07 March 2016

Despite Breed Ban, Toronto Dog Bites Increase

Despite a breed-based ban culminating in a dramatic drop in the number of pit bull type dogs in Ontario, reported cases of canine bites has increased.

In Toronto, for instance, there were 576 bites in 2004 (a year before the ban) and 767 in 2014, Global News recently reported.

The numbers are not what those who backed the ban would have predicted. 

Indeed, then-Attorney General Michael Bryant, assured the ban was “the beginning of the end of the reign of terror, imposed by pit bulls” and would “over time” mean “fewer pit pull attacks.”

Now, however, the question illustrated by Global News remains – if almost all the pit bulls are gone, why do dog bite numbers continue to climb?

Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo, says it is because the problem was never with pit bulls. “I’m not surprised at all by those statistics,” she told Global. “I would think they were inevitable.”

Under the ban, four breeds often all referred to a'pit bulls' (pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and American pit bull terriers) had to be kept muzzled or leashed in public and sterilized within two months of its passage and it became illegal to breed the dogs or import them into the province.

There are now just over 300 pit bulls in Ontario compared with more than 1,400 about a decade ago – and in theory, pit bulls should cease to exist in Toronto by 2020.

But as pit bull numbers dwindle, dog bites have continued to climb since 2012. In Toronto, bites hit the highest levels recorded this century in 2013 and 2014.

That is because other dogs do the biting.

In 2014, German shepherds, labs, and Rottweilers were among the top offenders along with little dogs including Jack Russell terriers, shih tzus and Maltese.

Some believe breed-based bans are a practical ploy to improve public safety.

While others, like Teegan Buckingham, with the Toronto Humane Society, say it has punished a particular breed - the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association estimating the law, by 2012, had led to more than 1,000 of the demonized dogs and puppies with no history of violence being euthanized. “We would love to see the pit bull ban lifted,” Buckingham told Global.

DiNovo favours a system similar to Calgary where officials have seen a dramatic drop in bites since the 1980s without a breed-based ban but by promoting education of dog owners, children and strict enforcement.

Bill Bruce, Calgary's animal services director at the time, spoke before an Ontario government committee several years after it imposed its ban to debunk beliefs it would mean less bites.

“What we did learn is that when you do ban a breed, of course, the bites go down for that specific breed; that’s no surprise,” Bruce told the committee. “If there are fewer of them, there are fewer opportunities. But what we found is that bites tend to go up dramatically in other breeds. Any dog, again, can bite, and it’s coming back on the owner to make that determination if a dog is safe or not.”

Dr. Dale Scott, president of the Ontario Veterinary Association at the time, told the committee breed-based bans do not work because they are based on incorrect assumptions not backed by scientific research - “that only certain breeds are dangerous and that all dogs that belong to those breeds are dangerous.”

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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