A Prince Edward Island dog park is facing criticism for banning specific types of dogs, a policy an expert says is legal but not the answer to preventing dog bites.
Tasha Ramsay says she tried to take her young pure-bred Rottweiler, Molly, to Slemon Park Hounds Grounds in Summerside last month, but a sign posted on the gate said the site prohibits “pit bulls, Rottweilers and other lock jaw breeds.”
“I was really angry because ‘lock jaw’ has been proven to be a myth. There are no actual breeds that lock their jaws,” said Ramsay, 26, in a phone interview from Miscouche, P.E.I. “Any dog can bite and be vicious.”
In P.E.I., there is no breed-specific legislation – restrictions and bans placed on certain breeds of dogs – and Summerside’s animal bylaw only states that nobody can own a dog deemed “a threat to the community” by the animal control officer.
Ramsay said it’s unfair for the park to place a sweeping ban on all pit bulls and Rottweilers, describing six-month-old Molly as a “giant lap-dog” who gets along well with humans and other dogs alike.
“She’s not the least bit vicious,” said Ramsay. “Everybody she meets, she just wants to give them a thousand kisses.”
Specific rules about dogs vary from park to park, and some dog parks in Canada have different sections for smaller and larger breeds.
Shawn McCarville, president of the Slemon Park Corp., a business and residential community where the dog park is located, said the rule was put in place following specific incidents in the park involving pit bulls and Rottweilers.
“A police cadet got bit in the face by a pit bull in 2013, the same year the dog park opened, so we were particularly conscious of that at that point in time,” he said.
McCarville said the park was specifically made for Slemon Park’s residents and the rule is associated with their lease agreement, which also bans Rottweilers and pit bulls.
Though the park is for the community’s residents, he said anyone, except people who own those types of dogs, can use it.
“Most people that I’ve spoken to thought it was a good and reasonable rule,” McCarville said.
He noted the term “lock jaw breed” is outdated and said the company plans to change the wording of the sign, though the rule itself will remain in place.
The situation speaks to a larger issue of prejudice against Rottweilers and so-called “bully breeds,” according to Dog Legislation Council of Canada researcher Steve Barker.
He said private park owners have every right to ban these types of dogs from their park, though he feels there are more effective ways to manage bites.
“Targeting a specific breed when 99.5 per cent of that breed will never bite is punishing 99.5 per cent of that breed for what .5 per cent might do,” he said.
“You’re targeting these massive groups of dogs to try to go after a tiny, tiny minority.”
He said proper education for dog owners and better enforcement of existing animal control bylaws is a better approach to reducing the risk of dog bites, noting that Calgary introduced these types of measures targeting vicious behaviour instead of breeds and saw an 80 per cent decrease over the course of about 15 years.
While Ontario is the only province with a blanket pit bull ban, some municipalities within other Canadian provinces have bylaws in place restricting or preventing the ownership of pit bull-type dogs.
A controversial bylaw banning pit bulls following a fatal dog attack was introduced in Montreal in 2016, but was repealed a year later. Other regions in nearly every other province – except P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador – have some sort of breed-specific legislation in place, be it regulations like muzzling dogs in public or keeping them on a shorter leash, or outright bans.
Barker said there is no evidence indicating breed-specific legislation cuts down on dog bite incidents, though he said it’s hard to tell because reputable data on dog bite rates in Canada is either very outdated or difficult to find.
“There is no central place for bites to be recorded, so nobody actually knows how many bites there are,” he said.
He said the lack of accessible and reliable information about dog bite rates can make it easy for misinformation to be spread.
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In terms of the dog park in P.E.I, Barker said he understands why the rule was put in place, even if he doesn’t agree with it.
“If someone has had a bad experience with a breed of dog, it is very natural for that person to not want to have that dog around,” he said.
He hopes that Canada will implement a central reporting system for dog bites so it’s easier for people to find facts and figures rather than anecdotal evidence when it comes to implementing breed-specific policies.
In the meantime, Ramsay said she’ll be taking Molly to another dog park.