Montreal pit bull ban an extremist solution to a complex problem

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

Puppy lives matter, but so do human lives

By Cazzy Lewchuk, Opinions Editor

Montreal has controversially introduced a ban on new ownership of dogs with pit bull characteristics. The law bans importing and breeding the dogs, with currently unowned ones set to be shipped away or euthanized.

I am not a fan of pit bulls. I think they are fundamentally more dangerous than other dogs, and require special care to avoid being a danger. I would be uncomfortable in the presence of a pit bull, or with someone I know owning one. Like it or not, pit bulls can and do seriously injure or kill people sometimes. They are aggressive dogs, and they can attack without warning. Many pit bulls are friendly, harmless, loving creatures. Most go their whole lives without ever attacking anyone. Still, it only takes one bite.

I am very torn on this issue. While I understand that banning a breed is not the right answer, pit bulls are also very dangerous. In many instances, we are talking about a life-altering or fatal injury. If this ban results in even one less human death, is it justified? It’s a frustrating problem with no easy answer.

Many dogs bite people. Dedicated and responsible owners quickly teach their dogs not to bite, and many dog bites are not particularly harmful. Getting nibbled on by a Pomeranian is a lot more adorable than bleeding from a nibble by a pit bull. However, being bitten by many large aggressive dogs can cause serious injury.

It’s true there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. Unfortunately, we live in a system that rarely regulates or educates pet owners. It’s only after an attack has already happened that we consider rules about controlling your dog. We do not require licences to own a dog, or special training to prevent aggression in your pet. We do not test for mistreatment of these animals, which have complex emotional needs and a predisposition towards aggression.

In Calgary, responsible pet ownership is advocated through specific by-laws. These include mandatory dog licences, as well as advocacy and public education on how to treat your animal. The cliché is true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It definitely works, but it’s also hard to implement, and may face opposition from the public. Regulation is expensive, bureaucratic, and time-consuming. It’s a lot easier for the city to just ban the dangerous things.

Banning a specific breed leads to the miseducation of the public. It creates a false sense of security that pit bulls are the only “dangerous” dogs around, and continues to prevent pet owners from taking proper precautions. That said, it is effective. It may be an extreme solution, and definitely not a perfect one, but it does help to solve the problem.

One only has to look to the neighbouring province of Ontario to understand the effect pit bull bans have. In 2005, Ontario passed laws banning the import of pit bulls into the province. It also required existing ones to be muzzled or leashed in public, as well as sterilized. Due to the life span of dogs, there are very few pit bulls left in the province, and there will soon be zero. Although pit bull bites have decreased, total dog bites have actually increased, and illegal pit bulls continue to bite people sometimes.

I don’t know if I am for or against this pit bull ban. On the surface, I am against it. I understand that banning specific breeds is an extreme solution that does not account for other factors, or increase responsibility. But I also understand pit bulls can and do kill people. Neither solution is perfect, and in the end both sides share the same goal: eliminating these attacks. This ban may not eliminate every pit bull attack, but it will—most likely—decrease them. Is one human life more important than the welfare of hundreds of dogs? That’s for us to decide, individually. Our answer may change if the life was our own, or that of someone we love.