Barbara Kay: Pit bull bans work
June 19, 2015
In the normal course of events, you would not find the small community of Membertou, a branch of the greater tribal group of the Mi’kmaw nation, located within its tribal district of Cape Breton, making news that will reverberate in every corner of North America.
But it just did. Moreover, I am probably the only journalist in Canada on whose radar the news showed up with a great, resounding ping.
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The news, via the Cape Breton Post, is that the Membertou pit bull ban, instituted five years ago, is working. In 2009, after many other close calls, a pit bull – suddenly and unprovoked, which is typical of pit bull type dogs – attacked an elder and her grandchild on Membertou’s main street, at which point the band council sought a change in the 1997 animal control bylaw to instate what is known as BSL – breed selective legislation – to exclude pit bulls from the area.
Today the “grandfathered” resident pit bulls are all gone and, even though many stray dogs run loose in Membertou, there have been no further incidents of unprovoked attacks by dogs on humans, reports Membertou senior adviser Dan Christmas.
You may well ask, how is this news that will “reverberate” elsewhere? Well, if you followed pit bull politics as I do, you would know that the battle to claim the narrative high ground on pit bulls, between those who like me see the pit bull as a public safety hazard requiring strict regulation, and those who claim the pit bull is a honey of a dog and its well-known depredations all the fault of irresponsible ownership, is keenly fought in every jurisdiction in the U.S. and in a quieter way all over Canada.
Pit bull advocates are particularly incensed when towns and cities impose bans on their beloved breed, so they go to extraordinary lengths to prevent them, or to repeal them.
Ontario MPP Cheri Di Novo (NDP), for example, best known for her passionate advocacy for the rights of gays, lesbians and the transgendered, is also (shamefully, in my opinion) a passionate advocate for pit bulls. She has worked very hard to try to get a private member’s bill passed that would repeal Ontario’s 2005 pit bull ban: the one that has been proven to significantly reduce maulings, especially of children, since it was introduced.
The battle is extremely heated and can become vicious – to the point that survivors of pit bull attacks or the loved ones of those killed by pit bulls are subjected to harassment campaigns when they speak out about the dangers this cluster of fighting dogs poses to public safety.
The epidemiological and medical facts favour one side, emotion and the cultural popularity of identity victimhood the other.
Facts: The pit bull type dog, once recognized as the inherently high-risk dog it was bred to be, and confined to the dog fighting ring and the yards of low-lifes, has proliferated in recent decades. They are now the second most popular breed in the U.S. (Labrador retrievers by far the most popular). They used to be counted in the hundreds. Now there are almost four million of them.
In my youth, people used to think the Doberman Pinscher was a dangerous dog. But from 1955 to 2015, Dobermans have killed only 11 people. That is about as many as pit bulls kill in any given four-month period. Seventy percent of dogbite-related fatalities and extreme damage to humans are inflicted by pit bull type dogs, who represent four percent of the breed population.
Surgeons testify to the especially horrific damage their peculiar biting method – hold and rend – does to human flesh and bone. Pit bulls are also responsible for the deaths of virtually 100% of domestic animals (including cows and horses) killed by canines.
The emotional-based narrative goes like this: Poor pit bulls. They are discriminated against because they look mean. They have a bad reputation because they are used for fighting (which by sheer coincidence they are always the ones chosen for, as opposed to, say, Beagles). Bad people make them fight. Any dog can be vicious if the owner isn’t responsible and doesn’t train them properly. It is racism to blame a whole breed for the bad actions of a few. The pit bull is misunderstood and a victim.
And thus any time a ban on pit bulls is imposed, it is a great defeat for the pit bull advocacy movement. And so Membertou is now a name that will – from the point of view of people like me, who think people like Cheri Di Novo are not only irrational and willfully blind to genetic reality, they are enablers of unnecessary suffering – resonate in the hall of heroes my side of the battle honours for communities who do the right thing for their people.
Membertou, we salute your wisdom.