Pit bull ban not popular in Peace

Despite calls for a ban on pit bulls in British Columbia, people in the Peace Region are not convinced it is the best idea.

Two recent vicious attacks by pit bulls on small children in British Columbia have brought the issue to public's attention.

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It has been reported that a four-year-old girl in White Rock "nearly had her throat ripped out" last week by a pit bull belonging to a friend of her family. Just days later, a three-year-old boy from Kelowna was reportedly attacked when he reached down to pet a pit bull, and received 32 stitches in his face.

The incidents have the parents of the two young victims calling for a ban on pit bulls in British Columbia, similar to the ones in Ontario and Winnipeg. The Province newspaper endorsed that call for a ban in an op-ed published on Friday.

"Pit-bull owners say many things in defence of their dogs: they're loyal family pets; when properly trained, they're safe to be around; and they're no more likely to bite than other breeds. All true. But when they attack, no other breed can inflict as much destruction on its victim, far too often small, innocent children who are left with devastating injuries - if they live," the editorial states.

"Pit bulls were bred to fight, to have ridiculously destructive bites and to inflict maximum damage on their prey. They are weapons that are not welcome in our neighbourhoods."

However, many local dog owners think the ban is an overreaction

Ashley Shipton and her husband, who live just outside of Dawson Creek, have owned three pit bulls, and she said she sees no reason why that type of dog should be distinguished from any other.

"All of my dogs have been loving and gentle," said Shipton. "I have a daughter, and they are amazing with her. One is actually a rescue from the SPCA, and she has been fabulous, she has been with us for nine years now, and she is the most fantastic dog."

"I don't see, in any way, how a ban could be beneficial. I don't understand why people think it's a good idea, because how would they even police the ban? Do they expect the SPCA to start taking people's dogs away? I would say it's a major overreaction."

She said while there may be an element of some pit bull owners desiring that aggressiveness and intimidation factor in their dogs, that has not been her experience with the other owners she knows.

"Most of the pit bull owners I know are loving, responsible owners."

A "pit bull" is actually a generic term applied to several breeds of dogs, including the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

The BC SPCA has taken a position against any ban on pit bulls, and Wendy Davies, manager of the South Peace shelter, said it would be hard to imagine how one would be enforced given many people are not even sure which dogs are pit bulls.

"We had a call once telling us there was a pit bull running at large, but we caught a Jack Russell terrier!" she said.

"We certainly look at each case individually as far as dogs go, not at all breed-motivated," she added. "In my experience at the shelter, pit bulls are not on the top of the list of aggressive dogs we've had coming through."

Dr. Trevor Reeves, a veterinarian, said while he understands the seriousness of the recent pit bull attacks on children, he believes the reaction is more a function of the damage those types of dogs are able to inflict rather than their actual tendency to be aggressive or bite people.

"My opinion is it is probably not a good idea to go after one specific breed, because the problem is a temperament issue," he said.

"When pit bulls - or any other powerful dog - bites, those bites are a lot worse. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, Shepherds - they have bites powerful enough to crush bone, and that's where the problem arises, though the number one dogs for biting people are actually poodles and small terriers."

Reeves said in his own experience, and from the research he has seen, it is actually those smaller breeds that are more prone to bite, but they do not receive as much attention because the damage is much less than what a bigger dog could inflict.

"I see a lot of pit bulls in the practice, and there are a lot of them I trust implicitly, we don't need muzzles on them or anything, we just handle them like any other dog," he said.

"I've been bitten by more Chihuahuas, poodles and small terriers than I have even been bitten by large dogs, but if you count the scars on my arms and hands, they all come from big dogs - because when a big dog bites you, it leaves a hole."

Reeves said he does not agree with the idea of singling out one specific type of dog.

"I would much rather see dogs being assessed on an individual basis rather than on a breed basis. That's not to say there are not breeds out there that are more aggressive than others, but they tend to be not the breeds you would associate with being aggressive," he said.

"To go after and target specific breeds for banning, I'm not really a big fan of that, because you're luring people into a false sense of confidence," he added. "It's not a good idea to have a small child anywhere around a dog unsupervised, because any dog has the capacity to bite."

He said even in the case of his own two big dogs - he has a Dalmatian and a Labrador-Great-Dane-cross - who he trusts completely, but would not allow his three small grandchildren alone with them because he knows his dogs tend can still get nervous or excited by certain situations.

Kim Klassen, owner of Precision Paws Obedience in Fort St. John, and a breeder of Bull Mastiffs said she believes pit bulls have been given a bad reputation simply because that is what the majority of owners want out of those dogs - intimidation.

"People are buying those type of dogs to have some sort of special demeanour about them. They are portraying these dogs as being vicious, they want that look, that 'macho' kind of dog," she said.

"If you look at the population of people that own the breed in town, nobody is doing a lot of socialization, they are not doing that work to give their dogs regular exercise and obedience training. They are being chained up in yards, and it's for that status symbol of having a pit bull."

Klassen said that traditionally, Bull Mastiffs have been bred as guard dogs capable of attacking people or other animals, though that does not mean they are not capable of being friendly, sociable animals if given the right care and attention.

She said she would welcome restrictions on the breeding and sale of pit bulls, not because that type of dog is dangerous and people need to be protected, but rather to ensure the dogs are not neglected or abused.

"With my breed, if I was going to be selling puppies in town, I would be very strict that they would have to own a house, not renting, and they would not be allowed to be left on a chain, and they would have to be enrolled in obedience classes regularly. There should be a lot more stipulations to it, and that would cut down on a lot of those issues with those dogs. They are not a breed for everybody, that is for sure, but in the right hands they can be amazing dogs."

Klassen said she has a couple of clients through her obedience school that own pit bulls and actually have trained them as 'therapy dogs,' which provide comfort and joy to elderly residents in care homes or people who are sick in hospital.

In her opinion, the calls for a ban on pit bulls are an overreaction, and are not new when it comes to different breeds of dogs perceived as dangerous.

"Right now it's pit bulls, but I remember when I was young it was Rottweilers, and then it was German Shepherds. Irresponsible owners are owning these breeds, and it kind of goes in waves, but they are just not doing what they should be to make their dogs a good, loyal companion," she said.

"That can happen with any breed, it's just they [pit bulls] are getting mass produced right now and everyone has one, so it seems worse than it is."

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