What Would You Do if Your City Banned Your Dog’s Breed?

Sad pitbull
What Would You Do if Your City Banned Your Dog’s Breed?
The Heartbreak that is Breed Specific Legislation


 The banning of breeds, confiscation of family dogs, and the business of changing public perception

I have a secret. It’s something that few people know about me, a dog fanatic that lives her life as an open book. I am scared of Pit Bulls. Terrified, actually. I am afraid to extend my arm, hand out, palm up, to a Pit Bull for fear of being attacked. And this is from a woman who greets every dog who comes her way with a “Hello baby” or “What a pretty dog.” For every breed but one, I will ask the owner, “Can I pat your dog?” and then gleefully rub the head of any pup whose owner permits it.

Except Pit Bulls.

This isn’t the result of some historic Pit Bull trauma. When I was in grade school, a Borzoi at the top of our street once lunged at me, tearing the collar of my coat. And as a child, visiting my grandpa, a pair of Pomeranians used to try to bite us kids through the fence. Neither breed scares me now. My sister had a Rottweiler and now has a Doberman, and I have no fear. I had German Wirehaired Pointers and currently have a large cross breed that is far more German Shepherd than Golden Retriever, and I have no fear. But I am afraid of Pit Bulls so I’ve kept my distance— and, until now, my secret.

Then, I received a chance invitation to the Vancouver premiere of the documentary Beyond the Myth: The Truth About Pit Bulls, a film dedicated to demonstrating that Pit Bulls are saddled with an undeserved reputation fueled by ignorance and misunderstanding. It heartrendingly illustrates the consequences of breed specific legislation (BSL). Imagine your dog confiscated by the authorities and put down simply because he is of a breed your city has legislated against. I RSVP’d in the affirmative. The viewing was a watershed moment. I realized I was guilty of buying into a myth. Somehow, somewhere, at some unknown point in time, I had allowed a notion to become a belief—one without a grain of evidence to support it. Fear has a way of doing that, insinuating itself though unsubstantiated. There are a lot of theories of how fear takes root. Certainly, in the case of Pit Bulls, there is a lot of blame on the media for reporting Pit Bull attacks differently than other dog bite incidents. If a Pit Bull is incriminated, the language employed is frequently more graphic and the breed is often only named (sometimes incorrectly) if it’s a Pit Bull.

But more scary than my fear of Pit Bulls is the fact that this fear is so widely shared that many cities and jurisdictions have acted on it, introducing BSL that can either impose conditions on bull-breed dogs or prohibit people from owning or keeping the dogs within the jurisdiction altogether. Like Ontario—a province so scared of Pit Bulls, it banned them altogether (with few grandfathering exceptions).

Think of it: your city empowered to outlaw your perfectly lovely, well-socialized dog simply because it is a member of a certain breed. BSL means a dog is considered vicious and then treated as such solely because of how it looks. It has nothing to do with past behaviour. It has nothing to do with current behaviour. It has nothing to do with the commission of an aggressive act. The basis for BSL rests solely on a collection of perceptions such as the size of the body, shape of the head, and length of the hair. In other words, it is guilt by association— you look like a guilty dog so you will be treated like a guilty dog.

That was the case in the City of Denver where officials passed BSL and began seizing and euthanizing any dog it identified as a Pit Bull. Beyond the Myth relates the heartbreaking story of Desiree Arnold, who still grieves the death of her dog Coco, picked up for the sole crime of being a Pit Bull. City rules gave Desiree seven days to request a hearing or Coco would be killed. She found a third party outside the City who agreed to provide a new home for Coco, and Desiree waived her right to a hearing, allowing Coco to be released to a new caregiver.

Ultimately, though, that arrangement fell through and Coco returned home, only to be picked up by animal control again after someone reported seeing her back in Desiree’s house. After five weeks of being kenneled behind a chain link fence without any natural light, where she would “scream bloody murder” every time Desiree visited then left, Coco was euthanized, her body returned to her owners in a garbage bag.

What makes this terrible story all the worse is that Coco’s death was for naught. BSL does nothing to diminish dog bites and attacks. It is costly to enforce and cannot be enforced consistently as it is based on a look not a reality.

“Knowing dogs, lots of Pit Bulls can be lovely, happy, friendly, kissy family dogs when they are raised and bred properly,” says Sarah Bull, the City of Coquitlam’s Bylaw and Animal Services Supervisor (her opinions are her own and do not represent the City). “Every decade seems to have a different breed that gets demonized. For Pit Bulls, it kind of stuck.”

Compounding matters is the confusion over what dogs actually fall into the Pit Bull camp. Most people who speak of Pit Bulls are actually referring more broadly of a group of dogs that have Pit Bull or bull-breed characteristics, including muscular bodies, broad chests, short coats, and pronounced heads and jaws and cheeks.

Profiling dogs as Pit Bulls is opening a can of worms, says Shelagh Begg, Director of the bull-breed advocacy, education, and rescue group Hugabull. There are only three recognized bull-breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. “Everything else is a catchphrase or a mix thereof; all are based on a look not an actual breed,” Begg explains.

This is important when it comes to breed specific legislation. If you ban a breed you need to first define the breed, or else enforcement personnel are left wringing their hands trying to enforce the law with a “looks like a duck, quacks like a duck” assessment. Begg says studies show that shelter workers incorrectly indentify a dog’s breed just by looking at it more than 85 per cent of the time.

Knee-jerk reactions are not the basis for sage decisions and such is the case with BSL. Italy is a perfect example. It began banning specific breeds and, with new attacks implicating yet other breeds, (worth noting the bans already in place did not prevent bites), more breeds were added until Italy boasted BSL naming some 92 different dog breeds. Also of note is the fact that Italy has recently repealed breed specific legislation in favour of more general terminology that addresses the problem of irresponsible owners and proven vicious dogs. Begg says that there isn’t a single statistic to prove BSL works and in jurisdictions with BSL, dog bite statistics do not decrease. One of the reasons is that BSL doesn’t address vicious dogs; rather it addresses dogs that look like another vicious dog.

The City of Coquitlam, BC had BSL. Until October 2011, the three recognized bull breeds were automatically considered vicious dogs and were required to be muzzled, along with other restrictive criteria imposed on them.

Animal Services Supervisor Bull says, in her opinion, BSL doesn’t work as any breed of dog can display bad behaviour and can bite, and City resources and efforts are better spent educating owners, enforcing rules, and ticketing owners who fail to comply.

“Punish the deed not the breed,” says Bull. The City of Coquitlam came to the same conclusion. Some of the criteria were hard to enforce, plus enforcement efforts were devoted to ensuring “perfectly friendly” Pit Bulls were muzzled, Bull says.

Another problem with BSL is it acts to support and confirm people’s unfounded biases. “We’d had a lot of complaints because people were afraid of the look of a dog that had never tried to bite anything. A neighbour would call us to report a vicious dog next door and we would ask, “Can you tell us about its behaviour?” and they would respond that it did nothing wrong but that they had kids and there was a Pit Bull in the yard next door and everyone knows Pit Bulls are vicious.”

It took a few years, she says, looking at how the City could create a bylaw that would provide the tools to allow animal service officers to address problem dogs. The City went from a two-tier system (the dog was either a normal dog or a bull-breed dog and therefore vicious) to a three-tiered system outlining the approach for dealing with normal, aggressive, and vicious dogs, regardless of breed, based solely on exhibited behaviour.

“From an enforcement perspective, it’s the best way to have consistency,” Bull says. “Pit Bull owners across the board have given positive feedback. They feel like they are being more fairly treated.”

Coquitlam wasn’t alone in repealing ineffective and prejudicial BSL, says Hugabull’s Begg. Delta and Vancouver, BC, repealed their own BSL as did Edmonton, AB. Cincinnati, OH repealed BSL after living with it for nine years. But the question remains, why would any jurisdiction keep—or worse, introduce—BSL knowing it doesn’t address the problem? Why create a law that leaves us all vulnerable just because it wears a cloak of false protection?

“Because it’s easy to do,” says Begg. “It’s easy to enact. You write it on a piece of paper. It gives policy makers an easy out to address a problem. An incident happens and the media glom onto ‘Pit Bull versus Dog’ story and there’s a lot of hype. The community cries for a breed ban in response and the policy makers feel pressure. Besides, they see that other places have done it.”

Shattering entrenched irrational fears is neither fast nor easy work, but exposing them to the clear light of day is a good start. In the case of BSL, the documentary Beyond the Myth does just that, forcing an examination of mistaken beliefs and providing much-needed information to counter the myths and misperceptions surrounding this group of dogs.

I know personally that the first step to addressing a fear is to recognize it as unfounded. I also know I need to take Begg up on her offer to spend some time with one of her “very clownish, gregarious, goofy, and loving” Pit Bulls because, as she says, until we look at the root cause of our fear, nothing is going to change.

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Comments (39)

As someone who knew "that" same fear and even had a couple of nightmares about "pit bulls" I feel I must 'warn you". YOU my friend are about to lose your Heart and it will never again be the same. I got to know my first "one" 20 years ago and my heart can't go one without having "one" of "those" dogs in my life. I have never trusted media since.
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 21:41
Most of the people slaughtered by pitbulls are family, and most of them are children. Go to dogsbite.org, a website operated by a woman in Austin, Texas who was attacked by a pitbul and she has a wealth of information on just how dangerous pitbulls are. My neighbor's sister was killed by her own pitbull when it tore out her throat and a 77 year old neighbor was attacked by a pitbull just around the corner from where I live and a few days ago a six year old boy had both of his ears chewed off and his scalp torn off in a pitbull attack. And finally, I am a former pitbull owner and I know the truth about "THE MOST DANGEROUS BREED OF DOG IN THE WORLD", and now it's time for you to know the truth, too, my friend. Take care.
Fri, 11/08/2019 - 00:47
That is probably te best article I have ever read on the subject of BSL. For some one who volunteers with a pitbull advocacy group, it is so re-vitalizing to know that the publics mind can be changed. And to think, you have my even met one yet. This article re-inspires me to keep fighting for these terribly misunderstood dogs, and to keep educating the public about them. Thank you, and I do hope you get to meet one Shelagh'a dogs, they are a very special bunch.
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 22:17
Pitbulls are terribly misunderstood, that is true, given the American people don't know that since 2005 nearly 350 MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN (MOSTLY CHILDREN) HAVE BEEN SLAUGHTERED BY PITBULLS and countless Americans have been attacked by pitbulls and some of them are maimed for life. In the last 5 years pitbulls - 1 breed of 400 breeds of dogs - have ACCOUNTED FOR 83% OF ALL FATAL ATTACKS ON AMERICANS and again most of those slaughtered were terrified, kicking and screaming children. Go to dogsbite.org, a website operated by a woman named Colleen Lynne in Austin, Texas who was attacked by a pitbull and learn the truth about pitbulls, "THE MOST DANGEROUS BREED OF DOG IN THE WORLD." Colleen is friends with my neighbor whose sister was killed by her sweet, loving, wouldn't hurt a fly pitbull WHEN HE TORE OUT HER THROAT. Take care, my friend, and someday I hope you will join the fight to ban pitbulls in America just like they have been banned in a number of other countries. By the way, I am a former pitbull owner and I know the truth about this breed that was carefully bred in the 19th century in England to be an attacking and killing machine. I call pitbulls THE DEVIL'S DOG because that's truly what they are.
Fri, 11/08/2019 - 01:11
Great article, I know how you felt for I had several bad encounters with German Shepherds. Even though every time I encounter one and those memories come flooding back, I would NEVER support Breed Specific Legislation in any way shape or form. You can't honestly call yourself a dog lover if you don't love all dogs. Punish the deed, not the breed.
Thu, 02/21/2013 - 05:51
Thank you for overcoming fear, and facing the truth..and then sharing it in such an intelligent and well thought out way. I too...overcame that fear....and fell in love......while not currently an owner....I hope to someday be fortunate enough to be one...and help to dispell the rampant ignorance and hate. I must add, only reason I am not an owner now is due to having too many dogs already ! :) Even if never given opportunity to be owned by a pittie, I will ALWAYS be a supporter of this breed.
Thu, 02/21/2013 - 06:56
Thank you for writing this, for being honest, for educating yourself and for sharing. This was absolutely one of the best articles I have read and I will share in the hopes that someone else will have their, "Ah Haa" moment. Thank you again.
Thu, 02/21/2013 - 07:39
Many pitbulls have wonderful homes and many more end up suffering terribly. There should be a law that prevents breeding of pitbull not because they are dangerous but to stop their suffering.
Fri, 02/22/2013 - 05:25
I had a white dog that was part Dalmation and part Boxer. Because she was white and had the features you mentioned in your article, everyone would say she was a pit bull. As she got older, she developed spots like a Dalmation. She was the sweetest, most obedient dog that loved all dogs and people. I made sure she was socialized, meeting 100 different dogs and owners before she was 8 months old. Her favorite buddies were dauschunds because they would roll and keep running when she would sometimes nudge them when running. I had to give her away when I moved and found a good home for her. I went back 3 years later and she remembered me but had changed as she was treated differently than I had treated and loved her. Still miss my Pink!
Fri, 02/22/2013 - 09:10
Great article! Broward County, FL (Ft. Lauderdale area) is considering a ban on "pit bulls" Commissioners will discuss and vote on Tuesday, 2/26/13. I hope it can be stopped!
Fri, 02/22/2013 - 16:21
Great article. So many people fall into the media sinkhole that is BSL. I am proud to be a resident of Coquitlam and that BSL is no longer part of the Animal Control bylaw. All dogs are created equal, it's the owners who decide how their dog represents its breed.
Sat, 02/23/2013 - 20:42
Thank you so much for attending the Beyond the Myth event and for this excellent article. This is one of the most compelling and balanced articles I have read on this topic, especially since you were willing to admit your fear of this breed. I hope you get a chance to meet a pit bull soon - be prepared to have your heart stolen!
Tue, 02/26/2013 - 09:22
I own 2 rescue "pit bull" type dogs one already has her CGC and the other is on his way to earning it and live in an older community in SW Florida and have NEVER had any issues with other dogs besides them going after my dogs ! Humans treat fear of animals they same way they do of themselves...... If you're afraid of the race/breed KILL IT, just like the Nazi's !
Tue, 02/26/2013 - 19:39
Outstanding article. Thank you for writing it! Part of the reason I adopted my dog Zoe is to help show people they aren't bad. Good luck with getting over your fear! :)
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 12:09
You should ask the permission of every dog owner to pet unknown dogs, regardless of breed. Not all dogs are comfortable being handled by humans they don't know and depending on their story could interpret your behavior as aggressive, leading to reactionary behavior from the dog up to and including a bite. Any breed, ANY size. Part of changing BSL includes OUR behavior towards dogs, not just labeling behavior from the dogs themselves.
Mon, 03/11/2013 - 19:55
I liked this article and kudos to the writer for openly admitting her fear - despite how unpopular it would be with pittie lovers like myself. That said, I have to ask, has she spent any time with our beloved pitties since she wrote this!?
Wed, 03/13/2013 - 07:29
This is one of the most moving articles I have read, and I have read a lot recently, and it has inspired me to do so much more to fight BSL. The only thing I would add is that your link didn't work... moderndogmagazine.com/bullyforyou - I would have liked to see the six beautiful bully breeds.
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 05:47
I too feared the mighty Pit Bull at one time, thanks to the media. You know how I overcame that fear? By adopting a rescued Pit Bull in desperate need of a home. I can honestly say I had never known the depth of love and devotion I now know after adopting my wonderful, loving, and gentle Pit Bull. He is my love. My life. I thought I was saving him but it is he who saved me. My heart is a melted mess when it comes to him. If BSL was introduced where I live, I would have to move. Plain and simple. I will never give up my Pit Bull - or turn my back on the breed. I am forever a lover of Pit Bulls.
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 13:58
I have two bullies, and I'm proud of it. I had a border collie mix lab that bit me five times while encountering other dogs, and after the fifth time I decided to have her euthanize.What help me in my decision was that my oldest daughter told me that my border collie mix growled at my grandson the day she was guarding her while I was moving. And now that I have two bullies, it's really not the same thing. They love kids. The only attack they give is licks attacks. My oldest grandson can lay on them, pull their ears, put his fingers in their mouth as if he was playing vet, and they never say a peep. I won't say the same thing about my border collie mix. I'm sad about these BSL because when you want to move and change cities, it makes it difficult. I don't find it fair because I have two potentially armful dog, that's how they called them in some cities here in Quebec, to choose a city where to live. I find it just the best way to confine I breed in the same area. People that are ok with their dogs will have to live in the same area with the people that do criminal things with theirs. It's ridiculous. Any dogs can be dangerous. I think that it should be equitable to any breed. And personally the dogs should pass obedience degrees, and they should be free to act like other dogs until they show aggressiveness. And then law should be applied. I don't trust any breed of dogs that show aggressiveness to anybody. That's my opinion.
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 17:18
Congratulations on being able to see beyond the irrational fears so many have of these precious dogs. As someone who has one and has spent much time fighting for them, I can still remember being just like you. The media said they were vicious, therefore they must be. I, too, felt I could be attacked without provocation by any Pit Bull... it took a lot of self-examination and allowing myself to get to know and understand these dogs to get past the fear and prejudice. I am grateful you took the time to hear the truth and that you will soon become a "convert". I can guarantee you will love every goofy smile, zoomie runs and wiggle-butt moments with these adorable clowns! Well written and much appreciated article...
Sun, 03/17/2013 - 23:41
What an awesome article. Thank you so, so much!
Mon, 03/18/2013 - 14:00
"Punish a deed, not a breed" should be practiced and enforced. Plenty of little dogs that bite go unpunished but pitbulls outright get judged by its cover out of ignorance and misunderstanding. Who's the bully now?
Fri, 03/22/2013 - 20:06
what would I do if this happened in my town? as a single woman without human kids, my answer is simple - MOVE!
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 01:38
So many dog people do not understand the body language and facial expressions of dogs. I think cat people are more likely to be attuned to these sorts of things, since cats are by far less tolerant about invasion of their space. But a dog - any dog - is already telling you if it's OK to be approached, if it's OK to enter his space, and if he wants to be touched. All you have to do is pay attention to what he's saying.

And BSL is BS.
Mon, 04/08/2013 - 12:08
i would move
Sun, 04/14/2013 - 09:34
I just entered our new rescued pit in the photo contest. Until he came along, I was scared of them, too. But, he's such a sweet, loving dog, he got me over that quickly! http://www.moderndogmagazine.com/photocontest/entry/nipper#comment-40825
Sun, 04/21/2013 - 10:31
i think this is terrible all b/c people dont know how to treat or train their dogs. it is not the dogs or the breed but humans that are responsible. in nc legislature, they are trying to stop people from adopting specific breeds (pit bulls, german shephers, rotties, chows, or mixbreed etc.) by making it so hard to adopt. you have to go thru a 4 hr training class, have a home visit, background check, they notify your insurance company....people are not want to go thru that much to adopt a dog....i hope it does not pass.
Fri, 05/03/2013 - 08:02
Such a wonderful article - when our pitbull came into the house she was 12 weeks old and would have be destined to be a bait dog cause she just scared - only thing we asked our 19 year old son to do was make sure she is trained and socialised but above all love .. they say once you own a pitbull you cant be without one - that is so so so true.. she is amazing - luvable - reliable and so an absolute joy. At 7 years old she goes to work onsite at our clients houses with us always and people start to realise no mater what she is in breed she is just the best.
Mon, 05/06/2013 - 00:51
denying the statistics compiled by emergency rooms and coroners offices that pit bull bulls attack account for more fatalities by far than any other breed is like denying the fact that seat belts save lives, or saying that smoking isn't bad for you. Facts don't lie. If Pomeranians killed dozens of people a year, I would want them banned too.
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 14:51
What would I do if my city banned my dog's breed? I'd ask myself if it had anything to do with the breed's kill record. 15 people have died from dog attacks this year - 14 of those attacks involved pit bulls. BSL isn't an irrational discriminatory policy created by people who hate a type of dog, it's a reaction to the fact that pit bulls have killed more people in the past 40 years than any other breed/type of dog. The tiny minority of people who own these animals are loud and aggressive, and they terrorize communities that propose BSL. Dog owners should be frightened, but the danger isn't that once BSL bans pit bulls, then people will start breeding Portuguese Water Dogs for aggression and then BSL will come for them. No, what we should all worry about is that pit bull people defend their own rights by destroying ours. Their pets' violent attacks destroy our peace of mind walking our normal dogs, and their rhetoric - all dogs bite, never leave a child alone with a dog, dogs can be provoked to a killing rage by a hamburger or by being touched - is going to lead, when coupled with a refusal to control the breeds responsible for violence, to wholesale bans on the species. Why should the larger society tolerate dogs if they all bite? If they all kill children if left alone for 10 minutes with a baby?

Modern Dog shouldn't support the pit bull owners. It's like a parenting magazine supporting pedophiles. Pit bulls prey on other dogs, and their owners are destroying our place in society by claiming, loudly and aggressively, that our dogs share their pets' problems.
Thu, 06/20/2013 - 22:02


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