June 29, 2007

Judge does not rule on the remedy for Ontario's Dog Owners' Liability Act

On June 28, 2007, Justice Herman listened to arguments regarding the remedy for the Dog Owners' Liability Act. The purpose of the remedy is to determine what to do with the law, now that three portions of it were found to be unconstitutional.

This is my interpretation of what occurred in the courtroom.

I apologize for the late report. This is the first chance I've had to get to a computer.

There were approximately 50 people in a courtroom designed to hold perhaps 20, so a lot of chairs had to be grabbed from offices and other courtrooms.

Present for the Applicant's side (us) were Clayton Ruby and Carolyn Wawzonek. Clayton Ruby did all the talking for us.

Present for the Respondent's side (them) were Robert Charney, Michael Doi, and Zachary Green (the usual three), along with another gentleman who I did not recognize. Robert Charney did all the talking for them.

Mr. Ruby went first at about 10:20 and talked for about an hour and fifteen minutes. We took a break, then Mr. Charney talked for just over an hour. Then Mr. Ruby responded, they had some further discussions about costs, and we were done around 1:30.

To get the bad news out of the way first, the judge did NOT make any decision today. There were a number of written submissions, as well as the verbal arguments presented today, and based on the amount of notes and highlighting she was doing, she's got some reading to do before she can make a judgment.

So for now, the law stands as is. It is important to note that, even though she has found parts of the law unconstitutional, until she rules on the remedy (which I'll explain in a minute), the law has not changed from its original form.

I personally am choosing to continue to act now in the same way that I have done since the law was enacted, until I know for sure what is going to be taken out and what is going to be left in.

Both sides presented their submissions regarding costs (i.e., who pays for the lawyers and court costs and how much of the costs is each party responsible for). This was done in writing and the judge will consider these while she is making her decision about the whole thing.

This remedy, as it's called, is necessary because of section 52 of the Constitution Act of Canada, 1982. Section 52 states:

"The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect."

Therefore, it is clear that the following three sections of the Dog Owners' Liability Act are of no force or effect, since the judge found them unconstitutional:

a) Section 1(1) - The phrase "pit bull includes:";

b) Section 1(1) - The phrase "pit bull terrier";

c) Section 19(1) - The requirement that the court accept that a dog is a "pit bull" based on a document from a veterinarian.

The first two were found unconstitutional because the judge felt they were vague. The last was found unconstitutional because it placed a significant evidentiary burden on the defence for the sole purpose of being convenient for the prosecution. This, if I understand it, was a violation of the principles of fundamental justice.

This is all just preamble from me to explain some of Mr. Ruby's arguments.


CLAYTON RUBY

Mr. Ruby proceeded to list the three questions that the judge has to answer regarding this now partially constitutional law:

1. Is the law, with the unconstitutional parts removed, consistent with the original objective of the legislature?

2. Can the law stand alone with the unconstitutional parts removed (i.e., is it still understandable and enforceable)?

3. Should it be suspended while the remedy is being determined?

It seemed that both sides agreed on question 3, presumably that it did not need to be suspended.

Mr. Ruby's primary argument, and the area where he spent the most time, was the removal of the phrase "pit bull terrier". His argument is that "pit bull terrier" was one of five clauses designed by the legislature, confirmed by the committee, and accepted by the legislature and that it was an essential element of the law. Now that it is no longer there, the very substance, the core, of the legislation has changed dramatically. This entire legislation, at least the breed-specific portion, depends on the definition of "pit bull" and, if the judge is choosing to throw out a piece of that definition, then she cannot just take the rest and say, "well, the legislature would have been okay with this new definition". It is not her job to read the legislature's mind.

Also, Mr. Ruby argued that, because the initial intent of the legislature was to go after all "pit bulls" (as Peter Kormos put it during the committee hearings, the "small p" pit bulls, the mixed breed, backyard bred mutts), the legislature never intended to go after ONLY the purebreds.

The legislature had determined that there was a reasoned apprehension of harm from "pit bulls", yet they did not specify percentages or proportions regarding how many attacks could be attributed to dogs within each of the five clauses individually. So they didn't say how many American Staffordshire Terriers had been responsible for attacks vs. how many "pit bull terriers" had been responsible.

Because they didn't do this (and they couldn't), it is entirely conceivable that the vast majority of those attacks (as perceived by the legislature) could have been from the dogs in the group "pit bull terrier". So, by removing that phrase, the judge could possibly be removing from the law most of the dogs that were the problem, leaving only the purebreds who, by all accounts, could only have been responsible for a "vanishingly small" number of incidents, if any.

Mr. Ruby argued that it is not the judge's place to so drastically change the scope of the law's targets. It is the legislature's responsibility and, as such, the law should be handed back to the legislature to redefine their targets. In other words, the whole law should be thrown out.

In addition, when given the opportunity, the legislature chose not to remove the phrase "pit bull terrier" from the definition. So, if the judge is now removing that phrase, how can she know what the legislature's preference would have been if they had known ahead of time that "pit bull terrier" couldn't be used? Again, neither she nor the government lawyers can pretend to represent the will of the legislature.

Mr. Ruby's main argument is that the Dog Owners' Liability Act is a single comprehensive scheme with a shared definition (i.e., a definition with multiple components that is needed throughout the rest of the law) and shared goals. You cannot simply change the definition with affecting the rest of the law. There is no evidence as to what the legislature would have written into the law had it been forced to not use (or forced to redefine) "pit bull terrier".

Regarding section 19, which is now invalid, this means that, in order to prove their case that a dog is a "pit bull", the government must now bring in an expert witness (likely, but not absolutely, a veterinarian). Due to the expert witness fees charged, this will substantially increase the cost of each and every prosecution, of which there may be thousands. This violates another principle stated by the court in one of the precedent cases, that the changes made by the judge in order to keep a law constitutional must not have a significant budgetary impact on the government.

A good quote from Clayton Ruby: "It is not for this court to pick apart this scheme and put it back together".

There was a lot of talk about "reading in", "striking out", and "reading down", so I think I'll quickly explain these:

"Reading in" is the practice whereby a constitutional judge will add words to the law to make it constitutional. The net effect of these new words may be to include something that was not included before or to exclude something that was included before.

"Striking out" or "striking down" is the practice of removing the unconstitutional words from the law. Again, the net effect could be to include something that was not previously covered by the law or to exclude something that was previously covered by the law.

"Reading down" is to change the wording or to more narrowly interpret the existing wording in order to make the law less broad (i.e., make it constitutional).

Based on prior comments from other Superior and Supreme Court decisions, Mr. Ruby argued that you should only "read in" in areas where the law is SUBSTANTIALLY constitutional and PERIPHERALLY problematic. In other words, if the law is basically sound, but has a few minor technical problems that don't fit with the constitution, you may be able to "read in" additional words to better define those minor areas without substantially changing the effect or purpose of the law.

Mr. Ruby argued that, because the law depends so heavily on the definition of "pit bull", including "pit bull terrier", that it is not substantially constitutional, but on the contrary, because it is a single scheme with a shared definition, any problem with the definition creates a problem throughout the rest of the law.

The other major issue was the phrase "pit bull includes:". Note that the judge did not find the word "includes" vague in and of itself, but rather the entire phrase "pit bull includes:", because, she said, there is no generally accepted definition of "pit bull", so the word "includes" becomes very important.

The government says that the word "includes" is exhaustive (i.e., the list of things that follow are the ONLY things that can be pit bulls). Mr. Ruby says that it is inclusive (i.e., yes, the things listed are pit bulls, but maybe other things could be too, and nobody knows for sure). This may seem like semantics, but it is very important because, if the interpretation is that the list is "closed" (can't possibly include anything else), then the phrase "pit bull includes" could remain constitutional, but if the interpretation is that the list is "open ended" (may possible include something else), then the phrase "pit bull includes" could be unconstitutional and, therefore, would have a huge impact on the rest of the law.

There have been extremely few cases that allowed the word "includes" to refer to a closed (exhaustive) list, so history tends to be on our side in this.

The question of whether or not the list is "closed" is a case of "reading down". Within two possible interpretations, the judge is more narrowly interpreting the phrase in order to keep it constitutional.

Previous courts have held that, in the cases where Parliament (in this case the Ontario legislature) chose "unequivocal means" of accomplishing their objective, "reading in" or "reading down" in those cases would be a judicial rewriting of the law, which is not allowed. When the choice of means (i.e., how did the legislature choose to go about reducing dangerous dog bites) is unequivocal, then changing the law to use a different means is effectively frustrating the original intent of the legislation.

Since documents such as those from the Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) do not include any of the three purebred breeds AT ALL in any of the bite incident reports, then it is inconceivable that the legislature intended to go after only the three purebred breeds. Rather, it intended to go after "pit bull terriers", which the court has already found don't exist (i.e., are unconstitutionally vague).

The definition of "pit bull" is the CORE of this legislation and it cannot be changed by the judge. It must be thrown out.


ROBERT CHARNEY

Mr. Charney, on behalf of the government, requested that clause 1(1)(a) and the entire section 19 be "severed" (removed) from the legislation. His argument is that the law will operate just fine without these.

Severance is an example of "reading down" (removal of parts by the judge to make the law constitutional).

According to prior courts' rulings, the court should interfere with the original legislation as little as possible. Severance (the removal of offending parts) is an ordinary part of constitutional adjudication and should be considered as interfering less that throwing out the whole law.

The court should not invalidate portions of the law that it has already found to be valid, i.e., clauses (b) through (e).

The purpose of the court is to keep as much of the law as possible in order to maintain the objective of the legislature that created the law.

The judge has already found that there was a reasoned apprehension of harm from the dogs in clauses (b) through (e), because the judge found that those clauses were constitutional. Therefore, Mr. Ruby can't come back now and argue that these clauses refer to a miniscule number of dogs and should not be kept. That was argued during the main case, the judge made a decision on that already (deciding to keep four of the five clauses), and that overbreadth argument should not be re-argued now, during the remedy phase.

When the committee voted to keep clause (a), even though it had been pointed out to them very clearly that there was no such thing as a "pit bull terrier", that there was no breed standard, and that nobody knew what it was, Mr. Ruby argued that they must have felt that "pit bull terrier" was an essential element of the definition. Mr. Charney states that the committee never voted to keep clause (a) specifically. They did, however, vote specifically to keep clauses (b), (c), and (d). The vote that included (a) was actually a vote on the entire definition of "pit bull", not just clause (a). Therefore, Mr. Ruby's argument that removing clause (a) was frustrating the intent of the legislature is not valid.

A somewhat humourous moment occurred when Mr. Ruby had used statements during the committee by a Mr. Lewis, a lawyer from the government's policy division. Mr. Charney argued that Mr. Lewis' comments could not be considered because he did not represent the government (such as a minister would), but was rather simply a civil servant in the employ of the government. Not much later, Mr. Charney claimed to be representing the government's point of view and the judge responded by suggesting that he too did not represent the government, but was rather only a civil servant in the employ of the government. So that part of Mr. Charney's argument kind of went out the window there.

Mr. Charney stated that the court has to consider two major questions:

1. Is the part that remains so inextricably bound up with the part that was removed that the remaining portion cannot stand on its own?

2. Would the legislature have passed the constitutional portion alone without the unconstitutional part?

He stated that the judge had already determined in her section 1 analysis that the law could achieve the objective of the legislature using only clauses (b) through (e). Section 1 of the Charter deals with the principles of fundamental justice, part of which considers whether or not a law is overkill considering the harmfulness (or lack thereof) of its targets. The judge had already found that, after removing "pit bull terrier" and leaving only the purebreds and "any dog that is substantially similar", the law was still reasonable (and therefore constitutional).

A fair bit of discussion now started regarding the phrase "pit bull includes:".

Mr. Charney stated that the judge has three options regarding this phrase:

1. Leave the phrase as is and interpret the word "includes" narrowly (i.e., that the list following it is exhaustive, complete, and closed). This was Mr. Charney's preference.

2. Change the word "includes" to the word "means". This would require "striking out" the word "include" and "reading in" the word "means", to produce an effect of "reading down" the law by making it less broad.

3. Add the word "only" after the word "includes" so that the phrase would read "pit bull includes only:". This is also "reading down" by "reading in" an additional word, in order to make the law less broad.

Mr. Charney argued that this is all simply a matter of style and that the most important thing to consider is the effect of the change. Look at the original intent of the law and then whatever choice the judge makes in order to make it constitutional would be perfectly acceptable to maintain the original objective of the law.

"Reading in" or "severance" are important tools to avoid intruding on the legislature. Avoiding interfering with the original legislative objective must be the prime consideration of the court. Courts have held that the techniques of "striking down" and "reading in" do not unduly intrude on the legislature. Mr. Charney argued that the law, as it stands after removal of the unconstitutional parts, is substantially constitutional and only peripherally problematic (the opposite of what Mr. Ruby said it is).

"Reading in" (e.g., adding the word "only") is only appropriate when the objective of the legislature is obvious and where it would further the objective of the legislation or minimally intrude of the legislative objective.

Striking down the entire legislation would interfere with the legislative objective and would cause the intended targets to be left untargeted until such time as new legislation could be drafted. This is more intrusive than simply adding or changing a single word in order to accomplish the original objective.

The judge really pushed Mr. Charney with Mr. Ruby's argument that the court cannot know if the legislature would have targeted only the three purebreds and similar dogs, if it had known that it would not have been able to use the phrase "pit bull terrier".

Mr. Ruby stood back up, responded to a couple of arguments by Mr. Charney, and then reiterated his request for the entire legislation to be struck down because the removal of the unconstitutional parts has dramatically changed the scope and impact of the legislation and has increased the cost of enforcing and prosecuting it.

The judge thanked everyone and left.


MY COMMENTS

Nobody seems to be too worried about section 19 (the veterinary document). The government is quite happy for it to be severed. We probably are too, but we did argue that section 19 was inextricably linked to the definition of pit bull and therefore couldn't just be struck down on its own.

The key seems to be the other two vagueness issues.

The judge is going to have to decide two things here:

1. Does the removal of the phrase "pit bull terrier" so substantially change the definition that the legislature needs to go back to the drawing board and figure it out again, rather than simply having the judge remove an offending phrase?

2. Can the judge reword the phrase "includes" to "means" or "includes only" without substantially altering the legislature's original objective?

Both sides did well. I really liked some of Clayton Ruby's arguments that I had not thought of before, particularly the idea that throwing out "pit bull terrier" might be throwing out 99% of the dogs responsible for bites.

I recognize, as does he, that pit bull bites are not significant in this province when placed in context with other breeds or types of dogs, but that was not what was at issue here today. Mr. Ruby had to act within the findings of the judge in her original decision. So, even though he may not personally believe that all generic "pit bulls" are dangerous, he had to work within the judge's findings that pit bull bites were significant enough that the government appeared to have reason to target them. So rather than repeating his original argument from the main case that generic "pit bulls" weren't dangerous, he argued instead that removing "pit bull terrier" from the list may indeed be removing a substantial number of dogs that may have originally the main objective of the legislation.

Basically, he said, you can't tell exactly what dogs the legislature was talking about when they talked about "pit bulls", so you can't just remove one piece and say, "well, they weren't really talking about that clause, only the other four". You have to go back to the legislature and get them to rewrite it if you really want to know what they intended.

So, that's about it.

If the law gets sent back to the legislature, we have won, pending an appeal by the government.

If the law gets changed to "pit bull means" or "pit bull includes only", or if the judge narrowly interprets the word "includes" to be exhaustive, then the law will still target the three purebred breeds and dogs that are substantially similar, so we will appeal.

In the middle of all of this comes the election. We may have a decision before then (I would certainly hope), but it will be just before the election and I don't think the legislature will be doing any more work before the campaigning starts.

So, if we win, it is likely that any action by the government would be postponed until after the election. Then the government, assuming that it's still the Liberals in power, can decide whether they want to appeal, rewrite the law to target pit bulls again, rewrite the law to target truly dangerous dogs, or shrug their shoulders and let the law die a natural death, leaving in place the original Dog Owners' Liability Act.

Hope this helps.

Steve Barker

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June 27, 2007

Ontario Ombudsman: Government “puffery” undermines public trust

A huge thank you to Ontario Ombudsman André Marin for saying publicly (and for getting the media to publish) what I and others have been trying to say for years.

This Ontario government simply does not appear to believe that it has any responsibility, whatsoever, to its taxpayers.

Marin, in his second annual report, describes the Ontario Liberal government as being rife with "puffery".

I could not have described it better.

Read the Globe and Mail story for more details or visit the Ombudsman's website to read the entire report.

I will be reviewing it and reporting back to you.

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June 25, 2007

Court Protocol

Please read Caveat's post regarding court protocol, written for the original court case in May 2006, but still applicable.

Courtesy of Marsha Boulton, author of Wally's World available at Amazon Canada.

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COURT INFORMATION FOR THURSDAY JUNE 28 AT 10:00 AM - PLEASE ATTEND

393 University Avenue in downtown Toronto.
Courtroom 904 - June 28 10:00 AM

Between Queen and Dundas on University Avenue.

If you're taking the TTC, it's on the University/Spadina subway line between Osgoode (Queen) and St. Patrick (Dundas) stations.

We want as many people as possible to be there, please. Get there early to ensure that you get in. I'm aiming for 8:00 AM, which may be overkill, but I'd rather be too early than too late.

As I understand it, the arguments will be about how to implement the judge's decision on the challenge of DOLA. The judge must decide the best course of action now that the law has been substantially eroded.

The decision of the judge, as far as I understand it, is that the following parts of the law are unconstitutional:

  1. The phrase "pit bull includes";
  2. The phrase "pit bull terrier" as a definition of a restricted dog;
  3. The use of only a document from a veterinarian as proof of breed, thus placing onto the defendant the burden of the costs of cross-examination and calling of experts to refute the document.
The full text of the judge's decision is here.

Here is a plain English interpretation of what could happen, courtesy of the Fundamental Freedoms Project:
The Charter is a part of Canada's Constitution, and is included in the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 gives courts the power to say that a law that violates the Charter is not valid. You can ask a court to make such a declaration. When applying section 52, a court might:
  • strike out the part of the law that violates the Charter
  • interpret a law narrowly so that it fits Charter rights
  • 'read in' features to the law so that it meets Charter requirements
  • declare that you are not covered by the law that violates your Charter rights (a 'constitutional exemption')
Be there. Let the Ontario Liberals know that you will not accept the erosion of Canadian charter rights, the legislated second-class citizenship of law-abiding people, and the extermination of unoffending dogs.

Please read Caveat's post regarding court protocol, written for the original court case in May 2006, but still applicable.

Courtesy of Marsha Boulton, author of Wally's World available at Amazon Canada.

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Save lives - ban murder, alcohol, cars, suicide, and tobacco!

Today, I was outside having a cigarette (nasty habit, by the way) and reading my cigarette pack.

According to the statistics on the package (from Health Canada), tobacco kills almost five times as many people each year in Canada as murders, alcohol, car accidents, and suicides combined!

Murders - 510
Alcohol - 1,900
Car accidents - 2,900
Suicides - 3,900
Tobacco - 45,000

Now, I'm a little suspicious of these numbers, particularly the alcohol and tobacco.

Murders, car accidents, and suicides are clearly specific, identifiable, and trackable incidents.

Alcohol might be, depending if they're talking about alcohol-related injuries causing death or if they're trying to lump in things like alcohol-related liver disease. I'm also not sure if both the car accidents and the alcohol-related deaths include deaths caused by drunk drivers.

Tobacco, on the other hand, may be a cause in a huge number of deaths, but it may be a little too easy to chalk up some of these deaths to the evil weed when they may have occurred anyway because of genetics or because of other aspects of a person's lifestyle.

That said, let's assume for the moment that these numbers are reasonably accurate.

Do you know how many people are killed each year in Canada by dogs?

ONE!

That's right. One person per year, sometimes a child but not always, loses their life because of a dog bite or attack.

Horrifying and traumatizing for the family of this person, no doubt. But no less so than for the families of those people shot or knifed to death, launched through a windshield, put to sleep by an overdose of pills, or killed by a drunk driver.

How many people do you think have been killed in Canada by "pit bull" type dogs? As always, I must add the corollary that we can never truly identify the type of dog beyond a basic generic appearance.

So how many?

ONE in the last TWENTY-FIVE years!

Now, I have no idea how many people all those other things have killed over the past twenty-five years, but if we assumed that the number of deaths has doubled between 1982 and now (a generous assumption), that's over a MILLION people, dead from these various causes. The reality is probably more than that.

Still, we are allowed to smoke.
Still, we are allowed to drink.
Still, we are allowed to drive.
Still, we are allowed to own things with which we could kill ourselves.
Still, we are allowed to own things with which we could kill others.

Yet, we are not allowed to own "pit bulls". The government is allowed to track me, photograph my dog, share my personal information, enter my house unannounced, confiscate my property, and publicly vilify me, making me and others like me afraid to step outside our front doors.

ONE person in TWENTY-FIVE years!

Do you really think the Ontario law was even remotely about public safety?

Or was it about looking good on TV, about getting re-elected, about personal ambition and power?

Or was it about getting around that pesky clause in the constitution prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure?

Or that other clause that keeps getting in the way, the one about being presumed innocent?

Logically, looking at all these other causes of death, any reasonable person would have to conclude that it sure as hell wasn't about protecting lives.

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Not "pit bulls"? Not interested!

Since I've been involved in dog legislation issues, I have seen many newspaper articles and TV stories about "pit bulls". They range from ridiculous to horrifying and everything in between.

I have seen instances of articles being passed from newspaper to newspaper throughout the world, cases of multiple local and national newspapers and TV stations carrying stories of the most minor nature, simply because they involved the phrase "pit bull" (even if the dog's breed was not identifiable or was later identified as something else).

I still regularly meet people who refer to "those dogs who killed the lady in San Francisco" or the dogs who attacked the young girl in Vancouver as "pit bulls", thanks to news reports at the time.

Without a doubt, there have been some horrifying attacks by dogs that might be classified, somewhere, as "pit bull" type dogs (whatever that is).

Clearly, however, there have also been some reports that only existed because of the sensational nature of what the people involved believed the breed to be.

Some examples:

  1. Dog on dog incidents with minimal injury.
  2. Dog "nips" children (particularly puppy nips).
  3. One dog kills another dog.
  4. Two dogs kill a cat.
  5. Loose running dog shot to death by police. No attack, no bite, no injury.
I'm not suggesting that any of these incidents were not serious, especially to the people victimized. Any time there is serious injury to a person or another animal, we need to find out why and take steps to prevent similar occurrences, and the owners should be held accountable.

My point is simply that each of these stories appeared in multiple newspapers and on multiple TV stations, even at the national level, because they involved the word "pit bull".

Contrast those stories with this incident that occurred in Sarnia last Thursday. The only newspaper to pick this up was the local Observer. I've included the entire story at the end of this article because I don't want to lose track of it if the Observer removes it later.

Note that, according to the article, the owners have not been charged and the dogs have not been confiscated.

Now, take this same story, with the same number of dogs, with the same end result of 12 cats dead, but instead of "hounds", put the word "pit bulls".

Can you imagine the press coverage? This would not only go nationwide. It would probably be read around the world.

If it weren't so scary, it would be almost humorous to point out that this occurred in Sarnia, the same city that designated three seven-week old mixed breed puppies as "posing a menace to the public safety of persons and domestic animals".

The comparison between those three puppies and these "hounds" (whatever they are) is laughable. The "hounds", although doing what comes naturally to a pack of dogs running loose, were ALLOWED to do this by their owners by not being properly supervised and restrained. Contrast this with the puppies, who were capable of nothing more than drinking their mother's milk.

Has common sense gone out the window regarding dogs, not only in Sarnia, but in the whole province?

Maybe Michael Bryant should follow his own lead and ban hounds as well. Wouldn't we all be safer?

Sorry, does that sound stupid, far-fetched, hysterical?

Why, because they're not "pit bulls"?



Here's the whole story from the Sarnia Observer:

From the www.theobserver.ca web site
Monday, June 25, 2007
© 2007 The Sarnia Observer

Pack of hound dogs kill 12 cats; 'They just kept attacking,' says Carol Reynolds

JACK POIRIER

Saturday, June 23, 2007 - 16:00

Local News - A local couple is reeling after a pack of hunting dogs slaughtered 12 of their cats Thursday.

Carol Reynolds said she woke to the baying of a hound dog around 5:15 a.m. outside her Waubuno Road home, about five minutes from Brigden.

By the time she peered out her window, four hounds were circling the yard and within seconds two more joined the group.

"I looked out and I saw dead cats on the lawn," she said. "I began screaming. The dogs were killing the cats."

Carol and her husband Greg provide care to stray cats and had about 32 of the animals. They lost 12 cats in the attack, including four kittens.

Carol Reynolds said she called police who advised her not to go outside. All she could do was watch in horror, she said.

"There was nothing I could do," she said. "They just kept attacking, one cat after another."

The dogs circled their prey one at a time and attacked. The cats were trampled, bitten and disemboweled.

Some other kittens managed to climb the stairs of the front porch and Carol reached out and pulled a handful to safety. Several adult cats sought shelter under a car and didn't resurface until hours later.

"I started throwing stuff at the dogs, anything I could find. I even threw some china at them but it only caused them to pause for a second, then continue," Carol Reynolds said. "It was just horrible. It was a slaughter."

Her husband arrived home from shift work about the same time as police, some 30 minutes after the attack began.

Officers located the dogs later that morning, along with their owner.

They were collared with tracking devices, Greg Reynolds said. "We want (the owner) charged."

He said the dogs were left outside by the owner to hone their hunting skills.

The owner told police he would not be contacting the Reynolds family.

"My main concern is that people should be aware that this is a practice, that dogs are being allowed to roam free in order to train," Carol Reynolds said.

"Maybe if charges are laid, people will be less likely to allow their dogs to run loose."
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
© 2007 , Osprey Media. All Rights Reserved.

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June 22, 2007

I knew these guys were bad, but this is ridiculous!

I became a reluctant political activist, specifically targeting the ruling Ontario Liberal party, because of their arrogance, because of their insolence, because of their false and misleading public statements, and because they showed an incredible lack of willingness to listen and learn from people who know what they're talking about.

Considering the amount of time and effort I and my colleagues have spent over the past almost three years trying to educate and eventually being forced to fight the Liberal government, you'd think I'd have better insight as to how terribly this party has governed our province, but even with my inside knowledge, I really had no idea.

That is, until Social Mange published this article, writing it all down in one, easy-to-understand document.

I am truly stunned at the audacity of these men and women who have clearly forgotten (if they ever cared) that they have been hired by us, at our expense, to do what's best for us, not what's best for themselves.

Please, please, please make sure these guys do NOT get back into power in October of this year.

I don't think my heart nor my brain could take it.

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Air Canada replies but doesn't say much

Here is Air Canada's reply to my recent letter. Another example of "economics" trumping customer service. What about MY customer service?

Response (Debbie Mcammond) - 06/22/2007 01:19 PM
Dear Mr. Barker,

Thank you for your email outlining your concerns regarding our recent decision to no longer accept pets as checked baggage.

We review all our policies, procedures and services on a regular basis to ensure that our product offering responds to customer demand while keeping pace with industry standards and economic realities.

As you are aware, effective July 15, 2007, we will no longer accept pets as checked baggage. We will honour bookings which have already been made.

Our reasoning behind this decision is to effectively handle the high volume of baggage loads and meet the needs of the vast majority of our passengers. With the record load factors we have been experiencing, and with current security measures in place, we have more checked bags than ever.

Animals carried as checked baggage restrict us as to the amount of baggage we are ultimately able to carry on any given flight, thereby inconveniencing other passengers as we have to offload baggage to accommodate the oxygen circulation requirements for the pets.

While we recognize we have disappointed you, we do hope the above will allow you to better understand our decision.

Sincerely,
Customer Relations

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Air Canada - fly a whole new way (petless)

Further to my previous story about Air Canada, here's my letter to them.

Interestingly, after I sent them the letter, I received an automated response stating that I should receive a detailed reply within 15 days (I think they actually said "business days").

Now that's customer service!

Anyway, here's the letter.


Dear Sir/Madam:

Please be advised that, as a long time customer of Air Canada (approximately 25 years) and one who has consistently chosen Air Canada over its competitors, I will no longer fly Air Canada for any trip, anywhere. In fact, I will now be willing to pay for a more expensive flight on another airline in order to make sure I don't fly Air Canada.

As a pet owner, for me this is simply a matter of principle, regardless of whether my pet is coming with me on a particular trip.

I refuse to support any organization that treats pet owners as second class citizens and that is exactly what you have done with this decision.

Apparently, if I am to believe your advertisements, I can fly a whole new way on Air Canada - my way. Unless, of course, I own a pet.

Sincerely,

Steve Barker
(address)
(phone)
(e-mail)

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Guess who I'm not flying with any more?

Air Canada will no longer carry pets on passenger flights as of July 15, 2007.

According to their spokesperson, it's about "customer service" - giving non-pet-owning passengers more room for personal baggage.

What Air Canada fails to realize is that pet-owning passengers will choose not to fly their airline, whether or not their pet is flying with them, simply as a matter of principle.

With the exception of one existing prebooked flight, I will definitely be choosing a different airline in the future.

If you choose to do the same, make sure you tell Air Canada why.

Online comments

In Canada or U.S.
Air Canada - Customer Relations
PO Box 64239,
5512 4th Street, NW
Calgary, AB, Canada
T2K 6J0
Tel: 1-888-247-2262
Fax: 1-866-584-0380

Read all the news articles below.

CBC

City News

Globe and Mail

Canada.com

CANOE

Toronto Star

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June 15, 2007

Killing puppies because they can

Further to my earlier story regarding the confiscated mother and puppies in Sarnia.

The following letter was issued today by the president of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada. Permission was given to distribute widely.



ALERT: CROSS POST PLEASE TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!

June 15, 2007 1:30 PM EDT

On June 6, 2007 animal control officers in Sarnia, Ontario seized a mother dog and her three 7-week old puppies from the home of Brian Edwards Jr. and Cassie Bates.

The dogs’ offence? Solely that an animal control officer identified them as "pit bulls" under the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act (“DOLA”). This breed identification has subsequently and conveniently been changed by the authorities; the puppies and mother are now claimed to be Staffordshire bull terriers or have the appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar.

According to the owners, the dogs in question are neither.

On March 23, 2007 Madam Justice Thea Herman, a judge of the Ontario Superior Court, issued a decision that we understand renders the DOLA classifications "pit bull" and "pit bull terrier" unconstitutionally vague. If our understanding is correct, the seizure of the mother and her pups on the basis that they are “pit bulls” would have been unconstitutional.

As for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier identification, there is no proof of that breed identification. It is merely the word of an animal control officer, not a breed expert. The mother dog is not a registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier; she does not have registration papers, a microchip or an identifying tattoo.

At the time of the dogs’ removal from their home, the owners stated they were given two options: hand the mom and her puppies over, or be charged because the dogs were not licensed and the female is not spayed.

This is a scare tactic frequently used by animal control officers to intimidate those who do not know the law into giving up their property – their dogs - without the municipality having to deal with the inconvenience and expense of a court case. This scare tactic unfortunately often works. Of course, threats of pepper spray and arrest work just as well. That's what happened when Brian approached the animal control van to calm the mother dog.

On June 13th, the media reported that these dogs were given a stay of execution.

On that same day, however, the City of Sarnia issued a letter stating that "the pound operator will exercise certain options set out in Section 20(7.4) of the Animals for Research Act,R.S.O. 1990 ( the “ARA")." Four options were cited. Only one allows the dogs to live.

The ARA specifically states that the puppies and their mom can be safely transferred to a person who is resident outside Ontario.

Knowing of this option, Advocates for the Underdog, a well known and respected rescue, has offered at their own cost to take this task upon themselves.

The Advocates offer was declined by Sarnia pound officials.

The City Solicitor for Sarnia has filed documents claiming that the seven-week old puppies and their mother pose “a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals”.

Therefore, under the provisions cited, the City of Sarnia has decided that the mother dog and her puppies will be killed.

Not only does Sarnia animal control apparently not understand the law that they are supposed to be enforcing, but the Sarnia legal department also apparently does not have a clear understanding of the law.

Or perhaps they understand it too well. Could it be that the Ontario Attorney General’s office is once again wielding the same bloody pen used to write Ontario’s breed-specific legislation? One has to wonder why the Ontario government’s highly paid constitutional lawyers, who presented during the recent Superior Court case, sat in on less well-known municipal cases pertaining to "pit bulls". One also has to wonder why the City of Sarnia has recently announced that it will be performing door-to-door checks on all homes for the presence of dogs.

The constitutional challenge to DOLA is back in court for the remedy hearing at the end of this month. Until that time, it is our understanding that this law is in limbo and subject to misinterpretation and mistakes.

Without judicial clarification, it is hard to see how the City of Sarnia can justify the killing of innocent puppies. One would think that prudence would cause the City to put a moratorium on further actions until the courts clarify whether the law is enforceable.

One would also believe that any municipality or agent of the municipality that destroys the property of a citizen under DOLA before the final ruling is made, may well find themselves legally liable for those actions.

The back-door legal tactic used by the City of Sarnia to kill unoffending puppies and their mother should be seen by all dog owners as a purely vindictive measure. The classification of "substantially similar physical characteristics" could easily be applied to tens of thousands of Ontario dogs.

The City of Sarnia, of which animal control is an agency, is not (as claimed by one city councillor) just "acting on provincial law". The City of Sarnia, of which animal control is an agency, has made its own decision to kill these dogs.

There is a huge gray area of options, some of which are within DOLA and others that do not require the use of that particular law. Killing these dogs is not required or mandated.

The DLCC asks that you take five minutes from your day and write, call or fax the members of Sarnia City Council. You don’t have to live in Sarnia, or even in Canada, to write the mayor and councillors.

Ask that they allow these dogs to live and be placed in the competent, caring hands of the Advocates for the Underdog. If you wish to see the correspondence from the City of Sarnia to the lawyers for Brian Edwards Jr., please visit the DLCC website:

www.doglegislationcouncilcanada.org

The next meeting of Sarnia City Council is scheduled for Monday, June 25th, 2007

Mayor: MIKE BRADLEY
City Hall
255 N. Christina Street
Sarnia, ON N7T 7N2
Phone: 519 332-0330 ext.312
TTY#: 519 332-2664
Fax: 519 332-3995
Home:
155 N. Front Street, Apt. #705
Sarnia ON N7V 7V5
519 336-8092
Email: mayor@city.sarnia.on.ca

City and County Councillor: DAVE BOUSHY
Home:
1413 Lakeshore Road
Sarnia ON N7S 2M3
Home: 519 542-3109
Fax: 519 542-0868
Email: d.boushy@cogeco.ca

City and County Councillor: JIM FOUBISTER
Home:
1937 Buena Ventura
Brights Grove ON N0N 1C0
Home: 519 869-4701
Fax: 519 869-8625
Email: jimfoubister@city.sarnia.on.ca

City and County Councillor: BEV MACDOUGALL
Home:
228 Maria Street
Sarnia ON N7T 4T1
Home: 519 344-0768
Business: 519 344-5543
Fax: 519 332-0916
Email: bevmacdougall@city.sarnia.on.ca

City and County Councillor: ANNE MARIE GILLIS
Home:
65 Ashby Crescent
Sarnia ON N7S 4L5
Home: 519 542-9728
Business: 519 542-0554
Fax: 519 542-0554
Email: annemariegillis@city.sarnia.on.ca

City Councillor: ANDY BRUZIEWICZ
Home:
665 Stonecrest Avenue
Sarnia ON N7V 2K3
Business:
P.O. Box 2373
Sarnia ON N7T 7S6
Business: 519 332-2639
Fax: 519 337-7855
Email: andybruziewicz@hotmail.com

City Councillor: JON MCEACHRAN
Home:
978 London Road
Sarnia ON N7S 1N7
Home: 519 337-7200
Business: 519 383-7200
Fax: 519 383-7800
Email: jonmceachran@hotmail.com

City Councillor: MIKE KELCH
Home:
324 Tawny Road
Sarnia ON N7S 5J6
Home: 519 542-5682
Business: 519 339-4003
Fax: 519 542-8827
Email: mike@mikekelch.com

City Councillor: TERRY BURRELL
Home:
954 Champlain Road
Brights Grove ON N7V 2G2
Home: 519 542-8826
Business: 519 336-5545
Fax: 519 336-2130
Email: terry@terryburrell.ca


Please copy your correspondence to the Sarnia City Solicitor:

City Solicitor/Clerk - Brian W. Knott
City Hall
255 N. Christina Street
Sarnia ON N7T 7N2
Phone: 519-332-0330 ext 262

General Inquiries
Phone: 519-332-0330 ext 263
Fax: 519-332-3995
TTY#: 519 332-2664

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Newspaper headlines: how to lie and get away with it

Note to the media: If you fail to tell the whole truth, then you're still lying!!

That's why the courts ask witnesses to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Omitting a crucial fact when reporting a story can change the entire perception of the event.

Additional note to the media: Headlines are part of your story! They should be subject to the same conditions as the rest of the article.

The code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists states:

"Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context."

Thanks to KC Dog Blog for the following info. I would normally just link to KC's post, but I wanted to expand a bit on this.

In Washington State, on June 13, an Appeals Court judge ruled that a man's dog, which he used to attack a police officer, could be considered a deadly weapon.

The short version of the story is from the Tacoma Olympian and the longer version from the Clark County Columbian.

Here are the two headlines (emphasis mine):

Olympian: "Court says pit bull dog is deadly weapon"

Columbian: "Judge says pit bulls are deadly weapons"

Now, here's the text from the stories (emphasis mine). In the Columbian, this text is quite far down in the article.

OIympian: "The court says a dog is a deadly weapon because it can be used to cause death or substantial bodily harm."

Columbian: " 'A dog is an instrument that can be used to cause death or substantial bodily harm,' wrote (Judge David) Armstrong. The decision didn't specify a legal difference between pit bulls or any other breed."

So, the judge never actually singled out "pit bulls" as dangerous weapons. According to both reports, he said that dogs may cause death or substantial bodily harm.

Agreed, it is partially the truth that this particularly "pit bull" has now been classified by the judge as a dangerous weapon. But that is not the whole truth.

The dog was not ruled as a dangerous weapon because of what type of dog it was. The judge clearly identified the entire species (dog) as having the potential to cause harm or death. This man was charged and convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon simply because he allowed his dog (regardless of breed) to attack a police officer.


This story reminds me of the newspaper reports about the Hoskins family in Hillsboro, Oregon, in August 2004. The couple were eventually sentenced to three years in jail for using their dog to discipline their children by allowing it to attack them.

There were a number of inflammatory headlines at the time, most of which I can't find now. But this one from the Corvallis Gazette is a good example (emphasis mine).


Headline: "Couple face jail for letting dog attack kids"

Introduction: "A Hillsboro couple face at least three years in prison after pleading guilty to felony assault for letting their part-pit bull dog attack their children as discipline."

Text: "The dog, Nigel, a mix of pit bull, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd and Labrador, has been euthanized."


Wow, must have been the "pit bull" part that attacked the kids! Couldn't have anything to do with the fact that the dog had been trained and encouraged to use its teeth on seven and eight year old children!

So, looking further, I find a newswire blurb in the Washington Post (one of the most read newspapers in the world):

"HILLSBORO, Ore. -- A couple faces at least three years in prison for disciplining their children by letting their part-pit bull dog attack them."

Nothing about the true mix of the dog.

So now, this story gets to go around the world, courtesy of one of the planet's most popular news organizations, with only the word "pit bull" anywhere, even in the text. Thousands of people will have read that little Washington Post note and the only thing they will have noticed is "PIT BULL"!

So, as the title of this post says, headlines are a way to lie and get away with it.

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June 14, 2007

The power of parroting

Over the years, a number of well-meaning people, who have tried to do their own research about "pit bulls", have said to me, "But I go on the Internet, search for 'pit bull attack', and there are thousands of web pages. If there are that many attacks, there must be something wrong with these dogs."

This reminds me a little of the SARS "epidemic" that happened in Ontario in 2003. Without a doubt, there was a bad outbreak of a communicable virus that nobody had seen before and nobody understood.

What amazed me, however, was the impression outside Ontario, particularly in the United States, of a locked-down, mass-hysteria situation. One American tourist who I helped after a car accident begged me not to call an ambulance because she didn't want to get SARS!

The international media reports had a devastating effect on tourism in this province and, even four years later, we're still recovering from that. Meanwhile, in Toronto, the epicentre of the virus, we were all walking around, going to work, living our lives without any serious concerns. Yes, if we went to a hospital emergency ward, we had to wear masks. But, for most of us, that was the extent of the effect.

To those who were exposed to the virus, it had a huge impact on their lives and I am not minimizing that whatsoever, in the same way that being bitten or attacked by a dog has a permanent and traumatic effect on the individual victim and families. But the general population was still able to realize that the chances of contracting SARS, even at its height, were miniscule.

The difference between our daily reality and the media portrayal, however, was huge.

I was reading the Globe and Mail this week and saw a tiny article about Bjorn Borg having to drop out of the Liverpool International tennis tournament on Monday because of a dog bite he received on the weekend.

Here's the text of the article from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070612.DIGE12-1/TPStory

Liverpool, England -- A severe dog bite led Bjorn Borg to pull out of his first grass-court match in 26 years. The five-time Wimbledon champion was bitten on his right leg by a German shepherd when he tried to pull it away from his golden retriever at his home in Sweden over the weekend. Borg, who was treated at a Stockholm hospital, was told not to put any weight on the leg for at least six weeks. He had been scheduled to play 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash at the Liverpool International tournament this week.

So, I did a Google search for "Bjorn Borg dog bite Liverpool". 870 hits over a period of two days (June 11 and 12). The vast majority of these hits were from mainstream media newspapers in every corner of the world.

My impression, if I were to trust only the search results, is that this was a major event, about which dozens, if not hundreds, of reporters had written articles.

As I looked more closely at the search results, however, I realized that there were only, as far as I could tell, three unique articles. The remainder of the results were exact, word-for-word, repetitions of those three original articles. So, from those three reports, came hundreds (and I'm sure eventually thousands) of Internet search hits.

That is the danger of just depending on numbers and statistics, without carefully considering the source and the duplication.

Each of the editors of these hundreds of newspapers throughout the world looked at this story and made a personal, individual determination whether that particular story, with those particular details, would be of interest to their particular readers, in their particular part of the world. Will my readers be interested in this and (for many editors) will it sell newspapers?

Regardless of whether you are researching "pit bull" attacks, dog bites in general, SARS, global warming, or underwater basket weaving, I think it's a good idea to keep this in mind.

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June 13, 2007

Sarnia and "pit bulls": city on shaky legal ground

There's a little thing going on in Sarnia, Ontario, this week that illustrates some serious problems with cities being far too eager to apply the vague, unenforceable, and unconstitutional Dog Owners' Liability Act.

The Sarnia Observer has four related stories:

Dog census underway in city

Seized dogs face execution

Dogs gain stay of execution

Local rallies to protest pit bull law
The following is a letter I wrote in the past week to the Sarnia Observer that summarizes my feelings on this issue.

After reading about this incident, I feel more than ever that no dog owner is truly safe in this province.



June 7, 2007

To the editor of the Sarnia Observer:

Re "Seized dogs face execution" (June 7), regardless of whether or not these people broke the law (and keep in mind that they are fighting these charges, saying that the dogs are not "pit bulls"), here are my issues with this:

a) Killing seven-week-old puppies, regardless of breed, temperament, ownership, or anything else, is an evil and despicable act that has no basis in reason or conscience. Since when did our government turn into puppy-killers? We've got Animal Rights groups going ballistic over keeping animals in captivity or over the hunting of this type of animal or over the possible extinction of this one, and yet, right in front of our noses, we could not have a better example of government-sponsored extinction.

b) It is not possible, at seven weeks old, to tell the breed of a dog, especially when that identification determines the life or death of that dog. It is impossible (and illegal) to identify a purebred dog if it doesn't have kennel club registration papers.

c) Failure to keep these pups (or any dog) alive during a court case is an abuse of the protection afforded poundkeepers when they choose to destroy a dog. It is simply wrong to try to kill the dog as quickly as possible before the owners can win their court case.

d) According to the judge's recent decision, the onus is no longer solely on the owner to prove the breed of their dog (or lack of).

So, ultimately, the Sarnia authorities are saying, "we think it might, possibly, look like something that we think might, possibly, be illegal, so we're going to kill these living, breathing animals, even if you prove us wrong later".

This reminds of one of the white supremacists' favourite sayings: "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out".

Sincerely,

Steve Barker

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June 07, 2007

The death of the mixed breed dog

There was a time when, if asked, I would have said that only licensed, ethical breeders of registered, purebred dogs should be allowed to breed, in order to eliminate backyard breeding and puppy milling. As with most absolutes, I have gradually been forced to re-examine that attitude, for a variety of reasons.

I guess, first of all, mandatory spay/neuter, just by its very nature, must end up descending into the insanity that is California's Bill AB1634, recently (and narrowly) passed by the State Assembly. I'm sure this bill is primarily intended to allow authorities to easily shut down puppy millers, but how the heck do they really think this is going to help anybody?

Forced sterilization of all non-purebred dogs by four months of age? Can any reasonable, logical person step back, look at that statement, and truthfully say, "Yep, that'll work"?

Like the Ontario pit bull ban, engineered by the governing Liberal Party purely to look good on TV, the only people who will obey this law are the ones that weren't the problem in the first place.

I was just commenting to a friend of mine today how many bully breed dogs are walking around Toronto unmuzzled, yet I'm afraid to sit on my front porch without muzzling mine. I love my dogs and I've seen too many dogs die because of neighbour complaints or overzealous officers.

Same in California.

The already illegal and badly bred Mexican imports will not only continue, but will grow to meet increased demand.

The backyard breeders will continue to breed, illegaly, as they have in Ontario. They just won't advertise in the newspapers anymore.

The good hobby breeders, who can't afford the new licensing provisions, will simply give up producing their quality product.

The puppy millers will move out of state and then ship their physically sick, temperamentally challenged, overpriced, and unguaranteed designer dogs back to California, which apparently is NOT illegal.

There can only be one result from this law:

No more mixed breed dogs.

In five years, there'll be half as many as today.

In ten, there'll be almost none.

In fifteen, absolutely none.

Except, of course, for the ones from Mexico, the backyard breeders, and the out-of-state puppy millers.

Wonderful. Thanks.

Yes, there'll be purebreds, but the number won't even be close to enough to go around. Not if the breeders are good breeders who won't overbreed their females, won't own or breed a ton of dogs, and won't hand the dogs out to just anyone.

So I started thinking about the dogs I grew up with and the dogs I've owned, none of which were purebred:

  • German Shepherd type
  • Labrador Retriever type
  • Border Collie type
  • Jack Russell Terrier type
  • Collie type
  • Multiple hound mixes
  • Multiple "pit bull" mixes
  • Beagle/Collie mix
  • Husky/Samoyed mix
  • Lab/Shepherd mix
All of these dogs were rescues of some sort or another and none were provable purebred dogs.

They would not have existed in the new California.

The Beagle/Collie mix and the Husky/Samoyed mix were the best dogs I've ever had (sorry, Brooklynn and Star, but it's true).

What would my life be like now if these dogs had never entered my life?

The Beagle/Collie (Trixie) and one of the hound mixes (Dusty) who both taught me, as a child, what it feels like to watch your dog get hit by a car. Trixie got away. Dusty didn't. Valuable lesson, never forgotten.

The Collie (Piper) who taught me, through a bite, that many dogs don't like being grabbed by a 12 year old when there are twenty kids in the house at a birthday party.

The Lab who taught me, through a bite, that older dogs feel pain more than younger ones.

The Border Collie who taught me, through a bite, that dogs like to chase moving objects, including children.

The Husky/Samoyed (Panda) whose incredible strength and desire to pull encouraged me to pick up my first dog training book.

The Lab/Shepherd (Zeus) who is probably my biggest regret and heartache and who didn't deserve the crappy life he had, both before and after me.

The "pit bulls" (Brooklynn & Star) who changed my life forever and gave me my first real taste of discrimination and hatred, as well as cementing lifetime friendships with other dog owners.

None of these would have existed under California's new law.

There are approximately 80 million dogs in North America. Very few end up in shelters compared to the massive number that stay in their original homes. There may be overpopulation in some areas, but if this type of law spreads throughout the rest of the continent, I fail to see how sterilizing 70 million out of the 80 million dogs is a reasonable solution.

Frankly, I think it's one step above the Chinese solution of handing over all existing dogs (no exceptions) because of three cases of rabies. It's rooted in the same overreactive thought process.

A study of shelters in the late 1990's by the National Council on Pet Population identified the top ten reasons for dogs being relinquished to shelters (Note: this does not include strays picked by rescuers or animal control). They are:
  1. Moving
  2. Landlord issues
  3. Cost of pet maintenance
  4. No time for pet
  5. Inadequate facilities
  6. Too many pets in home
  7. Pet illness
  8. Personal problems
  9. Biting
  10. No homes for littermates
If you look at this list carefully, the only real overpopulation one is #10 (no homes for littermates). #6 might be considered a similar problem, but we can assume that any dog included in #6 is NOT from a recent litter, so that could be bad owner decision-making (in terms of how many dogs were brought into the home) or simply a case of multiple dogs not getting along.

If we break these ten reasons down into major categories, some in multiple categories, we get:
  • Lack of owner planning (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10)
  • Housing (1, 2, 5)
  • Issues out of owner's control (2, 7, 8)
  • Dog behaviour (9)
  • Backyard breeding (10)
So the issue may not, indeed, be as simple as overpopulation when we're talking about trying to reduce the number of dogs in shelters. But, like breed banning, it's an easy thing to legislate (although difficult, if not impossible, to enforce). You can't easily legislate anything else on that list, with perhaps the exception of forcing landlords to allow pets.

So, just like breed banning, legislators try to force a "one size fits all" law down everyone's throats, even though the vast majority of mixed breed dogs in the state of California and in Canada and the U.S. will be kept by the parents' owners or given to a reasonably good home or sold in the newspaper to somebody who'll love them for the rest of their lives.

Do I agree with these choices by these people? Not particularly. I think there are better ways to acquire dogs and, probably, most people could look after their dogs better than they do, feed them better, give them more exercise, train them more diligently. But most people get a dog, love it and look after it reasonably well until it dies, and then get another. That's generally the way dog ownership in our countries works.

We have ideals such as mandatory owner testing, mandatory dog training classes, responsible breeding legislation, severe animal cruelty penalties, etc. These ideals are good and I, along with many others, will continue to push for these things. But the chances of legislating these in the near future are slim. With the exception of the animal cruelty laws, these types of laws won't go over well with the general public and especially with anyone who doesn't want the government interfering with Joe Public's everyday life (I include myself in that group).

So education is a huge component, particularly in those areas that are very difficult to legislate. Only with public education will these types of legislation eventually be allowed and accepted.

California's approach is doomed to fail. Unfortunately, until such a time as this law is repealed, the rights of millions of law-abiding, dog-loving citizens will have been ignored and an entire generation of lovable, funny-looking, unidentifiable "mutts" will not be there to grow up with kids, love their families, and teach children how to behave around animals.

I don't have all the answers. I don't even have suggestions half the time. But I do know a bad law when I see it and this is one of those.

This is a hastily and badly thought-out piece of legislation, heavily promoted by Animal Rights groups who have publicly stated that they want to see the end of all pet ownership. Given those public statements, they could not have asked for anything better than to see the largest state in the country start firmly and unwaveringly on the path to the extinction of an entire species of domestic animal?

And far too many dog owners, sick of puppy millers, mind-boggling animal cruelty, dog fighting, thugs, and gangsters, jump on to the mandatory spay/neuter, mandatory microchipping, and breed banning bandwagons, without any real thought as to the future implications of these laws.

Microchip a dog.
Microchip a car.
Microchip a child.
Microchip a person.
Is there a difference?

Ban a breed and there will be no more dogs of that breed, the majority of which are great dogs owned by good owners. But there will be plenty of other breeds and many, many mixed-breed dogs to replace them, with no reduction in danger to the public.

Sterilize a species and there will be no more of that species. It's that simple.

Dog owners, WAKE UP! It's not just paranoia anymore. They really are out to get you!

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June 05, 2007

May I list more Liberal arrogance?

Articles from various news organizations regarding Dalton McGuinty's abrupt ending of the Ontario Legislature session three weeks early.

The Globe and Mail: Ontario legislature prorogued

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty abruptly ended the legislature's spring session Tuesday, more than three weeks earlier than initially planned and one day before Citizenship and Immigration Minister Mike Colle was set to appear before a committee to face questions about grants given to groups with ties to the Liberal Party.
The Toronto Star: Legislature on holidays early
No more question periods, no more briefing books, no more Speaker's dirty looks. After a stormy spring session fuelled by "slush fund" and lottery scandals, Premier Dalton McGuinty and MPPs are heading off 3 weeks earlier than scheduled for their summer holidays leading into the Oct. 10 election.
CityNews: Liberals End Session 3 Wks. Early To Concentrate On Getting Your Vote
How would you like to get out of work three weeks early, take the whole summer off and still not have to report back to work until October?
The Toronto Sun: Premier calls it a session
The Liberals have their work cut out for them if they’re going to shed the label of promise breakers before the fall vote, Premier Dalton McGuinty conceded Tuesday as he adjourned the legislature early

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More Liberal arrogance

We already have plenty of examples of arrogance from the ruling Liberal Party of Ontario, but here's another.

Liberals End Session 3 Wks. Early To Concentrate On Getting Your Vote

They can "concentrate" all they like, but dog owners in this province will not be fooled again.

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June 01, 2007

Ontario residents: Bill 232 - not bad, needs some work

Bob (Robert) Runciman, the House Leader for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, has introduced Bill 232 in the Ontario legislature. It contains amendments to the Ontario SPCA Act regarding cruelty to dogs and cats to allow the courts to impose jail terms up to two years less a day, fines up to $60,000 and up to a lifetime ban on pet ownership.

UPDATE: The text of the Bill is now available here. After reading it, I have some concerns that I would like to see addressed, namely the following:

  1. The term "adequate" used in "adequate food and water", "adequate medical attention", and "adequate protection from the elements", seems to me to be vague. Does this mean adequate for survival only or adequate for comfort and growth? I think this could be a problem in prosecutions.

  2. Item 5 is a concern, considering that an enclosure is not supposed to be a place of exercise, so if a dog is properly exercised outside the enclosure and then placed in the enclosure (such as a pen), could that be considered abuse? Crating a dog could also fall under this clause.

  3. Item 6 disallows fear or excessive violence as training tools. It does not define either of these.

    Violence, although shunned by much of the dog training community, is still an accepted method of training. Any type of training collar, be it a slip collar, martingale, pinch, or e-collar, could be construed as violent, even if mild. What is the definition of excessive violence? Could grabbing a puppy by its scruff be considered violent? How about beating a dog senseless?

    Fear is another accepted method of training, although again, a large number of trainers dismiss it in favour of more positive methods. But, if my dog starts digging in the yard and I run at him, yelling, I am using fear as a training method. The terminology used in this Bill does not prohibit "excessive or abusive fear", it prohibits "fear", period.

    My concern regarding this section is that good, solid dog trainers who are doing a good job, especially if working with extreme problem dogs, could end up on the wrong side of the law. Even the police canine units use corrections and "violence" in their training.
I think, to truly support this bill, I'm going to have to get some answers to these questions.

Here is the remainder of my original post, but I am now officially ON THE FENCE.



At the time of writing this post, the text of the Bill is unavailable, so I'm depending on the press release from the PC Party to determine the intention and content of the amendments. Here is the text of that release:
NEWS RELEASE

ROBERT W. RUNCIMAN, MPP
HOUSE LEADER OF
THE OFFICIAL OPPOSITION

*****************************
Pet abusers should face stiff penalties and ownership bans - Runciman

TORONTO, ON - Ontarians who abuse their pet cat or dog could face much tougher penalties and a ban on pet ownership if legislation tabled yesterday becomes law.

Progressive Conservative MPP Bob Runciman (Leeds-Grenville) introduced a Private Member's bill that will allow the courts to impose jail terms up to two years less a day, fines up to $60,000 and up to a lifetime ban on pet ownership.

Runciman's legislation comes in the wake of a series of publicized incidents of pet abuse including the removal of a dog's ears in order to make the animal look "scarier".

"People who do serious physical harm to a pet should lose their right to have pets and should face penalties that are proportionate to the extent of the injuries the pet suffered," asserted Runciman.

Runciman is hopeful that the Liberal government will consider speedy passage of his bill prior to the legislature adjourning for the summer.
At first glance, I support this Bill and I encourage others to write or call their Member of Provincial Parliament to ask them to vote for this Bill, particularly if their representative is from the Liberal Party of Ontario. This party has shown an extreme unwillingness to do anything substantial if the suggestion comes from another party. They need to be told to wake up and vote properly on this one, especially since they so clearly voted party line on the Dog Owners' Liability Act.

If this Bill contains everything described, I would hate to see it die because of misplaced party pride or an "us versus them" attitude from the Liberals.

While writing your letter to your Member of Provincial Parliament, you may want to consider contacting your federal MP to discuss Bills S-213 and C-373 related to federal animal cruelty laws. You may first want to read the detailed discussion of these Bills from an earlier article.

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