Breed Specific Legislation In This Major City Could Impact Others
By Vjosa Isai
When Montreal-based photographer, Dave Gogan, tried what may become a mandatory muzzle on his 6-year-old pit-bull mix, the round eyes looking back at him were filled with pain. “As soon as I put it on, he looked so sad and confused like, ‘Why are u doing this to me?’”
Gogan says his dog, Danny, is obedient, well-behaved, great around kids and other animals.
But for Montreal’s government this is irrelevant, because Danny is a pit bull.
Breed-specific legislation targeting pit bulls continues to reinforce notions that pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs are naturally violent, aggressive, and dangerous animals. Montreal is the latest city to introduce new legislation upholding this unfair reputation, requiring pet owners with otherwise safe animals to act against a threat that is simply not there.
Montreal’s SPCA is taking the city to court after a controversial by-law amendment proposing to ban new ownership of pit bull and pit bull-type dogs was passed last week.
City council voted in favor of the ban, with a final vote count of 37-23.
These changes to the city’s animal control by-law came into effect briefly on Oct. 3, requiring current pit bull owners to obtain a permit by Dec. 31 in order to keep their dog.
Mayor Denis Coderre defended the changes ahead of last Tuesday’s vote. “It’s a balanced approach,” he told Global News. “Those individuals who wanted to keep their pit bulls, we’re not slaughtering them. We’re saying that you can keep them under certain conditions.”
Updates to the legislation were expected to be made by 2018, but the recent death of a 55-year-old Montreal woman pushed the vote forward.
Christiane Vadnais was found dead after being mauled by a dog in early June. The Montreal Police Department told Get Leashed that a criminal investigation into Vadnais’s death is still ongoing, and the breed of the dog has not yet been confirmed.
In a statement issued following council’s vote, the Montreal SPCA announced it has filed a lawsuit against the city.
The SPCA calls the new provisions of the by-law “contrary to several fundamental principles that govern the legality of municipal by-laws,” including being “discriminatory” to pit bull owners and “unreasonable” on grounds that “there exists no credible evidence to the effect that dogs belonging to this arbitrary category are inherently dangerous,” it said.
Suspension of the by-law currently extended
A judicial review is currently before a judge, who placed a temporary suspension on the by-laws. Depending on the outcome of his decision, the by-laws may be suspended until the SPCA’s lawsuit can be heard.
Montreal resident, Victoria Longpré, says she feels “hurt” by the city’s decision, and is concerned about how the new restrictions will affect the dogs themselves and their image to other members of the public.
“It’s going to be scary to even walk your dog down the street without a pedestrian getting a bad vibe,” she said. The 25-year-old grew up with a family pit bull, and regularly babysits her sister’s Texas red nose pit bull, Navaeh, or “Heaven” spelled backwards.
Montreal resident Victoria Longpré said she is concerned about how the new restrictions will affect the dogs themselves and their image to other members of the public. She regularly babysits her sister’s Texas red nose pit bull, Navaeh.
One of the stipulations of the by-law requires pit bulls to be muzzled at all times while outdoors.
She believes color-coded accessories are a better way to indicate a dog’s temperament for members of the public who are afraid of pit bulls. “If a dog had a different colored bandana — like blue could mean super calm and gentle — then people would know that it’s a much more docile pit bull.”
“Red that means they’re a bit skittish so we have to be more respectful of that,” she said.
In addition to believing a muzzle can be interpreted as a bigger reason to fear a dog, owners are worried about how their dogs will be affected by having to always wear one while outdoors, in addition to the new leash length of 1.25 meters.
Dave Gogan is concerned that his arthritic dog won’t have the same freedom to swim outside, an exercise routine that helps to relax his joints.
“A lot of people are very unhappy about it, even people who don’t have pit bulls think it’s a very stupid idea,” Gogan said. “There’s a lot of support from the community right now and it’s really good to see that a lot of people do care.”
An online petition started by the Dog Legislation Council of Canada, a non-profit organization, has racked up over 290,000 signatures in favor of boycotting touristic visits to the city of Montreal due to the ban. The petition began collecting signatures in early August.
“This is costly, ineffective, and discriminatory legislation that does nothing to increase public safety and, instead, kills thousands of unoffending family pets simply because of the way they look,” said Steve Barker, head of research at the DLCC, in a statement posted to the organization’s website.
“Dog owners around the world are now looking at Montreal and shaking their heads.”
On social media, impassioned Montreals are urging people to reject the ban by signing online petitions or contacting the mayor’s office in tweets under the hashtag #MTLmomentsincludealldogs.
Celebrities are also joining the conversation. Singer Cyndi Lauper took to Facebook in response to what she called an “unjust law.”
“When will people stop blaming a breed. There are many amazing pit bull and pit bull mixes out there. There are also vicious dogs of other breeds,” she wrote. “It’s not the dog, it’s who is training and often mistreating them that should be banned. Thousands of shelter dogs now stand to be euthanized and also pulled out of their homes.”
Depending on the outcome of the judicial review, owners may have to submit licenses for their dogs before Dec. 31.
The permit costs $150, and owners are required to present documents to prove the following: residence in the city and ownership of the dog before the by-law came into effect, no criminal record, dog is spayed or neutered, and dog has its rabies shots.
Montreal resident Charlie Dee has owned a pit bull for the past five years.
“I think it is absolutely ridiculous to restrict ownership on a specific breed. It’s infuriating. Why not implement a system that educates dog owners and requires licensing for any breed?” she said in an email.
She believes the breed-specific discrimination is already apparent, with people on the street commenting on her dog. “I’ve been stopped numerous times while the ban was only being discussed and told that my dog needs a muzzle and is going to be banned soon.”
Pit bull owner Charlee Dee said she feels the breed specific legislation is discriminatory, and has already been approached by Montrealers who urged her to muzzle her dog (pictured above) before the law came into effect.
Dee said the costs associated with the new regulation will also add up, between vet bills, a new muzzle and leash, a harness because her dog is over 20kg, registration, and criminal background check.
Violating the by-law comes with potential fines of $300 to $600, or $500 to $700 if the interaction results in a safety threat, including bites, off-leash dogs, and dogs without a muzzle.
For more information on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) Awareness, or to get involved in the community, be sure to check out a support rally happening Saturday, October 8th at Queen’s Park in Toronto.