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.
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.”
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.
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.