Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New teeth in dog legislation can be costly for owners

New teeth in dog legislation can be costly for owners

If you are a pit bull owner, you only have about five weeks (until Oct. 28) to get your dog spayed or neutered and make sure it’s muzzled and leashed while in public. If you own a different breed of dog – one deemed dangerous – there are some things you should know, too.
Effective Aug. 29, when the amendments to the provincial Dog Owner’s Liability Act – called DOLA for short – kicked in, if your dog bites or attacks another dog or person or its behaviour constitutes a menace to the safety of people or domestic animals, the penalties are more serious.
You could face a fine of up to $10,000 ($60,000 for corporations), six months in jail and the court will be able to make restitution orders requiring convicted persons to make compensation or restitution to victims. Prior to Aug. 29, the maximum fine was $5,000 and there was no jail sentence.
“You have basically 45 days to make sure you have a muzzle that fits the requirements and is most appropriate for your pit bull,” explains Jay Stanford, division manager, environmental programs and customer relations. “All owners of dogs should be alerted that these changes to the provincial rules apply to any dog that has a tendency to be aggressive. Take the time to take that dog to obedience training – which should have happened in the first place – because if your dog happens to bite now, the rules are much tougher; whether you have a pit bull or not.”
But Mr. Stanford says there is no answer currently for the definition of aggression.
“It’s a very big unknown,” he says. “DOLA refers to the word menacing as opposed to aggression. The definition of menacing or the threshold of menacing/not menacing may not be known until it is tested in the court system. This area is viewed as being problematic with respect to enforcing DOLA. Over time it will become clearer.”
Yvette Van Veen, a London pet behaviour consultant and pet columnist for The Londoner, is concerned about the definition of aggression as well. She says aggression can mean many things to many people.
If we were talking people and not dogs, and you disagree with someone, is that aggressive, she asks? If you refuse to participate (passively) is that aggressive? What about a lawsuit? What about a harsh word? What about slamming a door? What about punching someone? What is okay and what is not?
“The answer is so subjective, which is part of the concern for the bylaw,” she says. “If a puppy nips, is that aggression? I ask in my classes for everyone who has a nipping puppy to raise a hand. Almost all do. That would make puppy nipping fall into ‘normal’ behaviour that needs to be addressed, but not necessarily aggression. If a puppy nips and breaks the skin, how does one determine it was a nip, and not an aggressive puppy? I have seen puppies eight weeks of age ready to tear a strip off someone. It's frightening to see a ball of fluff that is in such a rage.”
Within the amended liability act is a new section called pit bull controls regulations. Among other things, it prohibits the breeding, transferring, abandoning, importing and training to fight pit bulls, except as permitted by the Act or regulations under it.
It provides grandfathering provisions for pit bulls, search and seizure of dugs under a warrant (or without a warrant under certain conditions) and delivery of seized or abandoned pit bulls to a pound operated by or on behalf of a municipality, Ontario or designated body. (They can be exempted for research facilities – they are allowed to own, breed and so forth).
In addition to provincial legislation, a new municipal bylaw will regulate and provide for licensing rules of pit bulls. According to Mrs. Van Veen, there is ample evidence that breed specific bans don’t work. She says the city officials currently working on creating the bylaw are considering placing nearly impossible restrictions on pit bull owners.
“I think if there were more preventative measures in place, the safety of the community would be increased and I don’t think we would need the breed specific ban,” she says. “All dogs can be dangerous and it’s serious regardless of the breed. Toy breeds have killed children. I’ve seen some very serious aggression in toy breeds. It’s not pleasant.”
She says owning a dog should involve a similar process as obtaining a driver’s license. You need to gain knowledge – educate yourself about the rules of the road. And when you speed or find yourself in a situation that violates the laws of the highway traffic act, maybe the first time you’ll get a warning. Maybe you’ll get a fine.
Similarly, if you have a dog – of any breed – and it indicates dangerous or aggressive tendencies and someone alerts officials about it, maybe the first time you would get a warning. Maybe some suggestions for encouraging better dog behaviour. She says part of the problem is people aren’t educated first and therefore don’t know how to train their dog so it isn’t aggressive. They may not know their own actions are in fact encouraging aggressive behaviour.
“The biggest trigger for aggression in dogs is tying a dog out on a cable for a prolonged period of time. Depending on the dog, this will definitely lead to aggression,” Mrs. Van Veen says. “I am not convinced that after the fact enforcement is going to work. There needs to be a focus that educates because as long as people don’t know what to do, I’m not sure what they will learn from being punished.”
What may happen is people could hide their dogs from the public eye. Mrs. Van Veen says maybe dog owners will walk their dogs late at night so no one sees what kind of dog they have. They could also become afraid of those who enforce the bylaw – although the city is not sure yet who that may be.
Lack of human or animal socialization could also cause a dog to become aggressive. Ignoring your dog while it’s in the backyard all day long could also cause aggression.
This kind of education has proven useful in Calgary where 90 per cent of dogs are licensed, compared to London’s 50 per cent.
Mrs. Van Veen says it’s nearly impossible for dog owners in Calgary not to know their responsibility before they buy their dog.
“We would love to have every single dog licensed and then some,” Mr. Stanford says. “Calgary has things in place that we can’t have here in Ontario (because of downloading from the provincial government). We can learn how we can get to a certain point from Calgary’s example. They have some very tough laws because of the province.”
According to Mr. Stanford, there are currently about 24,000 licensed dogs in London. A little more than 700 of them are pit bulls. One could assume there are more than that in the city, but he says it’s tough to know for sure. It’s something the city is working on.
What complicates this is the definition of a pit bull. Something Mrs. Van Veen says needs clarity.
“Right now, many people are looking at their dogs and wondering, “Does my dog fall under the law? It's a mutt, a mixed breed, does that animal count as a pit bull? No one knows,” Mrs. Van Veen says. “Perhaps if politicians are looking at eliminating ‘fighter dogs’, then they should echo and enforce ‘game bred-fighter dogs’, which is technically illegal under the SPCA's mandate. Game bred refers to dogs that have been bred with the tenacity and ability to fight regardless of breed. I think the Ontario government would have been better focusing on game bred, rather than a specific breed.”
On Sept. 12, a public information meeting was held to hear concerns from Londoners regarding the proposed bylaw. Before that meeting, the soonest the bylaw could have been passed was Sept. 19. After the Sept. 12 meeting, the environment and transportation committee recommended city staff find more information in response to a handful of unanswered questions raised by the public.
The next time the committee meets is this Monday, Sept. 26. But Mr. Stanford says they won’t even have all the answers by then. He says it will probably be late October – after he attends a provincially organized training session for people involved in enforcing these bylaws – before he has the answers they are looking for.
“Our priority is to protect the public in London and to do that we have to think about what are the rules that need to be in place,” he explains. “One of the concerns is, what is a pit bull? That’s a very good question and we don’t know how to answer that so we will look to the province to help us interpret that.”
Ms. Van Veen hopes when the bylaw is finally written, it will consider that all dogs can be dangerous and that bylaws don’t need to be breed specific.

You will notice I bolded the 2nd 1/2 as this is the city bylaw proposal we were fighting against. Although, not what you could call a victory, we did give the city a challenge and given us more time. I'm still planning on going to the meeting on Monday to see what is brought up and if any of the proposals have been dropped or only put on hold. I will keep you posted.


Anonymous said...

Hi there. I just read this entire post, and my question is, what can I do from way down here in Florida to help?
I sign every petition I can find, I follow all of your stories. I have printed a bunch of letters to send to government officials when they are trying to pass some law to ban pit bulls. I just don't know what else to do, and I feel horrible for you guys up there who are fighting so hard for your beloved dogs.
I would really like to know more, and be able to help more.


Conners said...

Laura, I'm so touched and the best way to help is to educate. Educate to those that you meet and talk to people about the BSL and how it is effecting loving dog owners that their dogs have never harmed anyone. Tell them the irresponsible owners of any breeds are the blame to all this.
The more people you educate, whether it be by mouth, by internet blogs and websites, it's getting the TRUTH out there.
Just knowing that we have your support helps and prayers REALLY help.
Believe me when I tell you I am not always so calm about this and good friends that allow my vents and outbursts are there for me as I am with them.
Sometimes it becomes so overwhelming, but give a few days of cring and venting gives you renewed strength and hope. Then I look into Shasta's eyes and I fight all the harder.
And Laura, you are helping by voicing you want to help. Thank you! *hugs*

Anonymous said...

Well, let me assure you that I tell everyone about BSL that I can. I am sure all the ladies at my work are tired of hearing about it, but they are my friends and sometimes I have to vent! It infuriates me!
Everytime I see Cody and think of what people are doing to these precious animals, I get tears in my eyes, and I just can't stand it!
I will keep on talking to people about it, and keep taking Cody places where people can see how sweet he is. My vet even asked me if she could use him for educational presentations because of how sweet and friendly he is!
What a good boy.
Well, have a great evening, and please let me know if there is ever anything I can do to help!
Laura :o)

Conners said...

Laura, You have access on your blog. I started mine out as a personal diary, but the more I got into, I changed it.
You don't even have to change yours. Start a new one with the new found info you have found through other sites and what you see on the web.
This reaches so much further than your neighbourhood or even city.
You never know, your home town or state could be next on the list. BE PREPARED and learn all you can, for I never dreamt it was possible to happen here and like this.
If it does happen in your area, you will have gained knowledge how to fight it, and not only that we will all be there to help you and your area fight. You will NOT be alone. PROMISE!

Amstaffie said...

That's right... it's amazing how many people you reach through a blog. (Even if they don't make a comment, they still see it.) It's how we've all found each other and the others that are on our blog links!!!!

Conners said...

That's right Andee! *hugs*
Comments aren't always written, yet you know your posts are being read by many, although comments are always welcome and encouraging.
We start off small but as we gain more knowledge of the situation, if becomes 2nd nature.
Being in a banned province makes you 'think and fear' each movement you make for the pittie owners. You are always so scared you may not be abiding by the law or bylaw, so you search everything in all that you do.
A bunch of us in Ontario was wondering if we can sue the province for the emotional factor that this is causing us. It's like a 27/7 compulsion of worry and stress that we could do something wrong and the authorities down our dogs and we get heavily fined and/or jailed. It's so difficult to live like this, always in fear and feeling like a target, that one small unknown error and our lives are those of criminals and our dogs dead.
But this is WHY we can't stop and why we MUST fight! This is unjust and if we can do something about it, it could also show other provinces and countries that their fight is not in vain, and possibly through us, can learn how to fight their own laws.
We're all in this TOGETHER! When one suffer, we ALL suffer. Blogging is great for the soul, but so is the information you put out there.