Montreal pit bulls get a reprieve from city law that banned them

MONTREAL - Pit bull-type dogs will be allowed to stay in Montreal after animal lovers -- and a Quebec judge -- refused to roll over in reaction to a controversial law that would have banned the dogs from the city.

A recently adopted law here sparked international outrage with animal lovers, including Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan and singer Cyndi Lauper, who both voiced their displeasure.

The bylaw, which went into effect on Monday, was challenged in court by the Montreal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That day, a Quebec Superior Court judge suspended the bylaw pending a review, an action he extended on Wednesday.

In the ruling, Judge Louis Gouin called the legislation’s language too vague, saying it failed to properly define a "pit bull."

Montreal SPCA lawyer Sophie Gaillard praised the judge’s ruling, but she emphasized that Wednesday’s ruling is not the end of the bylaw but merely a suspension that will last until more in-depth hearings can be held. No date has yet been set for the next hearing, but she estimated that it would be at least several months until the dogs again have their day in court.

“We’re obviously extremely pleased with the decision,” she said. “We’re mostly relieved. We’ve had a very stressful summer at the SPCA. Our volunteers and employees have been worried about the fate of our dogs and to know we can put all dogs, no matter what they look like into adoption and loving homes, we’re breathing a huge sigh of relief here.”

The bylaw, which included strict rules on animals that were already adopted but would outlaw further adoption and breeding of pit bulls, is a reaction to the fatal mauling in June of 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, who was killed by a neighbour’s dog that had gotten loose. Vadnais’ family soon came out in support of a province-wide ban of pit bulls, sparking a debate that has caused the courts, city hall and public to try and define what a pit bull-type dog actually is.

Officers shot and killed the dog that attacked Vadnais.

Animal rights activists have pointed out that there is no actual breed called pit bulls, but rather that the term refers to a type of dog with characteristics such as boxy, flat heads and muscular bodies.

Local dog behavior specialist Gaby Dufresne-Cyr said there is no evidence such dogs are more dangerous than any other type and that the onus for aggressive behaviour should fall on owners.

“In terms of establishing a dangerous dog act, we should make the owner responsible for the actions of that dog,” she said. “You’re hitting the nail really specifically if you say dogs are dangerous, they can bite, they can kill, but the human behind it, it’s also his job to educate himself and knowing how to deal with an animal.”

After Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre originally announced his intention to propose new pet owner regulations in June, pet owners organized numerous marches that saw thousands of dogs and their owners marching regularly throughout the city.

Montreal is not the only city to have looked at banning aggressive dogs: the province’s capitol, Quebec City, announced plans for a ban in July and quickly backed away after public outcry. Some smaller Quebec cities have successfully passed bans and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has publicly mused about a province-wide ban, despite a special commission study recommending against it.

In the United States, there are no state-wide bans but hundreds of municipalities have banned specific breeds and types commonly seen as aggressive. The New York Housing Authority prohibits residents from owning a wide assortment of dogs and other major areas with bylaws on the books include Miami-Dade County.

Copyright 2016 USA TODAY


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