Breed Specific Legislation: Our experience & research

Guest Blog Post by Amanda Hawkins, Senior Manager of Animal Care

As a charitable animal welfare organization, we are at the front line in enforcing and managing dogs that fall under Ontario’s Breed Specific Legislation. In 1997, a law was passed in Kitchener and Waterloo in that any dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar to a pit bull terrier, a Staffordshire bull terrier, an American Staffordshire terrier or an American pit bull terrier is prohibited from residing in these cities. When the provincial ban was enacted in 2005, this law now applied to all of our communities.  

When this ban first came to fruition in 1997, numerous dogs and puppies were unnecessarily euthanized because of their appearance. Rescues were not as well known then or utilized, like they are now.  Today, shelters in Ontario have established relationships with in-province rescues, as well as humane societies and rescue partners in other provinces where a ban does not exist. These relationships greatly benefit those dogs that can be rehomed successfully outside of Ontario.

Experiences and Challenges Faced from this Legislation

Overall, the statistics do not prove that BSL is effective in limiting dog bites or attacks.

In Perth County, from 2003 to 2019, some of the top types of dogs involved in biting incidents in Perth county are “cross or mixed breeds” at 34.1% and “unknown breeds” at 6.2%.  Perth County does not have Pitbulls listed as a breed, so let’s assume they are placed under the terrier breed (ie Pitbull Terrier). Terrier bite incidents measured at 4.0% while other breeds ranked higher.

In Waterloo Region, from 2009 to 2019, there were 6,150 bites reported.  The top types of dogs involved in biting incidents in Waterloo Region are “unknown” or “less than five other breeds” at 3,079 and “mixed breeds”. In 10 years, there were only 21 Pitbulls that had reportedly bit, while other breeds ranked higher.

Since 2015 KWSPHS has taken in 60 dogs that fall under the BSL. Five of these dogs were humanely euthanized: three were euthanized at the owners’ request, one was euthanized as a medical emergency and one was euthanized because it attacked another dog unprovoked. The remainder were found to be very friendly, happy and sweet.

For the dogs who can be rehomed, the legislation hurts the animal and those trying to help them. At KWSPHS we will do everything in our in power to find a suitable rescue for any dog that we are unable to place up for adoption.  However under the current legislation, we have very limited options on how to proceed with these dogs. We can adopt them to homes out of province or transfer to other rescue organizations in or out of province.  Where we encounter medical issues or safety concerns related to behaviour or aggression, we are faced with humane euthanasia.

For those dogs that come into our care and are restricted by the legislation, thankfully the majority are transferred to other organizations. However this poses many challenges:

  • We are only able to transfer these dogs when space is available within the receiving groups. This means that many of these dogs are spending very long periods of time within the shelter waiting for transfer. On average, these dogs were housed in the shelter for 54 days prior to transfer. The longest stay was 141 days.
  • Spending this length of time housed in a shelter has definite welfare implications for these animals. We see both behavioural and medical issues that develop, secondary to stress, as well as the emotional toll placed on staff and volunteers caring for these animals. Sadly we do not even have the option of placing these dogs in foster homes while awaiting a permanent placement for them.
  • Spending this length of time in shelter also places large financial pressures on our organization
    • The average daily cost of housing a dog in our shelter is $35.
    • Additionally, these dogs receive routine vaccinations, parasite control, spay/neuter procedures, and treatment for any existing or new medical concerns that arise. The routine medical care for these dogs is on average $120-$185 per dog.
    • Additional medical treatments increase costs significantly.
    • Therefore, for a dog that remains in the centre for the average 54 days and receives only preventative medical care, the cost to our organization is $2,075 per dog. 

As mentioned previously, the majority of these dogs are transferred to other groups. Since the beginning of 2015, we have transferred 28 dogs to other groups. Ten of these were to local rescue organizations, and 18 were flown to humane societies located out of province. The average cost of the out of province transfers is $400 per dog (just for travel).

(Note: the remaining dogs would have been returned to their owners to go through the appeal process of appealing the BSL, or for them to rehome privately).

One of the biggest challenges we face? Despite the legislation designed to eliminate the breed in our province, these dogs still exist within our communities.

With a dual role of animal control and sheltering, we are presented with these dogs regularly and unfortunately, the current legislation provides very limited options for ways in which we can manage them. As you can see, the stress placed on the dogs and their caregivers is considerable, in addition to the financial burdens on our organization. Furthermore, of the 28 dogs transferred in the last four years, not one has been reported to have behavioural concerns or aggression by the receiving organization.

In our experience, targeting specific breeds has not been successful or beneficial. Overlooking the fact that these dogs remain in the province still today and not allowing for more reasonable management options is detrimental to our organization as well as the dogs themselves. 

Our formal position statement

The Humane Society of Kitchener Waterloo & Stratford Perth does not support breed-specific legislation. The Society believes that a community approach to responsible pet ownership, one that focuses on the behaviour of the individual dog and owner, is the most productive way to protect the public and promote animal welfare and education.

We welcome you to read our full position statement on Breed Specific Legislation in Ontario here.

Further Research

The following is research from Montreal, where the ban was enacted and then overturned.

Montreal successfully overturned their BSL after demonstrating that there was no scientific research to prove that breed depicts the level of dangerousness.  They also found that it was ineffective in decreasing the incidence or severity of dog bites.

 

Factors related to fatal dog attacks in the U.S. (total of 256 cases)

• Absence of person able to intervene (87.1%)

• Incidental or no familiar relationship of victim with dog (85.2%)

• Unneutered dog (84.4%)

• Compromised ability of victim to interact appropriately with dog (77.4%)

• Dog kept isolated from regular positive human interactions (76.2%)

• History of mismanagement of dog by owner (37.5%)

• History of abuse or neglect of dog (21.1%)

Patronek, G. J., Sacks, J. J., Delise, K. M., Cleary, D. V., & Marder, A. R. (2013). Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009). Journal of the American. Veterinary Medical Association, 243(12), 1726-1736.

 

Fatal dog attacks in Quebec since 1979

1979 3 month-old infant killed by dog identified as purebred Malamute

1988 17 month-old infant killed by tethered dog identified as Malamute

1988 4 year-old boy killed by CKC registered Malamute

1997 5 year old girl killed by two dogs identified as Huskies (one loose and one tethered)

1999 2 year-old boy killed by tethered dog identified as Husky

2010 3 week-old infant killed by two dogs identified as Huskies

2014 4 year-old girl killed by tethered dog on a reserve (no breed ID)

2016 55 year-old woman killed by dog identified as a Pit Bull

 

Factors related to fatal dog attacks in Canada 1990-2007 (total of 28 cases)

• Child victim (22)

• Absence of supervision (19 of the child victims)

• Multiple dogs (19)

• Breed:

• 7 Huskies / Husky mixes / Malamutes / “sled dogs”

• 5 Rottweilers / Rottweiler mixes

• Others (1): American Staffordshire Terrier, Chow Chow, Border Collie, Bull Mastiff, Labrador

• Unknown

Raghavan, M. (2008). Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990–2007. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 49(6), 577.

 

Intact males involved in 70-76% of incidents

• Generally happens on the property where the dog lives

• Heredity

• Early experience & socialization

• Training

• Health (medical & behavioural)

• Victim behaviour

• Degree of damage is directly correlated to the weight of the dog

 

Breed Specific Legislation is found to be unfair

·       Generally includes a grandfather clause allowing the keeping of currently owned dogs but imposes restrictions on these dogs.

·       Punishes responsible dog owners whose dogs have no history of aggressive behaviour

·       Grandfather clause only protects dogs who are already owned on the date the ban comes into effect

·       Adoption of targeted dogs prohibited once the ban is in effect

·       Can lead to euthanasia of healthy and behaviourally sound dogs in shelters

·       Restrictions on owned dogs also increases surrender rate

·       Costs related to the seizure of impounded of dogs

·       Costs related to litigation

Instead of funding evidence-based programs (stricter enforcement of animal control by-laws & animal welfare legislation, publicly-funded low-cost spay/neuter services, school education programs, etc.) enforceability of BSL depends on ability to correctly identify targeted dogs.

Studies have shown that visual breed identification is highly unreliable, particularly for mixed breeds, even when carried out by experienced individuals such as veterinarians, trainers, and shelter workers.

Voith, V. L., Trevejo, R., Dowling-Guyer, S., Chadik, C., Marder, A., Johnson, V., & Irizarry, K. (2013). Comparison of visual and DNA breedidentification of dogs and inter-observer reliability. American Journal of Sociological Research, 3(2), 17-29.

Ultimately, any dog, regardless of breed, can be dangerous. Inadequate socialization, improper training and being unsterilized are key factors in the development of aggressive behaviour.

OTHER

Read our formal Position Statement here.

Read the second part to this series - Breed Specific Legislation: Our Position on BSL