November 20, 2019

After more than ten years, Ontario is contemplating lifting a ban on breeding or owning pit bulls.

Owners of the stocky, smooth-coated dogs say the ban is unfair. The Dog Owners Liability Act and breed specific legislation came into effect in 2005, after an attack by pit bulls on a Toronto man which resulted in the dogs being shot. This created a stigma across Ontario that pit bulls are vicious attack dogs and should not be kept as pets.

Justine Thornley, a dog owner, has strong views on the topic and says it’s more complicated than the average person might think. 

Via Facebook, she said: the “ban sucks because it actually doesn’t define an actual breed. It defines its laws on looks and behavioural expectations of this type. I don’t believe one specific breed is aggressive; I believe any dog can be aggressive.” 

Pit bull is actually the type of dog and within that there are three pedigreed breeds; the American Pit Bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, and the Staffordshire bull terrier.

While Ontario has the pit bull ban on the books, it is rarely enforced. Websites like Kijji regularly advertise pit bulls for sale. 

Opponents of the ban have tried to raise awareness about the dog’s behaviour arguing it’s not always the dog’s fault when incidents happen. They say a lot of responsibly falls on the owner, too. 

Kristen Constans created a petition on Change.org titled “Lift the ban on Pit Bulls in Ontario,” which is close to its 10,000-signature goal as of Friday. The petition says that other breeds are just as capable of attacks, and the dog’s behaviour strongly depends on the conditions in which has been been raised.

“In light of the elections results I am hoping this might be an opportunity for change,” she wrote following Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s election win last year.

“I’m disappointed with the government’s decision years ago to put this act in place.”

The Toronto Star reported the NDP and Green Party have been recently questioning the legislation, with Ford’s government rethinking the act as well. 

Thornley hopes the government will consider all possible options and do the proper research to make a fair decision.

“ANY dog can be a liability and it’s the owner’s job to ensure it is not,” she wrote. “Just like cars we operate them safely to ensure no damage to our surroundings and self. It’s the same with ANY pet ownership.” 

Correction: An earlier version of this story noted that Justine Thornley is a pit bull owner. In fact, she is a dog owner but does not own a pit bull.

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