Yesterday I told you the story of how our docile advocacy dog Niki became a “pit bull” in the eyes of the authorities. Today I would like to talk to you about how Ontario’s BSL legislation has affected our rescue work. To some of you it may seem like a strange thing to say. How can BSL legislation affect rescue? I’m about to tell you how it affects the way WE approach rescue.
Those of you that know me are aware I have spent over twenty years of my life working with abused, abandoned and “difficult” rescues. Because of the nature of our work we tend to take on some very large and powerful dogs, and I have become known for my work with dogs that needed a little more help than most.
Back in the day, breed didn’t even come into the equation. Our only consideration was whether or not we felt an animal could be rehabilitated. All were assessed to clarify any issues they may have and determine a course of training that would help to rehabilitate them and train them to live in the average home. Sometimes this took months, in a few cases it took years, but we have always been patient handlers, and can recall only two dogs in a twenty year span that just couldn’t be rehabilitated. We don’t give up on dogs easily, and genuinely believe there are no bad dogs, just owners who haven’t got a clue.
But then in 2005 BSL was introduced in Ontario, and for us, rescue became a whole new ballgame! Now we had to assess the level of “pit bull” probability in our short haired mutt rescues before we could determine if they were “adoptable” in the province of Ontario. In this neck of the woods authorities couldn’t tell a “pit bull” from a Chihuahua, so this became a very difficult guessing game. We weren’t so much determining if the rescue was in fact a “pit bull” but rather whether or not authorities would easily mistake it for one. You see we couldn’t, in good conscience rehabilitate a dog and adopt it out only to have it seized as a “pit bull” now could we? It would not be fair to the dog, or the person adopting the dog.
Given the fact that we deal with mostly “difficult” rescue cases, we were subject to training a lot of dogs that could be mistaken for “pit bulls” by people who “thought” they knew a “pit bull” on sight. After the ban came into effect we had to be much more careful about agreeing to take dogs in for training. Wait…careful isn’t the right word…more like we had to be more choosy about the dogs we took in. They had to be easily adoptable in a society that now discriminated against short haired mutts by calling them “pit bull.’
Suddenly, for the first time in my rescue career I found myself having to turn down dogs I knew would not be likely candidates for adoption in a BSL province. This went against everything I believed in, but I had no choice. Some dogs just weren’t adoptable in the “new” discriminatory province of Ontario. I began sending as many as I could out of the province by networking with other difficult dog trainers on the East and West coasts of Canada. But it grated on me. To my way of thinking ALL dogs deserved a second chance, and I had never before turned down dogs I thought I could help because of what they looked like. It just didn’t sit well with me this condemning of dogs for looks alone, and what’s more I KNEW most of them weren’t “pit bulls” by anything other than government definition. As an animal rescuer i began to feel like I was failing these animals when I should be helping them!
Then in 2009 it happened! One of our rescues got into a fight with one of their pack mates. He received a puncture wound on one of his legs that got overlooked in the bandaging and cleaning process and he had to be taken to the vet when the wound became infected. It happens sometimes, we are good at what we do but fights still occur from time to time.
The two dogs involved in the fight were very different in body type. One (the one with the injury) was a long haired Dutch Sheppard cross, the other a short haired garden variety mutt scheduled to be adopted by a family with a two year old girl who had adopted from us before. During the vet visit, the vet profiled the short haired dog telling us it was a vicious breed mix and should be put down. Problem with that was, the short haired dog had been left at home! He wasn’t with us at the vet’s office! He also hadn’t been the aggressor in the incident, it was the long haired “safe” breed dog who had started the fight!
Sight unseen, from nothing more than a breed mix on a chart this vet had decided that the short haired mutt was inherently vicious based on his breed mix and told us we had no business adopting him out, especially to a family with a young child. The vet told us…no, more like demanded, that we put the dog to sleep! We of course declined to do so, and immediately switched vets.
I called the family who had been visiting with the dog on a regular basis to get to know him, and told them of the vet’s opinion. They laughed, and said “How ridiculous! Bowser is a wonderful dog!” Bowser’s adoption went ahead only because the family already knew him to be a sweetheart of a dog. Bowser has been with them for three years now and his relationship with their daughter is nothing short of amazing! He has never bitten anyone!
So the next time you think that BSL has no affect on most dogs, remember Bowser, who could have easily lost his home, and his life because someone profiled him sight unseen based on his body type alone.
Until Next Time Remember,
Peace, Love, & Freedom for Pit Bulls!