The evidence is in, and it should be enough to muzzle any further attempt to reverse Ontario’s successful pit bull ban.
Of course, we don’t expect passionate defenders of pit bulls and associated breeds to quit their emotional campaign on behalf of these animals. No amount of data will convince them that pit bulls pose a hazard.
But responsible legislators need to look further, examine the facts and put public safety first. In doing so they mustn’t ignore compelling new evidence from a Toronto Star investigation showing a remarkable drop in pit bull bites in Toronto in the wake of the ban. Indeed, reported incidents of such attacks have almost disappeared.
Reporter Eric Andrew-Gee and data analyst Joel Eastwood crunched municipal numbers and found that, from 2001 to 2004, pit bulls were more likely than any other breed to bite people and pets in Toronto.
In 2004, the last full year before the ban, there were 984 licensed pit bulls in the city and 168 reported bites. Last year there were 501 pit bulls registered in Toronto, and just 13 bites. That’s right — the number of reported bites went from 168 to 13.
It makes sense to attribute that massive reduction to the province’s pit bull law. It’s a misnomer to call it a ban. Hundreds of pit bulls remain in Toronto. The legislation forbids their breeding and importation; it requires them to be neutered, and they must be leashed and muzzled when appearing in public. These reasonable measures are obviously working to protect the community from serious harm.
How serious? Consider just three incidents occurring in Toronto in the summer of 2004, shortly before the ban.
In what one witness described as a “bloodbath,” a 25-year-old man was attacked by two pit bulls in a downtown laneway. He received extensive leg back and arm wounds. Police said the dogs appeared to be biting their way up from his feet, and he likely would have died had officers not arrived and shot the rampaging animals.
A few weeks later a woman was walking her 8-year-old Labrador-cocker spaniel mix when a pit bull and a German shepherd charged out from some bushes. The pit bull mauled her pet, causing injuries that resulted in 60 stitches and amputation of the pet’s tail. Shortly after that, another pit bull knocked over a pregnant woman and locked its jaws onto the neck of her 3-year-old Labrador retriever. The stricken pet required 20 stitches.
Anything that reduces the number of such outrages is welcome. But pit bull fanciers find Ontario’s law overly oppressive and they want it gone.
They have long insisted that what exactly constitutes a pit bull is vague and open to interpretation. Therefore assorted mixed breeds and mongrels could be responsible for much of the damage attributed to pit bulls.
The correct response to that is: it doesn’t matter. If using the existing, fuzzy definition of a pit bull produces a 92-per-cent reduction in bites, the law is working remarkably well. The public is being protected. There’s no need for repeal.
Another argument against the ban is that there are no bad pit bulls, only bad owners. Abusive, irresponsible or violence-prone people are the real culprits when these animals go rogue. So it doesn’t make sense to target the breed.
This sounds familiar. Firearms owners, resisting gun control, have long argued: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But it’s no reason to allow open access to pistols. The same goes for unrestricted ownership of pit bulls. Public safety must come first. Statistics show these dogs can pose a serious risk. And the best way to protect society is through broad regulations covering every owner — both good and bad — the same way gun restrictions apply to all.
Pit bull fanciers remain upset that Ontario’s law stops them from breeding or importing the pet of their choice, or letting their animal run free as other dogs do. But that’s a small price to pay for a major boost in public safety. The so-called pit bull ban should stay.