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Presentation to Ontario

February 2, 2005

Here is the text of my presentation to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. This committee was supposed to listen to all the testimony, especially that of the experts, and then make recommendations based on that testimony. However, the representation of political parties within that committee matches the proportion of those parties in the Legislative Assembly as a whole, which means that all recommendations suggested by this committee essentially had to be approved by the Liberal government, who introduced the original ban. Therefore, all votes by this committee fell exactly along party lines and resulted in no useful recommendations whatsoever.


Here are links to all the other presentations (including the clause-by-clause voting at the end of the hearings):

Mon 24 Jan 2005 - Toronto Presentations
Thu 27 Jan 2005 - Barrie Presentations
Wed 2 Feb 2005 - Brantford Presentations
Thu 3 Feb 2005 - Toronto Presentations
Thu 10 Feb 2005 - Toronto Clause-by-Clause


Here is the text of my presentation:


Steve Barker
Dog Legislation Council of Canada
Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - 10:25 AM
Brantford & District Civic Centre
Presentation to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee:

My name is Steve Barker from the Dog Legislation Council of Canada.

I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today and I would like to thank all those involved in these hearings, including all the people behind the scenes, for the hard work they have done to make these hearings a reality.

The Dog Legislation Council of Canada, of which I am the Ontario Director, has a three-part mandate:

- To promote responsible and accountable dog ownership,
- To assist communities in developing effective legislation that enforces that responsibility, and
- To educate the public regarding dog-bite awareness

Over the past few months, we have heard and read some public statements that have been very difficult to accept. Much of this has been in the media, with various members leaping to tenuous conclusions, quoting from highly questionable sources, and misquoting or misusing statistics as if they were play dough to be massaged and manipulated into a desired image.

As much as possible, the DLCC tries to correct these inaccuracies by bringing them to the attention of the journalists and editors. We hope to gradually change the climate in which these stories are created, so that the media will be able to assist us in the bigger issue of dog-bite prevention from all breeds.

We have a much bigger issue, however, with a government that is willing to accept erroneous and misleading information as fact, on which it then intends to base laws, that in turn will deeply affect all of its constituents. As a person who tends to analyze issues carefully and logically, I personally find this attitude incomprehensible, and, as a taxpayer and a voter, I also find it offensive. I was appalled at the ease with which this government accepted media statements and suspect studies as God-given fact and then allowed these to guide it onto its current path.

We feel that it is important to provide, in one single place, all of the statements that have been made publicly over the past few months. Many of these are statements by the Attorney General and we feel that, as a lawyer and as the Attorney General of the largest province in the country, he and his office, more than anyone else in this entire process, should have put a little more time and effort into research and perhaps a little less into public pronouncements.

Attached to my presentation and also provided on CD are 12 groups of public statements made in 2004 by various members of the government of Ontario. These statements are either factually incorrect, scientifically disproved, scientifically NOT provable, or significantly exaggerated.

Along with each of these groups of government statements, I have included information from publicly documented studies that clearly contradict these incorrect ideas. Sources for these excerpts include: The Canada Safety Council, The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, The Supreme Court of Alabama, The Legislative Assembly of the United Kingdom, and various studies performed by genetic scientists in the United States and Germany.

The substance of these statements is:

- "pit bulls" are inherently dangerous animals
- "pit bulls" are qualitatively different from other dogs
- "pit bulls" attack more frequently than other dogs
- "pit bulls" attack more viciously than other dogs
- "pit bull" incidents are significantly out of proportion to their population
- we will have few problems identifying "pit bulls"
- "pit bulls" will not be abandoned to humane societies in large numbers
- "pit bulls" will not be replaced by other breeds
- the government consulted with all possible experts
- the government has broad municipal support

I would like to address one of these questions, which actually encompasses a number of areas. It appears to me that Mr. Zimmer, in particular, has been asking this question throughout the hearings and I hope to shed some light on this issue.

"Are the three targeted breeds qualitatively different from other dogs?"

This brings us to the heart of this legislation. Do we need to treat "pit bulls" (as they are called in Bill 132) any differently from any other dog?

Over the years, due to a large population of the three targeted breeds and dogs that look like them, due to some really bad owners who made some really bad choices, and due to what is probably a significant number of breed misidentifications, the "pit bull" has become a media favourite.

As the stories abound, this type of dog has become almost an urban legend, a "super dog" if you will. Newspaper and TV coverage have caused the average Canadian to believe that the typical "pit bull" always leaps at the fence snarling as you walk by, that it is lying in wait for the next postal worker or meter reader that dares invade its territory, that its drooling lips and intense eyes means that it's just waiting to pounce on you if its owner would just let it reach you.

It is images like these that make it to the newspapers, get published on web site after web site, and then get regurgitated by politicians in their quest to pacify that angry, media-informed public, despite the numerous scientific studies that have disproved these theories once and for all.


In order to best answer the question, "are these breeds qualitatively different", we must break it down into the major points that the government has been making and discuss whether or not there is any factual, scientific, and statistical basis for these statements.


1. Pit Bulls are inherently dangerous

The Supreme Court of Alabama, courts in New Jersey and Ohio, and a court in Ontario have all accepted scientific evidence that "no breed is genetically more aggressive than any other breed". This means that the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are no more or less inherently dangerous, simply because of breed.

A study conducted by Dr. Irene Sommerfeld-Stur in Vienna examined the genetic aspect of aggression and also examined a number of bite statistic studies throughout the world. It concluded that aggression was affected only fractionally by genetics and that environment and training had significantly more impact on the aggressiveness of a dog than who its parents were.

The Attorney General actually stated that, because there are insurance companies that won't insure "pit bulls", that proves that they are dangerous. In this country, there are insurance companies that will not insure German Shepherds, Dobermans, or Rottweilers either, and yet the Attorney General has stated on television that two of these breeds are not dangerous. Some of these companies also refuse to insure Collies.

The Attorney General also stated that the German Shepherds he grew up with did not attack anyone because they were properly trained, thus begging the question, would they have attacked if they were not properly trained? And if so, would they not have been inherently dangerous?


2. Pit Bulls attack more frequently than other dogs

In the Legislative Assembly, the Attorney General listed 11 "pit bull" attacks on humans that had occurred with the previous 69 days. This was done to demonstrate how frequently "pit bulls" attack. In that list, he made no mention of how serious each of these incidents was, instead using the words "attacked" and "mauled". He did not list attacks by other breeds.

Two of the cases listed by the Attorney General turned out not to be any of the targeted breeds at all. One was a Rottweiler and the other a German Shepherd in St. Catharine's, the very breed that he grew up with and publicly stated was not dangerous.

During the 69-day period during which the remaining 9 incidents occurred, there were an estimated MINIMUM of 4,600 dog bite incidents (and more likely over 6,000) in Ontario alone that required the victim to seek medical attention. These estimates come from the Canada Safety Council, the Toronto Board of Health, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, and the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

In Ontario, every single day, there are approximately 89 serious bites, bites that require medical attention and usually at least one stitch.

In Canada, the targeted breeds and any other dogs that happen to be labelled "pit bulls" account for less than 5% of all bites.


3. Pit Bulls attack more viciously than other dogs

The study quoted by the Attorney General that discusses both frequency of attacks and severity of them is a well-known piece of fluff created by a man named Merritt Clifton in Washington State. This man is currently being sued in four separate court cases because he published his wildly inaccurate statistics. These statistics, by his own admission, came only from media reports over a period of 20 years. His mathematical methods of calculating total bites are scientifically and statistically invalid.

One Liberal member stated, "One child attacked and one person killed is too many for one breed of dog". The statistics in Canada clearly show that 12 different breeds are responsible for deaths from dog bites, including a Labrador Retriever and the Attorney General's beloved German Shepherd breed.

In fact, that German Shepherd in St. Catharine's attacked two young boys. One of those boys had serious bites to his face, his bones in his leg were crushed, and he spent a day and a half unconscious in the hospital.

We also have some horrifying stories of very serious attacks by other breeds in Ontario, many of which were given a paragraph or two in small-town newspapers and almost no coverage in any large city or national newspapers. The TV coverage was virtually non-existent.



4. Pit Bull incidents are significantly out of proportion to their population

Using actual registrations from the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club, and the American Dog Breeders Association, the American Canine Foundation determined that there are more than 5 million purebred American Pit Bull Terriers in the United States. This equates to approximately 9% of the estimated dog population and does not include any crossbreed, mutts, or "dogs that look like pit bulls". Compare this to approximately 800,000 German Shepherds and the bite numbers begin to fall into line with population.

At the same time that the American Kennel Club was registering 145,000 of its most popular dog, the Labrador Retriever, that same year (and every year), the American Dog Breeders Association was registering 225,000 American Pit Bull Terriers or 55% more than the next most popular dog in America.

This was, and still is in many places, the All-American Family Dog.

Therefore, we can take a fresh look at the bite statistics and discover that the "pit bull" type dog actually has one of the lowest bite ratios when compared to its population.

So, if the answer to all of these questions is No, then the answer to the ultimate question, the one on which the entire breed-specific portion of this bill is based, must also be NO.

For your information, also on CD, I have included some of the best Dangerous Dog and Animal Control legislation from across the continent, including:

- the city of Calgary
- the province of Saskatchewan
- the state of Illinois (known as Ryan Armstrong's law)
- the state of California (known as Cody's Law), and
- the state of New York.

These laws have clear definitions of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour from a dog within a human society, what constitutes a breach of responsibility by an owner, and what the consequences are of violating these laws.

They clearly define menacing behaviour.

They define physical injury and, in some cases, they define degrees of injury, with varying levels of penalty. They therefore allow for the difference between the quick snap of an ill, frustrated, or cornered dog and the more serious intent to injure that, fortunately, is a rare action by any breed.

You will find some consistent themes running through these laws:

- the owner must be in control of the dog at all times
- the owner is entirely responsible legally and financially for the actions of the dog
- the owner faces significant repercussions from the state, both financial and legal, if the dog bites, attacks, or attempts to attack
- the owner faces even more serious repercussions if the dog, once declared dangerous, repeats the offence
- the dog is protected from deliberate provocation

Finally, I have included the 36 recommendations from the inquest into the death of Courtney Trempe in 1998, the 26 recommendations from the inquest into the death of James Waddell in 2003, and a paper entitled "A community approach to dog bite prevention", published by the American Veterinary Medical Association's Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions.

The president of this organization and the one of the primary members of that task force, Dr. Bonnie Beaver, has already spoken to this committee, as has Donna Trempe, Courtney's mother.

Again, there are consistent themes throughout these documents:

- education of dog owners, parents, children, and the general public
- licensing and regulation of breeders, pet shops, shelters, trainers, dog owners and their dogs
- enforcement of responsible and accountable dog ownership
- municipal, provincial, and federal support

A huge amount of work has gone into these laws, studies, and recommendations.

They have been assembled by bite victims, doctors, lawyers, lawmakers, scientists, veterinarians, animal behaviourists, breeders, insurance companies, and animal control departments. These documents are not minor nor are they frivolous. They are not the product of personal or political agendas from lobby groups or politicians. They have been created with one goal, and only one goal:

To reduce dog bites from all breeds.

That is the ultimate question to this committee and to this government:

Do you really want to reduce the injuries caused by all dog bites in this province, from all breeds? If so, then you would be well advised to review these documents carefully and with an open mind, because they hold the key. The work has already been done; the solutions have already been found and proven.

If you were to read through these documents with the objective of learning and understanding, and if you were to make a few simple changes to this bill, based on these documents, then every single professional organization, every ethical breeder, every responsible owner would be knocking on your door saying, "How can I help?"

Instead, we are looking forward to years of acrimony, court cases, unnecessary spending, pointless euthanasia, and a constant never-ending battle that is simply going to waste everyone's time, energy, and money when they could be better spent on many other issues.

The only people who are going to benefit from this bill are the media and the lawyers.

Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result".

We already know what works and what doesn't. We have more history, more results, and more information than ever before. It is not necessary for us to repeat the mistakes of the past.

 

Updated September 26, 2007

 


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Back to Previous Page Copyright 2008 Steve Barker