Pit bulls, pit bull crosses and related breeds will no longer be targeted with special legislation as part of the Municipality of North Cowichan’s new and updated animal responsibility bylaw.
Council decided at a committee of the whole meeting on March 20 that breed-specific legislation, which is in the municipality’s current animal control bylaw, will be removed in the new one.
The current bylaw defines a “vicious dog” as a dog with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack other animals and humans, or a dog which has bitten or attacked, without provocation, another animal or human.
The bylaw also includes in the vicious dog category pit bulls, American pit bull terriers, English bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers or any dog of mixed breeding which includes any of the mentioned breeds, excepting any dog registered with the Canadian Kennel Club.
Dogs who have been deemed “vicious” by the bylaw must be muzzled and on a leash under the care and control of a competent person whenever it is at large or in a public place.
They currently also face higher licensing and pound fees, even if individual dogs have no history of aggression.
A staff report was recommending that the vicious category be removed and replaced with two new categories; “aggressive” and “restricted”, with restricted including the pit bulls and the other breeds, but council’s decision on Wednesday means those designations will likely be completely dropped in the new bylaw.
The staff report stated that the muzzling of pit bulls and the other breeds and mixed breeds deemed vicious was the subject of much debate at a meeting in January seeking public input into the new bylaw.
North Cowichan’s corporate officer Karen Robertson, who wrote the staff report, said those who want the clause removed indicated that there hasn’t been enough long-term data collection and analysis to confidently state that breed-specific legislation works.
As well, she said that the average person can have difficulty in identifying the difference between the various restricted breeds, and concerns were raised that other breeds that may have aggressive tendencies would be excluded from the bylaw.
Robertson said many of those who want the clause retained pointed out that hundreds of years of breeding for aggression has resulted in a dog that has a much higher prey drive than most breeds and their minds and bodies are designed to fight as much as a border collie enjoys stalking and herding sheep.
Christi Wright, from the United Paws for a Cause group that originally asked for changes to the animal bylaw, told the committee that she would like to see breed-specific legislation removed from the bylaw.
“The responsibility should be placed on pet owners, rather than specific breeds,” she said.
“Breed-specific legislation is costly and difficult to enforce, and doesn’t address the responsibility of the pet owners. Dogs that end up being deemed vicious are usually unsupervised, not neutered and not used to other dogs.”
Sue Stockland, director of Coastal Animal Services which is in charge of animal control in North Cowichan, said she realizes it’s a contentious issue, but it’s a fact that pit bulls and the other restricted breeds in the current bylaw have a long history of being bred for fighting and the killing of other animals.
She said these traits are more likely to show up in these breeds.
“Members of these breeds are bred to enjoy fighting and will fight to the death,” she said.
“Pit bulls give off no warning signals that they will attack so many owners don’t see the attack coming and can’t redirect the dog. Not all of them will attack, but there is higher chance they will over other breeds.”
Erika Paul, the SPCA’s senior animal protection and outreach officer, said she has never seen a dog-fighting ring in North Cowichan.
She said that while the breeds may have historically been bred to fight and be aggressive, most are not used for those purposes anymore.
“Over time, their blood lines are becoming diluted and the aggressive characteristics are being bred out of them,” Paul said.
“These are people’s pets and it’s up to them to ensure that they are good community members. Putting the onus back on the pet owners is one of the purposes of this new bylaw.”
The proposed new bylaw also calls for restrictions on how many pets a household can have and other animal welfare provisions.
The proposed new bylaw is expected to be tabled at council’s regular meeting on April 3 where it will be considered for its first three readings.