Monday, 9 February 2015

Pit bulls were Toronto’s biggest biters, before the ban on them in Ontario

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Pit bulls were Toronto’s biggest biters, before the ban
City data shows that before Ontario banned them nearly a decade ago, pit bulls did more biting per capita than other breeds; but today’s neutered, muzzled pit bulls registered only 13 bites last year.
By: Eric Andrew-Gee Staff Reporter, Joel Eastwood Staff Reporter, Published on Fri Oct 03 2014

When Ontario banned pit bulls in August 2005, critics said the decision was arbitrary, based on a few dramatic maulings and a sensationalistic press. The campaign was a result of prejudice, not facts, they complained.

But city data obtained by the Star points to a different possibility: that pit bulls really were the most dangerous kind of dog, in Toronto at least. From 2001 to 2004, pit bulls were more likely to bite people and domestic animals than any other breed, the statistics show.

In 2004, the last full year before the ban, there were 984 pit bulls licensed in Toronto and 168 reported pit bull bites. That’s more than double the rate of German shepherds, the next most aggressive breed.

The figures, compiled by the city’s Animal Services division at the Star’s request, come from comparing a breed’s licensed population with the number of times it was reported to have bitten a person or pet.
Nearly a decade after the ban was put in place, its purpose appears to have been achieved: pit bull bites in the city have virtually disappeared.

In 2013, the pit bull population was down to 501, and there were only 13 reported pit bull bites.
The decline in the per-capita rate is probably attributable to the age of the remaining dogs, and the requirement that pit bulls be muzzled in public and sterilized, procedures that tend to make dogs less aggressive.

The dogs still exist in Toronto despite the ban because Ontario residents who already owned pit bulls were allowed to keep them, as long as they met the requirements.

Advocates for the dogs maintain that the figures are misleading because the definition of “pit bull” is so vague. The law banning the dogs applies to four breed types — pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and American pit bull terriers (the breeds included in the Star’s tally) — as well as any dog that has “an appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar” to those four.

“What people qualify as pit bulls are often mixed breeds and mongrels,” said Cheri DiNovo, an NDP MPP who has sought to repeal the ban. “When somebody said it’s a pit bull that did the biting, there’s no way to say that ‘this is a pit bull.’”
Animal Services spokesperson Mary Lou Leiher acknowledged that determining what constitutes a pit bull is difficult and “subjective.”

“There is no standardized DNA test to determine a dog’s breed,” she said.
When in doubt, city inspectors use an extensive checklist of physical characteristics describing everything from the muzzle to the tail of typical pit bull breeds to decide which dogs fit the bill.

“In Toronto, we’ve taken quite a hard line on what’s considered ‘substantially similar,’” Leiher said. “If we’re applying the legislation to a dog, it’s got to really look like one of the purebred pit bull dogs.”

Leiher said that bite reports come mainly from two sources: doctors, who are required to inform Toronto Public Health when patients have been bitten; and members of the public who self-report. That suggests the portion coming from doctors, at least, is unlikely to over represent pit bulls.

Such a relatively low rate reflects the fact that per-capita bite numbers are down overall in the past decade. Daschunds epitomized the phenomenon, with 594 licensed dogs and not a single reported bite last year. (While bite totals have remained fairly steady year-to-year, the licensed dog population has more than doubled since 2005.)

Leiher said bylaw enforcement and public education, as well as more responsible breeding and fewer strays, may account for the decline.
Still, few if any breeds have matched the plunge taken by per capita pit bull bites, down by a factor of more than six since 2004.

For now, though — and for better or worse — the ban appears to have done what it set out to do.
“There aren’t very many restricted pit bulls in Toronto,” Leiher said.