neutered, and vaccinated prior to adoption. If there are any health issues or suspected health issues, the animal should come with vet records and a treatment plan so you know what to expect.

Temperament screening
There should be a procedure to assess the dog for behavioural issues – friendliness with strangers/animals, separation anxiety, housetraining, etc. Most rescues have a foster period to help the dog decompress from shelter life and allow for their true personality to emerge. When dealing with living creatures there are always some surprises, but the rescue should have steps in place to catch potential problems early and put a training plan in place.

Follow-up support
The rescue shouldn’t be out of your life once papers are signed. They should encourage you to contact them with any questions and connect you with resources. If things don’t work out, they should be ready to take a dog back – in fact, they should insist on it. A rescue’s commitment should be for the lifetime of an animal.

Reasonable adoption fees
Some rescues will charge a little more for puppies, or a little less for special-needs dogs, but rescues shouldn’t be raising prices for “desirable” dogs as a profit-making initiative. Among BC rescues, the average adoption fee is $250-500, which (barely) covers basic vetting and care.

Check whether the rescue is a registered non-profit society or a registered Canadian charity. If they are not, it doesn’t mean they are bad – every organization has to start somewhere. And certainly, an organization can follow guidelines for BC non-profits and still fall short of good rescue practices. But broadly speaking, an organization registering with the government has taken a step towards some accountability. The rescue should also use detailed contracts and be able to talk knowledgeably about their policies and procedures.

It’s worth noting that rescues are almost always run by volunteers, so a little patience and understanding might be necessary. But any reputable rescue should respect your questions and be comfortable speaking to any of the above points. Ask for references and do research! Talk to vets, trainers, and people in the pet industry to determine how long the rescue has been around and whether it operates ethically.

10380908_10101104918935601_1566730323563894892_nIt might seem like extra work – but this is a family member and a commitment of 5, 10, or 15 years. Don’t be swayed by an emotional appeal or any pressure to adopt. A good rescue has the well-being of the animal as its first priority, and would not engage in manipulative tactics to secure an adoption.

Want to learn more? Email or visit one of these sites:






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Getting ready to bid for bullies!

Bebe computer





Bid for Bullies, our annual online auction, is almost here! We are on track to launch this popular fundraising campaign on our Facebook page starting Friday, July 1. Bidding will be open until 6pm on Friday, July 8.

Last year we raised over $2000 for the dogs in our care, and this year we are aiming to raise even more to help some deserving dogs.

Leading up to this event, we are asking for your help in sourcing some amazing donations! The more tempting items we have online, the more bids we can attract and the more funds we can raise.

Do you run a business? Or make something? Or sell something?
Do you know someone with a great product or service?
Do you frequent a certain restaurant or shop and think they’d like to support a good cause?

Please let us know! Our top sellers each year are gift certificates, gift cards, and gift baskets. Generally an item worth at least $20 retail is preferred in order to make any shipping costs worthwhile. But we are open to new and creative ideas as well.

Please email if you are able to donate or if you know someone who might be. We are happy to contact them directly!




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Rallying around Rally-O

Miranda Hebert is fueled by her passion for all things dog – particularly when it involves bridging the communication gap between canines and their human companions.

Her personal “doggy” journey began at an early age, leading her to train and compete with her own dogs throughout the years. But multi-faceted Miranda didn’t stop there. She studied to be a dog training instructor and began holding both group classes and private sessions, working one-on-one with companion dogs in need of “proper manners” reinforcing, and problem dogs in need of full obedience training.

rally o photo miranda2Now, as a volunteer trainer for HugABull, she has added a new “course” to her canine menu: Rally Obedience! She has been hosting drop-in classes by donation to HugABull over the last several weeks.

“What better way is there,” says Miranda, “to forge a stronger bond between loving owners and their pets than through this form of shared knowledge, body language interaction, communication and especially, fun!

“Rally-O also serves as a foundation for everyday life skills, other human-dog team sports like agility, as well as various types of dog-assisted therapy programs. And ongoing training classes ensure that dogs remain well-behaved, well mannered members, not only of their families, but their community.”

Miranda is launching a more structured set of Rally-O classes for both competition-curious and competition-interested owners and their doggies, on Saturdays beginning May 14 and running until June 18. The six classes will cover the basics of positive reinforcement and precision training as well as the essential ABC’s that beginning handlers must know before they can participate in CARO (Canadian Association of Rally Obedience) sanctioned Novice Rally-O.

miranda rally o brown pupIncluded in the series will be such topics as:

  • An introduction to positive reinforcement and precision marker training
  • The use of a clicker for precision training
  • An introduction to CARO Novice class rules and exercises
  • Teaching the correct competition “heel”
  • Platform training for the competition “sit”, “down”, and “stand” commands
  • Pivot training and teaching of a dog’s “rear end awareness”

There are still a few spaces left! Registration is by donation ($75 minimum) to HugABull. For more questions or to register, email To stay posted about future Rally-O and other training opportunities with Miranda, follow her Facebook group.

Written by Nomi Berger

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Pet-Friendly Housing – A Cautionary Tail


Lexi (left) and her sister Zoe

For Brandi and Tyler, driving cross-country from Ottawa to Vancouver meant a new start and a new life. They hadn’t counted on it being the beginning of a nightmare.

Feeling fortunate at having found a pet-friendly building, they promptly moved in. Brandi and her dogs were settling in beautifully and making friends with the neighbours. When building security asked what breed her dog, Lexi, was, Brandi replied without hesitation: a pit bull. Having already seen four other cute blockheads in the building, not to mention the green doggy bags at the front door as reminders to stoop and scoop, she saw no red flags.

“We were then told that there was a bylaw prohibiting pit bulls because, according to him,” recounts an outraged Brandi, “pit bulls are ‘vicious.’ If that was so, I asked, then why were we allowed to sign a lease and move in?”

Shocked and confused, she promptly contacted their landlord who admitted that he didn’t know about the bylaw and even agreed it was unfair. Taking it to the next level, they went to the head office of the management company and were told to “plead their case” at the next strata council meeting in three weeks time.


The “vicious” Lexi.

Armed with documentation and references, they explained their position, including the fact that there were other pit bulls in the building, only to be told at the end of the meeting that this wasn’t their fault but the landlord’s. The bylaw was to be enforced, and they explained that the pitties currently in the building had been “grandfathered” (they were in the building before the bylaw was passed and allowed to remain).

“We were ultimately served with an eviction notice that outlined the legal reasons behind it,” says Brandi. “And then, adding insult to injury, they even expressed their ‘compassion’ for us and for our situation.”

In the midst of yet another relocation, Brandi remains caught up in a whirlwind of emotions – not only because they are being forced to move after scarcely settling in, but because it’s further proof that the dog breed she loves must constantly be faced with such bias and discrimination.

“Our goal in sharing our story,” she explains, “is to hopefully prevent this from happening to others.”

Sadly, Brandi’s experience is a familiar one. In a competitive housing market, finding pet-friendly accommodation is a challenge – even for people with cats or small dogs, let alone larger or stigmatized breeds. After chatting with Brandi, we wanted to share the following advice to anyone seeking housing with a bully breed or any other breed that might be targeted under restrictions (this could include mastiffs, Rottweilers, certain shepherd breeds, Akitas, Chows, and any other breed that may be regarded as a guardian or fighting breed).

If moving into a co-op, apartment, or strata building, don’t take anyone’s word on pet restrictions. They may be buried in the building’s bylaws, and many owners (like Brandi’s landlord) may be unaware of them. Even other bully breed dogs on the premises means little: an exception might have been made, the dog might be “passing” as another breed, or, as in Brandi’s case, the “grandfather” clause might have been applied.

Always ask to see a copy of the bylaws. If for some reason, you can’t, ask for a written statement from the building’s strata about pet restrictions. If there are restrictions, and they agree to make an exception for you, get this in writing too. Don’t rely on the good faith of others if there are restrictions on the books – all it takes is one angry neighbour to call for the bylaws to be enforced, and the written rules will ultimately be the deciding factor, as it was in Brandi’s case.

If a neighbour complains about your dog, be aware that if you have a large or stigmatized breed, this is an additional weapon that can be used against you. While it’s hard not to be defensive, and it might not always seem fair, try to take the moral high ground. If there are noise complaints, for example, offer to set up a web cam or a recording device to substantiate the claim. If it’s legitimate, offer to work with a trainer or hire a dog walker. If you are a responsible owner and a good neighbour, it’s likely that other people in the building will sympathize and support you if the issue is ever taken to the next level.

Above all, keep a record of these complaints and your attempts to rectify the situation. If, you have attempted to be reasonable and are being unfairly targeted, or if someone tries to change the terms of your rental agreement, try resolving the issue with your landlord, strata, or building manager first. If that doesn’t work, contact the Residential Tenancy Branch. The SPCA also has some resources online for renters, property managers, and strata councils.

Most of the time, people are reasonable and will treat your dog like what it is – a dog. But while breed-specific laws are on the books, it provides leeway for discrimination and harassment. This isn’t a unique case. Elizabeth, Mike and Milton were condo owners forced to move because of strata bylaws. Leanne, Shaun and Peanut had no restrictions in their building but were targeted by a neighbour who used the city’s breed-specific bylaws against them.

Do you have experiences or advice to share around pets and housing? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Article by Nomi Berger

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Media case study – The Christmas Day Tragedy

On Christmas Day, a man was violently attacked by two dogs in his home in Fort St. John. The attack was sudden and severe, and was covered widely by media across the province.

The victim and his family described the dogs as “pit bulls”. Breed description was not released at the time by the City’s  bylaw department (which serves as Animal Control), nor by the RCMP, nor by the SPCA that received the animals’ bodies for disposal.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 3.53.55 PM Predictably, the incident sparked the usual storm of media coverage about “pit bulls” and “dangerous breeds”. There have been Op-Eds about banning breeds on the Province blog, on the Tyee, and on talk shows across the province.

Sounds like the usual conversation, right? Except, for the third time this year, we find that the media missed a couple fact-checking steps in its rush to publish a “pit bull” story. This week, the dogs were finally identified by the bylaw department as American Bulldogs.  This is a breed often mis-identified as a “pit bull” breed but exempt from most breed-specific legislation.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 10.41.33 AMThat means that the breed restrictions or bans loudly advocated by Charlie Smith (editor of the Georgia Straight), Lori Welbourne (columnist for Post Media), and Bill Tieleman (columnist for 24 Hours and The Tyee) would have done nothing to stop three of the violent dog attacks that so agitated them this year. Yet these attacks provided them with platforms to share gory statistics and to openly advocate for the genocide of a breed that was not even involved.

The first was in July, when a large dog killed a puppy in Yaletown. The victim, understandably traumatized and disoriented, described the dog as a pit bull and the story received wide initial coverage as a “pit bull attack”. This was later corrected when Vancouver Animal Control identified the dog as a mastiff/bulldog cross.

yogiThe second was at the end of the year, when a serious attack on a young woman was reported as a “pit bull attack”. This dog was later identified as a Rottweiler/husky.

Now we have a third case where the conversation was quick to turn to a “breed debate” while it was clear that the media did not have all the information.

Kudos to CBC for taking the time to correct the breed ID in this week’s coverage. But for every article with this correction, there will be 20+ articles that only serve to cement the breed stigma in the minds of those susceptible to it. It detracts from constructive conversations we could be having about dog aggression and risk factors for dog bites. And let’s not forget that the “statistics” cited by Charlie, Lori, and Bill are based on media reports of dog aggression, creating a feedback loop that’s been cycling for 30 years.

Each time this happens we draw a deep breath and hope that the media will learn from their errors. Stop with the sensationalism. Report a dog attack as a dog attack, and don’t be so quick to assign a breed. It’s fairer, and it’s better journalism. If you feel the breed is relevant, wait until a reliable source of information surfaces:  the owner’s information about the dog’s heritage or, minimally, a statement from an impartial professional like an animal control officer or a veterinarian.

BreedSpecificLegislation_2And for the love of dog, will the Op-Eds stop? For three decades we have been tolerating the same clickbait comparing an imaginary category of dog to a loaded gun. Under the guise of concerned citizens, they use fear to advocate for laws that have proven ineffective and are being repealed across the continent.

Bill, Lori and Charlie seem content to be on the wrong side of the history. That’s their right. But if these opinions are winning column space, it tells you that people are interested in this topic. Why not feature another perspective?

In 2012, The Vancouver Sun asked Rebeka Breder, BC pre-eminent animal litigator, and Rebecca Ledger, one of BC’s few certified veterinary behaviourists, to pen an Op-Ed. People with advanced degrees and decades of experience commenting on the issue of dog aggression in our communities? That’s a great start!

If their degrees and evidence-based reasoning don’t attract the same number of clicks, there are plenty of trainers, behaviour consultants, vets, dog walkers, or animal rescues that would be happy to pen their own opinion piece based on experience. The Huffington Post has featured a “pit bull week” for the last couple years and have no shortage of clicks and shares. You’d be surprised at how many people want to read reason and compassion around these issues.

Please. Please expand your offerings on this topic.

Or – well – at least ensure your columnists are writing about the right “breed” when they propose exterminating it.


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