Montreal’s ban on pit bulls isn’t backed by science

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The Vermont Humane Federation is deeply disappointed a judge has allowed Montreal’s recently enacted regulation banning “pit bull” breeds in the city to go into effect. VHF staunchly opposes breed-specific legislation because these laws are costly, ineffective and cause unnecessary harm to families, dogs and communities.

As animal sheltering and rescue leaders in Vermont, we understand the responsibility to create a safe community for residents. However, banning certain breeds of dogs based on visual characteristics will not achieve those goals. Research has shown that even animal control officers and veterinarians cannot accurately identify the breeds in a mixed breed dog’s genealogy. Enforcement of breed-specific legislation is often selective, unrealistic and a drain on resources.

The physical appearance of a dog has no basis in determining whether a dog is likely to harm someone. With advances in science and our increased understanding of the relationship between appearance and behavior, we now know that a dog’s breed is a complex issue that does not neatly translate into predictive behavior patterns. Instead, breed-neutral factors such as whether a dog is well socialized, altered, receiving veterinary care and other similar issues are significantly more predictive of the likelihood that a dog may be dangerous.

In addition, the decision made by the Montreal City Council will place an inevitable burden on the sheltering and rescue community in Vermont as legally unadoptable, yet behaviorally-sound, dogs are transferred to the Northeastern U.S. to save their lives. We expect a number of shelters and rescue groups throughout Vermont will voluntarily accept dogs from Montreal while continuing to prioritize the needs of our local Vermont communities.

We strongly encourage the mayor and City Council of Montreal to reconsider this misguided and harsh policy and replace it with a law based on sound scientific evidence. We also call upon Vermont elected officials to support legislation that would add Vermont to the list of 20 states that currently prohibit localities from enacting these detrimental breed-specific bans.

Under Montreal’s bylaw, passed in September, “pit bull-type” dogs are prohibited in the city. Those who already have dogs who look like pit bull-types would have to get a special license pending criminal background checks and would be required to muzzle their dogs in public and keep them on a 4-foot leash at all times. Many dogs currently in shelters or subsequently relinquished to shelters could be euthanized despite no health or behavioral issues.

Experts have consistently found that no one breed is more likely to bite than another. Factors that are scientifically linked to aggression in dogs include neglect, abuse and leaving animals unsterilized; effective public safety legislation focuses on these areas instead of ineffective and harmful breed bans.

Determining a dog’s breed origin can only be done accurately via genetic testing. Research has demonstrated that identifying a dog’s breed by physical characteristics alone is not a reliable method of determining breed. The Montreal bylaw makes it impossible to definitively identify a pit bull-type dog, meaning all large dogs have been at risk of being seized and euthanized.

The Montreal SPCA has estimated, at its shelter alone, 300 to 700 healthy and behaviorally sound dogs would have been targeted by the ban had the bylaw been in effect in 2016.

These laws are opposed by a diverse group of organizations including the American Bar Association, American Kennel Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Animal Control Association.

In the United States, 20 states (not including Vermont) currently have laws prohibiting breed specific legislation.

Jessica Danyow is the executive director of Addison County’s Humane Society.