Consider This
Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

The pitfalls of pit bull ban

First published: September 09, 2004

As the provincial government and some local municipalities consider banning pit bull dogs to quell recent public concerns, the evidence grows.
Within the past week a mailman in Bay City, Michigan, is seriously mauled. A police officer in Albany, New York, shoots a pit bull attacking a man because it was the only way to stop it. Then a 19-month old child is mauled by a pit bull in Sparta, North Carolina.

This news follows on the heels of an attack in Toronto two weeks ago when a 25-year-old man was mangled by a pair of pit bulls and almost killed. It took 16 shots by police to stop them.

Politicians were quick to respond. Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant is looking at creating a province-wide ban on pit bulls. And while the legislation is being considered, he is encouraging municipalities to take interim steps.

Already cities like Kitchener, London and Cambridge have bans. In Kitchener, owners face a $5,000 fine. And Saskatchewan has a strict law where dangerous dog owners can face a $10,000 fine and jail.

Pit bulls are not a specific breed, but include Staffordshire terriers and American pit bull terriers.

Originally bred in England, pit bull dogs were used for bull baiting, a barbaric spectacle where dogs mauled a bull to death. The animals came to North America in the 1800’s for the same purpose. When a bull was not available, then the dogs would fight each other.

While pit bulls continued to be used for fighting, some were used for less violent things. Pioneers put them to work herding and security when settling the west. One of the most famous examples in literature is Jack, the bulldog, from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. The gentle, devoted dog in these books is far from the modern reality found in newscasts today.

But before Northumberland County MPP Lou Rinaldi or municipal politicians pounce to put legislation in place, they should stop and think carefully.

Banning pit bulls will serve no purpose other than upset many owners. It is the breeders who must face the full force of the law, no one else.

(As the owner of an American Bull Dog, my conflict of interest should be known. These dogs are sometimes mistaken for pit bulls, but are not. Here are some facts I place before the reader for consideration.)

The idea of banning a dog breed makes as much sense of the current gun control legislation. The intent is good, but the wrong people are punished. Legitimate gun owners face hassle and expense, while criminals continue to buy and use banned weapons to kill.

The same would hold true under a pit bull ban. Good dog owners would be penalized, while those who breed and used malicious animals would carry on.

If political leaders are serious about making a different, then there is a simple path: enforcement of current laws.

In order to raise mean-spirited, vicious animals, then they must be trained. Often, breeders and owners will beat and abuse puppies in an effort to mold pit bull dogs into fighters.

There are good laws already in place to prosecute people who abuse animals. But it is almost impossible to enforce. Some members of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Human Societies are enforcement officers. But due to poor funding, it is left to a single person to cover massive areas. And investigators barely have enough resources to look into reported cases, let alone instigate inquiries into the treatment of pit bulls.

The provincial government fails to provide enough money. In Port Hope, the Humane Society struggles to stay financially afloat after the province dropped its funding to local chapters. Further woes came when a private business began competing to house stray animals, taking away important revenue. But these free-enterprise operations exist across the Northumberland; they do not take responsibility for enforcement of animal cruelty laws.

These laws must be reviewed and strengthened. Fines and jail terms must be increased substantially.

But this is entire moot, if all dog owners and breeders do not act in good faith. Responsible dog ownership fails to get the attention it deserves. Basically, this means being a good citizen by not allowing dogs to roam freely, destroy property, chase livestock, and go untrained. If any dog behaves badly in public or become a nuisance, it reflects poorly on everyone who loves dogs.

All dogs must be trained. Failure to be able to control a dog in public should be an fineable offence enforced more severely and more often. Nothing is more infuriating than people who scream commands while rover could not care less.

People must be properly educated. Dogs should not be purchased for security, breeding or as playthings for children.

Security dogs are specially trained by professionals and take considerable work to maintain. It is not for amateurs.

The same holds true for unregistered breeders who lack skills and knowledge to properly raise dogs who inherit the good qualities, not bad, of a particular lineage.

And while dogs make excellent members of most families, proper care is a huge responsibility. Also dogs need attention and families with busy lifestyles fail to realize the damage done when animals are left alone.

We do not need to read any more headlines about pit bulls to convince residents something needs to be done. Before any politician acts, veterinarians, breeders, trainers and owners must be consulted. In the meantime, if rhetoric is to give away to meaningful action, then invest in enforcement rather than bans. The public deserves a workable solution that is fair and doesn’t punish the innocent.

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