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Pit bulls were Toronto’s biggest biters, before the ban
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
“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.’”
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.
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.