June 09, 2006

Breed Specific Legislation - Sorta, Kinda, Maybe

Just prior to the provincial election in Nova Scotia, Rick Conrad, writer of the Petpourri column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, posed questions about pet ownership, sale, cruelty, and breed banning to each of the three major party leaders.

Their answers, along with the comments of a local NDP candidate, highlight how, even when people don't agree with banning a breed (or at least publicly say they don't), they still seem to think that "there's something different about those dogs".

Rick's original column is here.

Please note that Darrell Dexter's office has retracted his original statement that he supports breed-specific legislation. His retraction was printed in the Chronicle Herald here. I'll have more to say about his "retraction".

The three leaders were asked the following question:

Where do you stand on breed-specific legislation that would ban certain breeds of dogs like Rottweilers or pit bull terriers?

Here are their answers:


NDP Leader Darrell Dexter


Personally, I support breed-specific legislation.

Later amended to (via e-mail response to a number of upset citizens):

I can assure you that the Nova Scotia NDP has no policy or position in favour of breed specific legislation. The NDP has no plans to introduce such legislation.

and another e-mail:

Mr. Dexter and the NDP are certainly prepared to be held responsible for the position that they do not support breed specific legislation, and have no plans to bring such legislation forward.

and (via his retraction in the Chronicle Herald):

Mr. Dexter does not support breed-specific legislation.

What can I say? It's pretty hard to jump convincingly from "Personally, I support breed-specific legislation" to "Mr. Dexter does not support breed-specific legislation". I guess the big question is, can we hold him to that last statement after he's in power? Judging from the record of the Ontario Liberal government, it seems you can pretty well say anything you want and then just forget about it after you've been elected. So who knows?

Personally, I don't think the first statement was quite the "mistake" that his office has made it out to be.

Liberal Leader Francis MacKenzie

We are not in favour of bans on certain breeds. There are bad owners but very few bad pets. These types of breeds, however, require knowledgeable owners and we would encourage owners to seek professional training. Owners must be held responsible for the actions of their pets. If any legislation is considered, it will look at the owner, not the breed.

OK, he definitely said, point-blank, that, if any legislation is considered, it will look at the owner, not the breed. He also want owners to be held accountable for the actions of their pets. Bravo! That sounds better!

But look at his earlier sentence: These types of breeds, however, require knowledgeable owners and we would encourage owners to seek professional training. Here we are, right back to "there's something different about those dogs - they need to be treated specially, handled differently, only owned by responsible owners". Again, ignoring the facts, the science, and the statistics that clearly and unequivocally show that some of the most popular family dogs out there are also some of the most dangerous. Having pointed out this underlying thought process, I am still inclined to favour Mr. MacKenzie.

Progressive Conservative Leader Rodney MacDonald (via e-mail after publication deadline)

I'm assuming this question deals with public safety, given the breeds you've mentioned. I believe there is a half pass, half fail rate with this type of legislation across Canada. I'm not entirely convinced that by banning certain breeds would prevent dog attacks from happening. Other breeds can also demonstrate aggression toward people depending on the circumstances, how the dog was raised and treated itself. I think I'd be more supportive of legislation that addresses the causes of aggression rather than targeting the banning of specific breeds.

Mr. MacDonald starts off badly and ends well, again exposing an underlying belief that words alone can't hide. He has obviously been told by someone, perhaps a clerk in his office, that breed-specific legislation has worked well in some places in Canada.

Clearly, he must not have looked at Winnipeg's bite statistics, at Kitchener's "four pillars of lies" on which they based their BSL, nor at Windsor's horrific rate of destruction of anything that remotely resembles a "pit bull". He must not be aware that employees of McCain's are writing to dog organizations asking for details on breed-specific legislation in their company's head office town, Florenceville, New Brunswick. He must not have been told about the significant costs of enforcement, housing, and court cases that each of these areas have had to endure because of their ill-advised policies.

Never mind the tourism costs from dedicated Canadians and Americans (as well as others from around the world) who refuse to spend a dime in these cities, EVER, because of their BSL. I'd really like to know what Mr. MacDonald's definition of "half-pass, half-fail" is.

Also, he's not "entirely" convinced that banning certain dog breeds would prevent dog attacks from happening! Does this mean he's ALMOST convinced? If he put even a little effort into some research, or even got someone in his office to do it for him, maybe he would be "entirely" convinced the other way.

This is hard work, grasping the true thoughts of these guys from a few words. I'll give Mr. MacDonald the benefit of the doubt for his statement about aggression in other breeds, although, if I were to be really picky, I could read something into even that sentence.

But I have to comment on the end of his answer. We do not need any more legislation that tries to address the CAUSES of aggression in dogs. We certainly can't ban MORONS from owning dogs and we can't even ban UNCARING, UNINTERESTED, UNEDUCATED people from owning dogs.

Since those are the two major causes of dog bites, how are we supposed to prevent these incidents from happening? We EDUCATE about the causes and we LEGISLATE the consequences of ignoring the causes. In other words, teach people why bad things happen and how they can prevent those bad things, then hit them with a big hammer if they continue to allow the bad things to happen.

Pretty simple.

Ultimately, no matter what the issue and the danger, you cannot hold people's hands through micro-managing types of legislation. You cannot prevent people (just like teenagers) from making mistakes by removing the devices with which they make mistakes. Life doesn't work that way. People will always find something else with which to kill themselves or other people. The only effective method of legislation, just like parenting and dog training, is to teach the appropriate behaviour (in this case, control of the child and/or the dog and personal effort to prevent dog bites) and then require adherence to that behaviour, providing positive consequences for compliance (reinforcement) and negative consequences for disobedience (punishment).

Local NDP Candidate Sean Bennett, Hants West (via e-mail to a concerned constituent)

The comment from Darrell Dexter was his personal opinion and not that of the NDP.

As you know Darrell lives in the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour riding and animal and child safety has been an issue for citizens in that area.

I feel that it is not the dog that is necessarily the problem but the owners and trainers.

I think that Breed Specific Legislation might be an option where certain breeds (such as Pit Bulls for example) can only be purchased through a breeder, not through pet stores or other avenues. Responsible breeders will ensure that these dogs are raised with proper training and under the proper rules and regulations to ensure that breeds are not blamed.

Apparently, the fact that animal and child safety has been an issue in Dexter's riding is an excuse for his initial choice to support breed-specific legislation.

Note the word "necessarily" in the third quote from Mr. Bennett (It's not the dog that is necessarily the problem). What does that word "necessarily" mean? Since I don't have a subscription to Oxford online, I'll go with Merriam-Webster's definition from http://www.m-w.com/ - UNAVOIDABLY. So what Mr. Bennett is saying is that it's not ALWAYS the dog that's the problem. Great! Thank you for clearing that up. My four-year-old grandson could have told me that! Even he knows that, when he cracks the dog across the head with a plastic baseball bat, it's not NECESSARILY the dog's fault when she pushes him down to get him to stop.

Of course, Mr. Bennett shows his true colours in his last statement. BSL is an option. Let's put strict rules on the breeders and owners of "those dogs", even if we don't ban them outright!


Wow! What a mish-mash!

Getting back to my original introduction, each of these politicians, all four of them, have made some comment that shows that they feel "certain breeds" are different.

Dexter: Who knows what he actually believes?
Bennett: Certain breeds should only be able to be purchased from certain people.
MacKenzie: These types of breeds require knowledgable owners.
MacDonald: There is a half-pass, half-fail rate with BSL. Not entirely convinced that breed bans are effective.

So each of these candidates either believes, or has accepted without question, the notion that certain types of dogs must be handled differently or that BSL is not "necessarily" an abhorrent idea.

I believe that, if a candidate is not willing to denounce, before being elected, the entire premise of breed-specific legislation, then he cannot be trusted to withstand the pressure of the media when a serious attack does happen in his province.

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