No more new pit bulls; Montreal restricts the dog breed
A majority of city councillors has voted to ban pit bulls.
The vote took place on Tuesday afternoon with 37 councillors approving the amendments to the city's animal control bylaw.
Twenty-three voted against the measure.
Mayor Denis Coderre said his administration is taking a balanced approach between placing reasonable restrictions on current owners, and keeping citizens safe.
After additional questions from the public Tuesday, Coderre said he would make an amendment to the bylaw so that if a pit bull's owner died, the dog will not also be euthanized, adding that, "the city has chosen a balanced dog law based on the safety of citizens, and good owners of good dogs will be able to keep them."
The new rules, including a restriction on the length of leashes and a requirement that pit bulls wear muzzles, come into effect Monday.
Pit bull owners are aghast at the new regulations.
"It's terrible, it is totally unfair, totally unfair and discriminatory," said Hugh Patrick-McGurnaghan of the Pit Bull Association of Chateauguay.
Ever since 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais was killed by a dog that police said was a pit bull, but was registered as a boxer, Montrealers and Quebecers have been debating what to do about dangerous dogs.
The original draft of the bylaw named four breeds collectively known as pit bulls, but the amendment passed on Tuesday creates special regulations for three breeds: American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, and the Staffordshire terrier, along with crossbreeds of those dogs or share their physical characteristics.
"To govern is to choose. What are we going to say to the family of Mme. Vadnais? What are we going to say to la Famille Biron?" said Coderre before the meeting Monday evening.
The proposed bylaw prompted questions from the public Monday evening until the council speaker ruled that the maximum number of questions on a single topic had been reached.
Prior to the council meeting about 100 people protested in front of city hall against the proposed ban. Some agreed with some of the measures but believe the Coderre administration is going too far.
“I’m horrified by the thought of a dog being thrown into a shelter and being euthanized simply because of its appearance,” said protester Jennifer McComb.
Members of the opposition party Projet Montreal voted against the proposal, as did members of Vrai Changement Montreal.
“Projet Montreal as a political formation is against any legislation that targets a breed,” said city councillor Sterling Downey.
"This bylaw is based on emotions and not scientific fact and will cause an increase in dog bites," said interim Projet Montreal leader Luc Ferrandez.
Montreal city officials point to data collected on the 362 serious dog bites that required police intervention over the past year and a half.
Since Jan. 1, 2015, 137 people and animals have been badly injured or killed by pit bulls or pit bull crossbreeds. Pit bulls, which are just 4.6 per cent of registered dogs in Montreal, are responsible for 37.8 per cent of serious dog-related injuries.
German Shepherds and mixes injured 42 people or animals, huskies and husky crossbreeds hurt 20, and boxers mauled 15.
All other breeds combined caused serious injury to 146 people or animals, with no other breed involved in more than 12 serious bites or maulings.
A total of 25 dogs were euthanized: 14 pit bulls, 4 German shepherds and crosses, 1 boxer, 1 Great Dane, 1 bull mastiff, 1 Boston terrier and 1 border collie, and two dogs of undetermined breed.
"You know when you have 38 per cent of all the bites are coming from a pit bull there is a situation there. I understand we can all love dogs. I love dogs, but some time, you know, we have to make sure that we cover all the angles and protect the population," said Coderre.
The restrictions on pit bulls and other dogs deemed dangerous would come into effect next week.
Nobody would be allowed to acquire a pit bull in Montreal after Oct. 3, and pit bull owners would have until the end of 2016 to register their animals.
The cost to register a pit bull or other dog deemed dangerous is $300.
Ownership of pit bulls and other dangerous dogs would be restricted to those 18 and older without criminal history of violence.
The animals would have to be microchipped and sterilized by Dec. 31, 2019.
Dangerous dogs would also have to kept on a halter and muzzle whenever they were off their owner's property.
About 100 people protested outside city hall as the council meeting began Monday.
Some of them own pit bulls, while others have no pets at all, but all said the same thing: Montreal is not listening to expert opinion.
The SPCA and veterinarians believe that banning certain breeds of dogs, what they call breed-specific legislation (BSL), will lead to needless deaths.
"I don't understand the logic of going forward with legislation that punishes good dogs and good owners and doesn't get to the heart of the matter," said veterinarian Judith Weissman.
She wrote an open letter to Coderre urging him to abandon his efforts to ban pit bulls.
Coderre never directly responded, but said Montreal's data convinced him that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dogs, and anyone who disagrees should "talk to the surgeons" who reconstruct those mauled by animals.
Alanna Devine of the SPCA said her organization supports measures to reduce serious dog bites, but doesn't think a breed ban will be effective.
"There are real ways to reduce the instance of dog bites in our community. The way it's being gone about is not the right way," said Devine.
A group called The Coalition to Promote the Safety of People is ready to launch legal action immediately.
"We're willing to help anyone who wants to protect their rights, and whose rights are being violated by this law," said group spokesperson Genevieve Grey.
Devine agreed, and thinks a breed ban may not be enforceable.
The SPCA has threatened to tear up its contract for animal control services in Montreal if a breed ban goes ahead.
"It's really, unfortunately, a lot of fear-based, emotional information that isn't based in science or facts," said Devine.
Ontario banned pit bulls in 2005 following a rash of maulings in the province, but the province does not collect data to determine if it was effective.
The city of Toronto has seen a steep drop in bites by pit bulls, from 112 in 2005 to 19 in 2014, but a report that came out earlier this year suggested the number of dog bites had increased in Toronto.
Crucially, it did not note whether the bites caused serious injury, or were people visiting a doctor after a minor dog bite because they were afraid of contracting rabies or another disease.
Meanwhile a 2012 study of Winnipeg, which has banned pit bulls, showed a significant decrease in the rate of people requiring hospital visits from serious dog bites since its ban came into effect, and that the incidence of children bitten by pit bulls in Winnipeg had significantly dropped compared to areas in Manitoba without breed specific legislation.