COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Katherine Ortiz pats a pair of Alaskan malamute dogs during a break from classes last December at Assiniboine Community College. ACC’s student association organized the event to relieve stress from the holidays and exam time. The fatal mauling of a little Manitoba girl by a pair of malamutes has triggered a call to ban the breed.
I wanted to write my column this week in response to some of the comments that are being made as a result of the horrible tragedy near Oakbank recently, in which a seven-year-old girl was mauled to death by two apparently good-natured Alaskan malamutes.
The media sometimes underestimates how focused people can become on a specific detail.
Since the first account of this very devastating situation hit the news, I have heard comments and whispers about these "dangerous" sledding dog breeds.
These northern breeds have developed and evolved along with humans over many, many years. Originally used for hunting, herding, pulling sleds and, of course, companionship, these are some of the oldest dog breeds kept as pets.
Some comments suggesting that these breeds should be banned next have created some real controversy.
As anyone regularly reading my column knows, I strongly oppose breed specific legislation. Such legislation is designed to place restrictions on the ownership of certain breeds, and in some cases involves banning the breed completely.
Instead of recognizing a dog as dangerous for its actions, this legislation paints the entire breed with the same brush.
One example of how breed banning can get out of control occurred in Italy in 2003. That country put breed specific legislation into effect that targeted 92 breeds — and they weren’t just the pitbull and Rottweiler types. The ban actually included breeds such as the border collie and the Pembroke Welsh corgi!
The public outcry caused Italy to drop their list of dangerous breeds down to 17 — and in 2009, the breed specific legislation was removed completely. It just didn’t produce the results expected, and today, the laws in Italy are focused on dangerous dogs, and not dangerous breeds.
Breeds that fall subject to this legislation are not the only targets. In many cases, dogs that resemble these breeds or are suspected of being mixes become targets, too.
A ban on one type can bring others into question. Someone who owns a boxer mix, for example, may find themselves fighting to keep their dog when someone decides he looks "pitbull-ish" enough to fall under the legislation.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recently did a controlled study of dog bites in a survey covering two continents over a 40-year period.
According to the National Canine Research Counsel, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that one breed is more likely to injure a human being than another — as a matter of fact, there is evidence to the contrary!
The province of Ontario enacted a breed ban in 2005, and in 2010 a survey done by the Toronto Humane Society reported that despite five years of breed specific legislation — and the destruction of countless dogs — there has been no significant decrease in dog bites.
Closer to home, a breed ban was put into place in Winnipeg in 1990. Despite the ban, Winnipeg’s rate of hospitalization for dog-bite injuries is virtually unchanged. (The rate in Winnipeg is also substantially higher than the rate in Calgary — a larger centre with the best responsible pet ownership laws in the country.)
I do support dangerous dog legislation, which places restrictions and regulations in place for animals that, through incidents or actions, have been deemed as dangerous.
However, I think that it is important to recognize that while a specific dog can be dangerous, you cannot label an entire breed because you’ve seen it come up a few times in the media.
There are hundreds of dog bites each year that are unreported or simply not publicized — and they include all kinds of different breeds, shapes and sizes of dogs.
It all comes down to a very common phrase in the animal rescue community: "Punish the deed, not the breed."
Dana Grove is an animal lover who works with several pet organizations in Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 27, 2014