Pit bull bylaws make sense

Legislation targeting pit bull type dogs elicits the same howls of outrage wherever it is enacted. Montreal is no exception.

And woe to those rare commentators like me who support such bans. After 13 years of receiving hate mail characterized by invective (not to mention threats) that horrifies my friends, I have concluded that pit bull advocates are themselves a special “breed” of dog lover. Most dog fanciers enthusiastically promote their beloved breed’s evidence-based virtues; pit bull advocates strenuously deny their beloved breed’s evidence-based vices.

Support for the Montreal ban was initially high, followingupon the Point-aux-Trembles fatal attack on 55-year old Christiane Vadnais by a pit bull (the dog had been registered as a boxer because that community already has a pit bull bylaw). With memory of the incident receding, though, support is fading. According to a recent survey, only 49% of people now approve the ban, down from 70% in a June CROP-La Presse survey.


The surveys reveal an interesting disparity in approvalbetween language groups. Only 36% of polled anglophones favour the ban as opposed to 50% of francophones. I think I can explain the gap.

The pit bull advocacy movement, based in the U.S., propagandizes almost entirely in English, so the “canine correctness” they champion has not penetrated francophone culture as it has the English-speaking world. Anglos are far more likely than francophones to have internalized activists’ catechism of myths, such as:

• all breeds are equally likely to “bite” (fact: yes, but pit bull types “maul” or “kill” more than all other breeds combined);

• there are no inherently dangerous dogs, just bad owners (fact: many loved, neutered, well-socialized pit bulls inexplicably savage or kill family members, a freakishly rare phenomenon otherwise);

• it’s hard to identify pit bulls (fact: it isn’t difficult;this has been court-tested);

• punish the owner, not the dog (fact: public safety is about prevention, not punishment);

• it is “racist” to single out pit bulls (fact: breeds are line bred to produce stereotypes; it would be foolish not to profile any animal by its genetic traits that shares our homes and neighbourhoods).


A related reason for the numbers disparity is that Montreal’s English-language media – including this publication – have presented a united editorial front opposing the ban, not the case in the francophone media, where reaction was mixed. In particular, a five-part in-depth La Presse series on pit bulls by investigative reporter Marie-Claude Malboeuf was given great prominence last August, and doubtless persuaded many francophones of the inherent elevated risk for impulsive aggression posed byfighting dogs.

Superficially informed pundits often invoke the pro-pit bull voices of dog-industry professionals. But Malboeuf blew the lid off rampant conflict of interest amongst such stakeholders. In particular she revealed that the anti-ban Ordre des Médecins Vétérinaire du Québec (OMVQ) had promoted bogus pit bull lobby “studies” as scientifically credible, for which they were forced to publicly apologize. But even when invoking credible studies, the OMVQ cherry-picked data, omitting, for example, unequivocal statements in them indicting pit bulls as an elevated risk to public safety, especially children.

Emeritus McGill University professor Barry Pless, an expert in Pediatric Trauma and Epidemiology, as well as founder of the journal Injury Prevention, looked into the file for La Presse, and was scandalized at the abuse of epidemiological norms he found being used to launder pit bulls: “To conduct studies, which aim first of all to prevent laws from being adopted and not declare their conflict of interest, is the strategy employed by the weapons lobby and the tobacco lobby.”

In the U.S. a pit bull type dog kills a human being more than twice a month. Representing about 6% of the dog breed population, in 2015 they contributed to 82% of human dogbite-related fatalities and 95% of dogbite-related domestic-animal fatalities. Pit bulls are not dangerous because they attract bad owners. Bad owners are attracted to pit bulls because they are dangerous.