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Dog Mistaken For Pit Bull Detained For Months Under Ontario Law

The Sault Ste. Marie Humane Society kept Odie away from his family until his owner could prove he wasn't a pit bull.
Odie, a three-year-old Boxador, was detained by an Ontario pound for 65 days because it thought he was a pit bull.
Odie, a three-year-old Boxador, was detained by an Ontario pound for 65 days because it thought he was a pit bull.

When Odie saw a mother bear close to his young humans on their Sault Ste. Marie farm, he did what any good boy would do.

The three-year-old “Boxador” (Boxer-Labrador mix) chased the bear away — so far away that he strayed off the five-acre property and was picked up by a concerned stranger, and brought to the local pound.

And that’s when his 65-day nightmare began.

The Sault Ste. Marie Humane Society assumed Odie was a pit bull, and that his human mom, Jennifer Santana was breaking the law by owning him in the first place, and then allowing him to stray.

At first, Santana wasn’t able to provide documentation that Odie, who has no history of aggressive behaviour, was a Boxador. She was charged under the Dog Owners Liability Act in late June. As the case was increasingly delayed at provincial court, the pound kept Odie and wouldn’t allow any visits.

Eventually the Crown dropped the charges, and Odie returned home. He is on edge and has eight broken teeth and abrasions on his face, from “trying to claw out from his cell” at the humane society, Santana said shortly after their reunion. “He couldn’t eat dog kibble this morning because his teeth hurt. It’s disgusting.”

She has launched a Go Fund Me page to pay for vet bills as Odie recovers. Santana said they have to travel to the University of Guelph’s veterinary hospital for treatment, which will altogether cost upwards of $5,000.

Jennifer Santana, left, is pictured with her daughter Isabell and Odie.
Jennifer Santana, left, is pictured with her daughter Isabell and Odie.

Santana said it was truly devastating for her family — including her kids aged 9 and 10 and black Labrador Ebony — to be away from Odie, her gentle wingman who helps her manage her severe social anxiety.

“The outside world isn’t easy for me to navigate. He keeps me at peace, wakes me up and keeps me going,” she said. “Even simple things like going to the grocery store, he stays in the truck and I’m OK because I know he’s there if anything bad happens.”

Last year when a barn cat had kittens, Odie carried them gently into his dog bed to cuddle. Every morning when he hears Santana or her two kids’ feet hit the floor as they get out of bed, he slides down the hallway to wait at their doors, a move commonly known in their household as the “Odie slide.”

“For the last 65 days, I dreaded getting out of bed because I’d never get an Odie slide,” Santana said.

The humane society was legally allowed to detain the dog because he has the “appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar” to a pit bull according to the legislation, but makes the definition of a pit bull “insanely broad,” said Santana’s lawyer Bobby Russon. If the court were to determine Odie was a pit bull, he would’ve been euthanized.

Watch: The problem with pit bull bans. Story continues below.

The humane society wouldn’t comment directly to HuffPost Canada, but on its Facebook page said it is required to follow regulations for “pit bull type dogs” and determine the rightful owner, and breed of dog. But Russon said it could have used discretion in the same way a police officer might issue a warning instead of a ticket when catching a driver speeding.

In early July, after careful consideration, the Canadian Kennel Club determined Odie was in fact a Boxador, “an extremely popular cross-breed,” it said in a letter.

It took weeks for the Crown to decide proceeding wasn’t in the public interest. The charges weren’t formally dropped until Aug. 28 and finally Odie was released.

Their reunion was emotional, Santana said. Ebony “went berserk” greeting him. When Santana sat down, he went straight to her, curling up on her lap.

Odie has no history of aggression and gets along well with her other pets, including kittens and children.
Odie has no history of aggression and gets along well with her other pets, including kittens and children.

Now, she wants the legislation changed so this doesn’t happen to other families.

“It doesn’t work. You discriminated against my dog and psychologically and physically harmed him. I will do whatever it takes,” Santana said.

Russon took the case pro bono because he “believes in the cause.” His best friend GeorDee is a bulldog mix that could also be mistaken for a pit bull.

Lawyer Bobby Russon's dog GeorDee, a very good girl and bulldog mix.
Lawyer Bobby Russon's dog GeorDee, a very good girl and bulldog mix.

“She has a wide jaw, pronounced chest, and short hair. She could easily be caught up under ... the act. Knowing how that would make me feel — how could I not help out?” he said.

The breed-specific pit bull ban, and broad definition of what type of dog could be a pit bull based on physical characteristics, is ineffective and unnecessary, said Russon.

“The act was initially enacted to promote responsible dog ownership and provide clarity regarding civil liability in the case of dog bites,” he said. “The breed-specific element was an amendment in 2005. It needs to go. There is zero evidence that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.”

UPDATE: This story was updated to include information about Odie’s Go Fund Me page.

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