Today, a member of one of the Internet groups that I’m on asked if a certain mix of dog has to be muzzled in Ontario. The mix was apparently of two breeds, one a bully-type breed (not specifically listed in Ontario’s law) and one a mastiff-type breed (also not specifically listed in Ontario’s law).
So here’s my answer. I would like to say “to avoid confusion”, but unfortunately that wouldn’t be true.
If any single animal control officer or police officer or other peace officer (undefined) anywhere in Ontario, just one out of the thousands that are out there, points at your dog in public and says “that’s a pit bull”, then your dog has now become a “pit bull”. Not that it looks like a “pit bull”, not that it might be a “pit bull”, not even that it sounds like or smells like or walks like. Under the eyes of the law, your dog instantly BECAME a “pit bull” the moment the words came out of that officer’s mouth!
It is now your legal responsibility to prove, in the eyes of the law (in this case meaning more likely than not), that your dog is NOT a “pit bull”. Now, keep in mind, there is no legal requirement for the authorities to prove anything. Your dog already is a “pit bull” just because the officer said so. You have to do all the proving.
You might get lucky with a veterinarian’s record or a shelter record but, if I were the lawyer on their side, I could easily get examples of horrible veterinarian and shelter ID’s in about 30 seconds. I could probably get examples of both professions trying to lie about breed ID as well. Plus, a veterinarian’s records usually just list what the owner said the dog was anyway.
Although purebred papers will more than likely end the process before it starts (and I mean CKC or AKC or UKC, not some of the tinpot ones that are out there), there is technically no escape from the law just because you have purebred papers. Now, in reality, they’d be stupid to still go after the dog if you had purebred papers saying the dog was clearly a different breed than the three listed. But the law is based on looks only, not on actual heritage.
This is something that a lot of people don’t get or can’t wrap their heads around. This is not about heritage. It’s about looks. It’s not about whether your dog CONTAINS any of the breeds defined as “pit bull”. It’s about whether your dog looks like one, according to a single person’s judgment. If your dog has NONE of those breeds in it and doesn’t even really look “pit bull”-ish (whatever that is), it’s still a “pit bull” if someone in authority says it is.
Now, in the case where they decide to apply to have your dog killed under Section 4 of the Dog Owner’s Liability Act because it supposedly bit someone or attacked someone (no definition) or is a danger to public safety (no definition), this section requires “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of all of the facts of the case, including the “breed” of the dog. However, the prosecution can get one of their veterinarians to sign a document stating that your dog is a “pit bull” and the contents of that document are immediately considered to be a FACT. This means that the onus is still on you to come up with a defence in order to be proven innocent. This is called “reverse onus”.
You are forced to make a defence. If their vet says it’s a “pit bull”, that is considered proof in the eyes of the law. Once again, you now have to prove it isn’t and, at the very least, you’re going to need an identical document from a different vet saying it isn’t (keeping in mind that the OVMA has told its vets not to identify breeds).
But they’re not just going to show up with a document. They’re going to show up with the veterinarian who’s going to list all his reasons why he thinks your dog is a “pit bull”.
So, you’re going to have to get a CKC judge and a dog trainer and a shelter worker and a breeder and a veterinarian to all sit up there and say the dog is not a “pit bull” and WHY (i.e., what specific features of your dog are dramatically different from the proscribed breeds). You’re going to have to come up with enough differentiators that a judge is going to free your dog, keeping in mind that, politically, the judge is far, far safer killing your dog than letting it back into society.
If you’re NOT charged under Section 4, then it’s even easier for them to take your dog because they don’t have to even have the vet’s document.
Also, the way the law is written, you don’t even have to be charged under the Dog Owner’s Liability Act and there doesn’t even have to be a court case in order for them to take your dog. As soon as that officer utters those words, they can take your dog, whether it’s for not muzzling, not leashing, not sterilizing, or being too young. Even if your dog is on your property, they can still take it. They might have to get a warrant (note I said “might”) but trust me, they’ll take your dog right then or a day later, doesn’t matter.
Basically, the law is biased entirely toward making it very easy to just grab a dog and very difficult to get the dog back.
Do you really think the owners of any of the dogs listed below thought their dogs would ever be called “pit bulls”? Yet they were, by authorities!
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Dogue de Bordeaux
Welcome to Ontario!