Jennifer Segal is a dog trainer who refuses to work with pit bulls, and most people agree with her reasons for refusing. She says years of improper breeding by unscrupulous breeders have made them not only aggressive but deadly, sometimes for no reason at all. “There are a number of young people, particularly male, particularly under the age of 28, who find it to be some type of cultural element to have this type of arm jewelry, pulling them around,” Segal says. “It’s the macho appearance.” Pit bulls by their very nature were intended to be dangerous, since they were originally bred in England in the 1800’s to fight other dogs in pits, which is how they got their name. Although dogfights are now rare and illegally, Merle Blaine of the Etobicoke Humane Society in Toronto says that they still happen. “People arrange fights in parks. But by the time you get there it’s pretty well over. The dog that loses the fight is left behind, usually a mess.” And these kinds of stories add to the reputation of pit bulls, making the breed a bad breed.
You hear stories in the news all the time about unprovoked attacks by pit bulls. A man in Toronto was walking two pit bulls for a friend when they suddenly turned on him and had to be shot by police. A week earlier, a family in Fredericton was out walking their little Shi Tzu when a neighbor’s rottweiler attacked and killed the little dog. A week before that, a woman in Ontario and her 7-year old son watched in horror as her husband tried to keep the family puppy away from a raging pit bull, and the pit bull latched onto the man’s arm and would not let go. Such waves of deadly attacks seem to increase each year, and Ontario’s Attorney General, Michael Bryant, had finally had enough. Ontario was the first Canadian province to ban pit bulls, calling them ‘ticking time bombs’, because of their unpredictable tendency to attack people and other animals, even when unprovoked.
But not everyone subscribes to the idea of banning dogs that might be dangerous simply on the basis of their breed. The president of the Golden Horseshoe American Pit Bull Terrier Club, Sandra Always, has owned and bred pit bull terriers for over 16 years. Her organization, the Dog Legislation Council of Canada, lobbies actively against any legislation that will ban specific breeds of dogs. “A dog needs responsible ownership regardless of breed,” she told CBC Radio. “You train it, you contain and you socialize it. If you ban these guys, what’s next? Italy started with a banned list of 13 breeds. They’re up to over 40 now. They just banned Welsh Corgis!” Always believes that instead of a law banning pit bulls, owners should have to pay a special licensing fee and take special training, so it will be more difficult to own a pit bull.
Always is joined in her opinion by Dr. Norma Guy, a teacher of animal behavior at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown. Guy says that the biggest problem with banning a breed like the pit bull is that it can be difficult to identify a dog as a specific breed, so enforcing the law would be difficult, if not impossible. The real problem is not the dogs, she says, but people behaving irresponsibly with their dogs. “I’m in favor of really promoting responsible ownership and passing legislation to enforce that,” Guy says. “We have to get at the people [who keep vicious dogs]. If you take away the pit bulls, they will move onto another breed. You have to look at stopping individual people who have proven themselves to be irresponsible owners from keeping dogs.” Guy believes it is too easy to own any dog, particularly a potentially dangerous one. Owners don’t realize that “it’s like having a toddler for 12 years-a toddler with teeth.”
The ownership of a dangerous dog may end up being a financial decision in addition to being a legal one. A Calgary man found that his home insurance had been canceled after his insurance company decided it would no longer cover people who kept pit bulls, rottweilers, German shepherds, or Doberman pinschers. One of the largest insurance companies in North America, Allstate, has a policy that even a mixed breed dog whose bloodlines may include any of those breeds is considered unacceptable. Such policies are a growing trend in the insurance industry. The bottom line is that, any dog owner who chooses to own a breed of dog that may be considered dangerous, may also have to choose a place to live that will tolerate their choice of dog. And the more vicious dog attacks there are, the fewer such places there will be.