Policies aimed at protecting the public sometimes have negative consequences. These can occur when decisions are based on limited and/or poor quality evidence; when actual outcomes of a new policy are the opposite of what was originally intended; when community engagement is lacking or the community is deeply divided; and when root causes are ignored. Montreal's proposed breed ban is characterized by all of the above.
If passed on September 26, the city's new bylaw will be implemented unfairly. Only owners of dogs that are or resemble pit bull-types must prove that they have no criminal record of violence in order to keep their pets, albeit under closely controlled conditions.
Framing owners of such dogs as potential criminals in this way can help to constitute the very problem Montreal seeks to eliminate. Making it illegal to own a dog that is already depicted as "dangerous" may unintentionally reinforce an undesirable culture, whereby those who wish to acquire a pit bull-type dog for the wrong reasons may in fact do so because of the ban.
Behavioural concerns and rental housing issues are among the top reasons why people abandon or relinquish their pets.
Furthermore, when people own a dog of a banned breed, they may hide it, not exercise it in public, and not seek professional advice when needed. Dogs lacking proper exercise, socialization, and training pose a threat to public safety.
The new bylaw came in response to the tragic death of a Pointe-aux-Trembles woman by what was originally labelled as a pit bull-type dog, but later found to be a registered boxer. Types of dogs, especially mixed ones, can be difficult to identify visually, even by animal professionals. And while breed identification may suggest predisposed traits, the individual behaviour of dogs differs even within a litter of purebred puppies. Properly labelling dogs that are or resemble pit bull-types is just one of the many challenges Montreal will face should it move forward with the ban.
Positioning ownership of certain types of dogs as no longer welcome in mainstream society stigmatizes people who continue to engage in the practice after a ban is put in place -- to the extent that current owners who are legally able to keep their pit bull-type dogs may be refused dog training or rental housing as a result. Behavioural concerns and rental housing issues are among the top reasons why people abandon or relinquish their pets. Shelters are already forced to euthanize vast numbers of dogs given up due to refusal of these types of services, and Montreal's ban promises to make this situation even worse.
Moving toward a city-wide strategy that encourages licensing and permanent ID for all types of dogs is important, yet Montreal's new bylaw is based on punishment instead of education. Montreal has yet to explicitly mention where increased revenues generated from forcing all owners to license their pets -- and deliberately fining those who do not -- will go.
In contrast, Calgary's city-wide strategy rewards pet owners by reinvesting money made from animal licensing into services and programs that benefit the city as a whole. Providing a no cost spay/neuter program for people with limited incomes and sponsoring free dog-training sessions at off-leash areas are a few ways by which the city aims to address root causes of "irresponsible" pet ownership.
Instead of imposing restrictive and stigmatizing policies on the number of pets and types of dogs people can own, Montreal should turn to Calgary's model, which has been successful in reducing dog bites and dog chase complaints by promoting and rewarding responsible pet ownership.
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