Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pit bull safe, loving pets, lawyer says in attacking ban

Pit bull safe, loving pets, lawyer says in attacking ban
Allison Hanes
CanWest News Service; National Post
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dozzer was the first dog slated to be euthanized because of a biting incident under the new pit bull legislation.

TORONTO - Dangerous dogs and not just pit bulls should be the target of efforts to protect the public from unprovoked attacks, Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby argued Monday during a challenge of an Ontario law that effectively aims to ban the breed from the province.

There is no evidence pit bulls are any more prone to biting than other dogs, he told Judge Thea Herman during his final arguments in Ontario's Superior Court of Justice.

Of 55 dogs involved in 23 fatal attacks in Canada since 1983, only one was a pit bull, Ruby said.

''There are scads of pit bulls out there who are safe, loving pets and will never hurt anyone,'' he said.

A breed-specific law that threatens longtime pit bull owners with hefty fines and jail time if they don't muzzle, restrain and neuter their pets and prohibits new dogs from being bred, bought or given as a gift fails in its primary purpose, he said.

''It doesn't focus on dangerousness but rather on breed and breed is not a sufficient enough marker of dangerousness to pass constitutional muster,'' said Ruby, who filed the constitutional challenge of the 2005 law on behalf of University of Toronto anthropology student Catherine Cochrane.

He said instead of cracking down on pit bulls, pet owners should be given the chance to prove their dog is not a threat to the public by having a vet test the animal for traits of aggressiveness or an unpredictable disposition.

Herman asked how Ruby responded to some experts who claim pit bulls usually fail to exhibit any warning signs before attacks.

He said opinion is divided on whether this is true.

Cochrane says her dog, Chess, is a calm and gentle Staffordshire bull terrier mix, one of four specific breeds covered by the legislation.

The identification of specific breeds is a major practical flaw in the law, according to Ruby
Pit bulls are defined for the purposes of the Dog Owner's Liability Act as a pit bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire bull terrier or any dog that looks similar.

That description is so vague as to be overly broad, Ruby said, and could lead to innocent owners of Labrador retrievers or other kinds of dogs being charged or fined under the law just because their pet shares certain physical characteristics with a pit bull.

In Sarnia last month, a justice of the peace acquitted a dog-owner of failing to comply with the laws for that reason.

Another problem, Ruby contended, is that the act leaves it up to veterinarians to weed out the pit bulls from the other breeds, something the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association has already said its members are unqualified to do.

Vets, animal control experts, dog breeders and police are all incapable of distinguishing a pit bull from a pit bull cross, mix breed dog or mutt simply by sight, Ruby said, noting it is a subjective call unless genetic testing is conducted.

The law, he said, should crack down on pet owners who train their animals to be vicious. Such people tend to favour some breeds over others, which he said is probably more responsible for giving pit bulls a bad wrap than the dogs themselves.

''If I'm right in my thesis that bad people create bad dogs E and some people want vicious dogs, then when they ban pit bulls they'll move on to another kind of dog like German shepherds or huskies,'' Ruby said.

Lawyers for the Ontario government, led by attorney Robert Charney, will make their defence of the legislation today.


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