Pit bull owners need to step up

Having a dog that can pose a serious danger to others means needing to be more responsible than someone who can fit their annoyingly yappy – yet harmless – dog in their purse. Jacqueline Wilson / Global News

Jon Dunnill’s dog was mauled and killed inside of his Toronto condo last year. A neighbour’s dog, named Brownie, was in the hallway and as Dunnill’s sister-in-law was trying to enter Dunnill’s condo unit, the dog had managed to wander into Dunnill’s condo unit and attack his twelve-year-old Havanese. While speaking to the Morning Show on AM640, Dunnill described the attack as swift and unexpected, stating that he thought Brownie was simply going to come over and sniff his dog.

LISTEN: Jon Dunnill speaks with the Morning Show on AM640

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Dunnill’s neighbours cooperated with authorities and turned Brownie over to Toronto Animal Services, whereby it was determined that Brownie was an American Stratfordshire terrier, which is a type of pit bull. Brownie has since been euthanized.

After the Crown had decided that there was not a reasonable chance of criminal conviction, Dunnill decided to take matters to civil court, and has filed a small claims suit against Brownie’s owners, as well as Dog Tales, a dog and horse rescue organization that had adopted out Brownie.

Pit bulls have been banned in Ontario since 2005. The Dog Owners’ Liability Act and Public Safety Related to Dogs Statute Law Amendment Act were both introduced by the Liberal government, and govern the restriction of pit bulls in the province. The ban remains controversial with pit bull advocates correctly pointing out that while bites from pit bull type dogs dropped by more than 70 per cent between 2005 and 2014, the overall number of dog bites during that same period went up by more than 60 per cent, bringing into question whether the ban actually protects people.

Breed specific legislation and outright bans targeting pit bulls are almost always controversial, for a number of reasons. It’s clear that not all pit bulls will pose a threat to others, as dogs are also products of their environment and upbringing. There are plenty of friendly, even-tempered pit bull type dogs just as there are plenty of dogs exhibiting aggressive behaviours that are not pit bulls. Additionally, qualifying what kinds of dogs could potentially be labeled as pit bulls is not an easy task, especially in mixed breed dogs.

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That pit bull advocates would criticize breed specific legislation and outright bans is unsurprising, but the categorical refusal to acknowledge the potential harm pit bulls and other types of molosser breeds can inflict is indeed shocking.

WATCH BELOW: A Surrey couple, who were attacked by two pit bulls while out walking near Tynehead Park, is petitioning the city to toughen up their policies on aggressive dogs. 

Click to play video: 'Surrey couple attacked by two pit bulls are fighting back'
Surrey couple attacked by two pit bulls are fighting back

Dogs have been artificially selected over thousands of years to exhibit all sorts of physical and behavioral attributes that we now classify as individual breeds. We know dogs that were bred for retrieving birds tend to have soft palates, and will instinctively retrieve pretty much anything you throw. Other breeds that have been bred for herding purposes will often instinctively herd to the point where many breeders will warn that the dogs may be prone to herding smaller children or other animals in the house. So why is it so hard to admit that certain breeds were bred for exhibiting a higher prey drive, aggression and to attack without warning?

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In responding to media writing about Dunnill’s story, Dog Tales commented that while their hearts go out to Dunnill and his family they also felt for Brownie: “Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Brownie — a sweet, lazy, senior dog who was loved dearly by our staff and volunteers.” The insistence on labeling a dog that had brutally killed another dog as sweet and lazy is not only an appalling display of ignorance and insensitivity but exhibits a particular willful blindness that tends to be present in the vast majority of pit bull advocates.

At the very least, conscientious pit bull owners and advocates should recognize that the breed carries with it a responsibility that is too onerous for a first time or novice dog owner. In fact, dog owners of any breed that have the ability to cause grievous and irreparable harm, injury and death should be willing to recognize that. However, all we seem to hear is the oft-cited refrain of there being no bad dogs, only bad owners instead of alternatives to breed-specific legislation such as mandatory spaying and neutering, robust provincial and municipal registrations, and liability insurance.

Being a dog owner is not a right. There is no section in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms devoted to dog ownership. Having a dog means having responsibilities. Having a dog that can pose a serious danger to others means needing to be more responsible than someone who can fit their annoyingly yappy – yet harmless – dog in their purse. If you can’t see that, then you shouldn’t get a dog, least of all a dog that could maim and kill.

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Supriya Dwivedi is host of The Morning Show on Toronto’s Talk Radio AM640 and a columnist for Global News.

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