The Canadian province of Ontario passed a law in 2005 intended to slowly eradicate pit bulls from the region and thus cut down on dog bites and attacks.
But since then, the overall number of dog bites in Ontario’s capital Toronto have gone up, according to a new report in the Canadian publication Global News.
The legislation defined “pit bulls” as pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, or any dog that has an appearance “substantially similar” to those breeds. It allowed those who already owned pit bulls to keep them, but outlawed breeding and bringing them into the province. Owning any pit bull born after the law took place was prohibited and illegal dogs could be sent out of the province or euthanized.
In 2004, 567 dog bites were recorded in the city, based on reports that doctors who treat them are legally mandated to file. Eighty-six of these bites came from dogs designated as “pit bulls," giving them second place on a list of the "top 10 breeds" for dog bites. (German Shepherds came in first, with 112 reported bites.)
Clearly, some people continue to breed and obtain pit bulls under the law's radar. But Mary Lou Leiher of Toronto Animal Services told Torontoist in September she believes that ban has reduced the overall number of pit bulls in the city. Though it's tough to count how many illegal, unregistered dogs are in the city, Leiher said that "anecdotally, we're seeing less."
Ten years later, with fewer pit bulls, it’s unsurprising that there are fewer pit bull bites. In 2014, pit bulls didn’t even make the top 10 breeds responsible for bites in Toronto. German shepherds again had the highest number of bites. The breed in second place? Labrador retrievers.
But what the law hasn’t done is decrease total dog bites. There were 767 dog bites in 2014 -- 200 more than the year before the ban went through.
And this isn’t a bizarre outlier. Though total bites initially dropped after 2004, the number has fluctuated since then, spiking in 2011, dropping again in 2012 and then steadily climbing for the next two years. Leiher told the Global News that there haven’t been any procedural changes that would increase the proportion of dog bites that got reported to the city.
Significantly, these are only raw numbers — they do not account for the number of dog bites as proportionate to the canine population of Toronto. But speaking with Torontoist, Leiher indicated the prevalence of dog bites has remained constant.
And countless dog advocates, as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association, have been saying for years that breed-specific legislation, known as BSL -- a practice that is widespread in the United States -- is ineffective. From the AVMA website:
Any dog can bite, regardless of its breed, and more often people are bitten by dogs they know. It’s not the dog’s breed that determines risk -- it’s the dog’s behavior, general size, number of dogs involved and the vulnerability of the person bitten that determines whether or not a dog or dogs will cause a serious bite injury. Dogs can be aggressive for all sorts of reasons. A dog that has bitten once can bite again, and a dog that has never bitten could still bite.
What breed-specific legislation -- in Ontario and elsewhere -- does do is lead to tragic consequences for dogs and their owners. Take Precious, a pit bull who achieved online fame after being photographed loyally standing over her injured owner during a house fire. She was forced to leave her human family shortly thereafter, since pit bulls are banned in the Maryland county where she lived. And Precious is one of the lucky ones -- she went to a loving foster home, rather than becoming one of the thousands of pit bulls euthanized in shelters each year, largely because of public perception of pit bulls and restrictions on where the dogs can live.
The story has been updated for clarity.
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