Breed-specific legislation doles out careless, ineffective punishment

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Discrimination isn’t limited to the human species.
 
The animals we interact with most—cats and dogs—are companion animals, yet within this group, not all are treated equally. 
 
In some countries, laws exist limiting or banning certain types of dogs, with pit bulls being disproportionately targeted most.  This stems from a belief that the historical use of pit bulls in dogfighting predisposes them to violence. 
 
The purpose of this legislation is to prevent pit bulls from attacking and biting other animals and humans. In practice, however, these laws fail to address the real problem of harmful owners who breed and raise dogs to encourage violent qualities—whether for dogfighting or otherwise. Instead, they punish animals themselves for their upbringing or threatening appearance.
 
Breed-specific legislation involves the restriction of pit bulls or dogs similar to them in appearance, such as terriers, who are assumed to have a similar disposition.
 
In Canada, Ontario is the only province in the country to have a province-wide ban on the breed. The province’s legislation has banned pit bulls, with those born before 2005 required to be muzzled and spayed or neutered to prevent the breed’s reproduction.
 
The issue with this legislation is it provides little to no benefit—the province hasn’t seen a drop in dog bites since it enacted the law. Instead, it inflicts harsh costs on both owners and their pets.
 
These bans fail to hold irresponsible and dangerous owners accountable, and can also harm lower-income groups disproportionately. Where someone may be living paycheque-to-paycheque, the costs of legal fees to prove their dog is a different breed may be too high to bear. 
 
Dogs aren’t given the same presumption of innocence humans are, and may be persecuted for their breed alone. It’s up to owners to prove otherwise.
 
Courts can order restrictions or even a dog’s killing if it’s “behaved in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals,” applied specifically to pit bull-type dogs. 
 
Quebec recently decided against enacting breed-specific legislation due to a lack of evidence proving its effectiveness. Ontario should follow suit and instead focus on educating owners and enforcing laws around responsible pet ownership—such as leashing laws—rather than punishing dogs themselves. 
 
Pit bulls have attacked humans and other animals before—as have other breeds. A golden retriever can be dangerous, just as a pit bull can be harmless. 
 
Ignoring that they are a product of their environment does everyone a disservice, and laws that punish certain breeds for their owners or appearance are neither effective nor just. 
 
Hannah is one of The Journal’s Features Editors. She’s a third-year student in the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics program.
 

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