Two months after a dog escaped its yard and killed a woman in her fifties, Montreal is introducing new regulations to restrict pit bulls and other dangerous dogs.

Montreal city councillor Anie Samson introduced the task force that reviewed the existing animal control bylaw and and looked at how to make it more effective in keeping people safe.

The task force proposed creating a new type of dog permit that would include pit bulls and dogs that have already bit someone or another animal.

Under the modified bylaw, ownership of pit bulls would be restricted to those over the age of 18 without any criminal record of violence.

Pit bulls and other restricted dogs would have to be registered as such by the end of this year.

Montreal City Council will vote on the bylaw on Sept. 26, 2016. Once the motion passes (as is expected) no new pit bulls would be allowed in Montreal.

Pit bulls would also have to be muzzled at all times when off the owner's property and kept on a short (1.25 m) leash except when in a dog run or in an area with 2 m tall fences.

The restricted dogs would also have to wear special fluorescent dog tags at all times, and always be supervised by an adult.

Because the city does not verify the breed listed when owners register their dogs, anyone who spots a pit bull with the incorrect tag will be encouraged to report the dog, and the owner will be fined.

Any dog found not obeying other requirements would be put down.

The animal control bylaw now defines a pit bull as an American Pit Bull Terrier, an American Staffordshire Terrier, a Bull Terrier, a Staffordshire Terrier, any crossbreed with one of the above animals as a parent, or any dog that shares the physical characteristics of a pit bull.

Animals under the new pit bull classification would have to be sterilized by Dec. 31, 2019, with the only exception being an animal that has a veterinary note confirming the animal is being actively bred.

Pit bulls would also be required to be microchipped by Dec. 31, 2019.

The same restrictions would apply to other dogs that have been found to be dangerous, which would include dogs that have bitten another animal or a human.

Any dog that kills another animal or a person would automatically be called dangerous and be put down.

Authorities would also be permitted to put down any animal that was considered to be at risk of attacking someone.

Mayor Denis Coderre said he was very happy with the proposal.

"I think it's important to understand that these rules are well-balanced," said Coderre.

"We are not attacking a race, we're attacking dogs that can be considered dangerous."

"For pit bulls you have to conform to certain rules. It's not euthanasia at large."

He also warned that many people will oppose the rules regardless of what the city does.

"There will be lots of misinformation, and lots of lobby groups from left and right trying to convince you, but for us, in the Charter of Rights and Liberties, security is clearly a right" warned Coderre.

"We are working to protect the safety of the people."

Coderre said he expected the bylaw would be challenged in court because it would require pit bull owners to pass a criminal record check.

"I know some lawyers wil be salivating because of our restriction based on criminal records.. but I think we've covered our bases here. In some cases a dog can be considered a weapon," said Coderre.  

More officers, steeper fines

The change to the municipal bylaw was triggered by the mauling death of 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, who was killed by a dog that was registered as a boxer, but that police said was a pit bull.

That attack has prompted many municipalities to ban pit bulls, and convinced the provincial government to study the issue. It is likely to introduce legislation later this year.

Since then Montreal has hired more animal control officers, which Samson said was responsible for an increase in the number of dogs registered with the city.

She said there are now 28,000 dogs registered with the city, which is an estimated 19 percent of dogs in Montreal.

Samson added there are several lesser changes being made to the animal control bylaw including:

  • A two-animal limit on the number of dogs in each household, unless a resident applies for a permit for a third dog.
  • All extendable leashes will be banned in Montreal, with a maximum leash length of 1.85 m.
  • Dogs over 20 kg must wear harnesses
  • A four-animal (dogs and cats) limit per household
  • Sterilization and microchipping of all dogs by Dec. 31, 2019

Fines for violating the animal control bylaw would increase to a minimum of $300, with up to $750 for a first offence for dogs off-leash or a dog owner that lies. 

The bylaw comes into effect in September.  

The province of Quebec is still considering how to regulate pit bulls.

Possible legal challenges

Coderre's team said it is ready for legal challenges. Dangerous dog owners will be required to prove they don't have a record of violent crimes over the last five years, which Alanna Devine, Director of Animal Advocacy for the Montreal SPCA said could prove unconstitutional.

“The Montreal SPCA knows there are citizens that will be looking at challenging legislation. Our focus now is trying to save the lives of animals that, should this legislation pass, would be condemned to death.”

Dog trainer John Truss, who owns pit bulls, said though he agrees with much of the law, he disagrees with muzzling the dogs at all times.

“You put the dog in a different state of mind. You put everyone else in a different state of mind. It’s like me telling you to walk down the street with your hands behind your back,” he said, adding that the new regulations have left him angry.

“I’m considering moving, because I’ve spent the last 10 years training pit bulls, making them more acceptable, and in one swoop the mayor has made all my work – he threw it down the garbage,” he said.