Rejoice, no pit bull ban – for now

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I was very relieved when town council was prevented two weeks ago in a defeated motion from jumping onto the bandwagon of looking into a “dangerous dogs” bylaw.

When the issue was brought up, there were three town residents in the gallery who had been informed about the agenda item in the gallery. As council was discussing the issue, I could see the residents just cringing and just barely holding back from standing in defiance of such a ridiculous idea.

These sorts of restrictions have direct impact on the furry beings many people see as their family members.

Councils across the country that have had this issue brought before seem to make these bans based on fear from isolated incidents, and not based on facts.

I am empathetic towards those who have been affected by dog attacks and know they can have very traumatic effects. However, these bans are almost always knee-jerk reactions to singular incidents.

While nobody at town council verified that this discussion was brought forward due to the attack on a three-year-old girl on October by a pit bull, it was brought up.

Late last year, Montreal passed legislation for a pit bull ban, which was prompted by the deadly mauling in June of a woman by a dog that has been described as being a pit bull, although it was registered as a boxer and no DNA test was done after the dog was put down.

As to the lack of facts based on these decisions, town council’s discussion was a case in point.

The proposal was brought forth based on the recommendation of a single medical doctor, and part of Verhaeghe’s argument was listing other places that have pit bull bans across the country, saying this is reason enough to put a ban in place. The fact that other cities and towns have jumped onto the bandwagon is not proof in itself that a bylaw such as this is warranted.

The contrast between Toronto and Calgary’s efforts to reduce dig bites makes an interesting point. Since Toronto enacted a dog ban in 2005, pitbull bites have indeed fallen significantly according to Toronto public health statistics. Arguably, this is because the breed has simply died off with prohibitions of ownership in place.

In total, however, dog bites have been rising since 2012 and are the highest they’ve been in the city since 2001.

If you look at Calgary, which has rejected a breed-based ban system and instead focused on promoting education of dog owners and children, the city experienced an overall drop in in dog bites, according to city statistics. In 1985, there were over 2,000 reported aggressive dog incidents, and in 2014 only 641.

One of the residents in the gallery of the March 21 town council meeting, Hayden Chisholl, who is a pit bull owner himself, was invited to provide some points of discussion to council, and I think he put it well.

He said, “Pit bulls are very powerful, but it depends on how you raise them. It’s like people, it’s how they’re raised.”

For now, Athabasca has been spared an intrusive and ineffective dog ban, but almost surely this isn’t the last time the controversial topic will appear before council, whether it be this one or the future. Here’s to hoping that council looks at a more effective approach then an all-out ban on “dangerous dogs.”

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