Barbara Kay: Pit bulls are disproportionally dangerous. Why is Calgary importing more of them?
There is a reason pit bull type dogs are banned in 41 countries and from 292 U.S. military bases.
Only two countries allow the importation of pit bull type dogs: Canada and the U.S.
In mid-June, 32 rescue dogs were saved from “death’s row” in a Bakersfield, California kill shelter and sent to Calgary for rehoming. The operation was jointly arranged by Wings of Rescue, an American charity, and BARC, a Calgary rescue organization. Of the 32 dogs, 17 are pit bulls.
It’s no coincidence that Calgary was targeted for this mission. Not only is Calgary a dog-friendly city, its animal control policy makes no distinctions between high and low-risk dogs, a direct reflection of the views of Bill Bruce, Calgary’s director of animal and bylaw services from 2000-2012 and author of the much-touted “Calgary model.”
Of his 2006 Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw, Bruce stated, “Our philosophy is that aggression is a human problem with respect to managing their dog more than it is a canine issue, and if we address the human side, the canine problem will take care of itself.”
The Calgary model emphasizes owner responsibility through education, with serious fines for canine misbehaviour. But in spite of assiduous attention to the “human side,” which did produce high licencing statistics, Bruce’s predictions of diminished canine ravages were trumped by fighting-dog genetics. There were 58 dog attacks in 2009, 102 in 2010, 127 in 2011 and 201 last year, a disproportional number of them by pit bulls. By contrast, since Ontario’s pit bull ban was enacted in 2005, serious dog-related damage has decreased by 32 per cent — from 486 to 329, almost entirely due to the radical diminution of the pit bull population.
According to reports by Animals24-7.org publisher Merritt Clifton, pit bulls can constitute up to two-thirds of the shelter population, since in any given year 33 per cent of pit bulls will be dumped by their owners. If a pit bull is slated for euthanizing — about a million pit bulls in North America are euthanized every year, so the 17 that arrived in Calgary are the proverbial drop in the bucket — it is usually for a good reason: the owner has become frightened of the dog after an “incident,” or the dog has mauled or killed another animal, or the dog has outright attacked a human being without provocation.
Years ago, any dog that attacked a human being was instantly euthanized. Today, thanks to the relentless efforts of “no-kill” activism, it is common for rescue operations to promote dogs for adoption they claim to have “rehabilitated,” but that are in fact at elevated risk for further depredations.
For example, in North Carolina last month, six-year old Joshua Phillip Strother was mauled to death by a dog adopted three weeks earlier from the Asheville Humane Society, a pit bull that had passed the supposedly reliable SAFER American SPCA- aggression assessment test. Strother was the 38th American fatality by an adopted shelter dog in the U.S. since 2010, and the 30th from a rehomed pit bull of the kind imported to Calgary.
Commenting on the Strother case, Colleen Lynn, founder of Dogsbite.org, an advocacy site for victims of dangerous dogs, stated, “Currently, there is no way to reliably test for unpredictable pit bull aggression. The ‘state-of-the-art’ temperamental assessment test SAFER cannot measure unpredictable aggression, nor can any current test. This is the risk every person accepts, knowingly or not, when adopting a pit bull.”
It is rationally untenable to believe that fighting dog risks can be normalized through human effort
Calgary must seriously rethink its policy of “punish the deed, not the breed.” On the abundant evidence, it is rationally untenable to believe that fighting dog risks can be normalized through human effort. There is a reason pit bull type dogs are banned in 41 countries and from 292 U.S. military bases (which are not hotbeds of drug runners and dog fighters; indeed they represent a control group of unusually law-abiding Americans). The reason is DNA: pit bull type dogs are unpredictable in their aggression and inflict far greater damage than other breeds. Half their victims are children, of whom more than half are family members.
Calgary was ill-served by the bias Bill Bruce brought to his job. Even during his tenure in Calgary he was (still is) an advisor to the National Canine Research Council, a leading U.S. pit bull advocacy organization, and a propaganda mill for the breed relativism Bruce embraces.
Overall in the U.S., fatalities and disfigurements caused by pit bull type dogs rose 773 per cent from 2007-14. Calgary should rethink its failed model, accept pit bull type dogs for the unique public-safety hazard they are, and deal with the problem dispassionately. At the very least, stop importing the damn things.