BSL and the aggressive dog issue

Why breed-specific legislation will not solve the problem

By Georges R. Dupras

Much has been written about breed specific legislation in the aftermath of the tragic death of Christine Vadnais. I am deeply troubled by her loss and extend my sincere regrets to her family. We are told that she died as a result of being mauled by an aggressive dog whose lineage was questionable.

The death or injury to anyone, including another animal, by a dangerous creature must be taken seriously and, in the case of a dog, beginning with the owner. I’m not of the opinion that just because a dog bites, that it should be euthanized. In most cases the bite was a reaction to a treatment that the dog wasn’t expecting – often by a child. At a recent meeting, one longtime dog trainer stated that methods used by various individuals to determine if a dog was prone to violence so differ in their application as to be inconclusive. Depending on the evaluator, even the most passive and social dog might react by biting. Incidents such as the one in the Christine Vadnais case are more animal specific than they are breed particular.

The death or injury to anyone, including another animal, by a dangerous creature must be taken seriously and, in the case of a dog, beginning with the owner.

Profiling canines

We condemn race profiling, at least in our every day vernacular, but accept species profiling when dealing with non-humans. This we do despite the views and recommendations of subject specialists such as trainers, owners, the Quebec order of Veterinarians, humane societies, kennel clubs, etc.

Violent society

We live in a violent society that has grown numb to wife battering, child abuse, discrimination, murder, suicide and random shootings. In the case of hunting accidents, the hunters that are killed are few compared to the number of animals dragged out of our forests every year. Despite this, if one bear kills one hunter, its front-page news across the continent, if not the world. I can’t but wonder if we haven’t lost our perspective.

Knee-jerk reaction

If a dog, any dog, attacked a member of my family, I would without a doubt, take whatever action I could to protect that person. This is not to say that I would condemn an entire breed because of the actions of one dog.

People first

There are those who argue “people first” in cases such as the Christine Vadnais death. This isn’t an either/or situation, but rather one of social responsibility. Breed-specific legislation is a political reaction directed at a longstanding social problem. Show me an aggressive attack dog and I’ll show you an owner of the same character. Show me a child abuser and I’ll show you an adult who was abused as a child. Show me a wife beater and I’ll show you a man that was raised in an abusive context that victimizes everyone – and the dance goes on.

‘Breed-specific legislation is a political reaction directed at a longstanding social problem. Show me an aggressive attack dog and I’ll show you an owner of the same character.’

Beyond the non-human primate

The either/or argument has been used throughout our history to justify all manner of cruelty and death. It has been a bench cry over the ages to rationalize genocide, the suppression of different races, theological beliefs, gender orientation, politics, the destruction of our environment and the loss of countless species with whom we once shared this planet.

The true cause

By outlawing a specific breed, do we resolve the issue of brutal attacks, or do we simply encourage those who are excited by violence to seek out other breeds? Why do we permit aggressive character conditioning, if not to turn a blind eye on the growing problem of social violence? Do our lawmakers, despite quantifiable evidence, not recognize that animal abuse and brutal conditioning lead to abuses against children, and other vulnerable populations?

Changes in animal protection will protect humans as well

Thanks to covert groups such as the Outdoor Caucus in Ottawa (see my article Why modernizing animal protection laws fail to pass), effective laws to protect animals, and by extension people, have not been enacted. Regardless of jurisdiction, it is easier to condemn the symptom than it is to confront the cause head-on.

Animal control issues are simple enough to address. Unfortunately, some of our political leaders are less concerned about our safety than they are about what “special interests” in Ottawa, or elsewhere, see as the thin edge of the wedge.

Cause versus effect

In child development, parental influence is a key factor in that development. The child often reflects the values and social conduct of its parents. This influence, or training, also applies to dogs. Owners who chain dogs in solitary environments, and train them in a manner that encourages violence, are the problem, and we who allow this to happen, are equal in blame. The problem is not the breed of the dog. Authorities who do not recognize this reality and do not act must share the blame themselves.

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

Image: Andres Rodriguez via

Read also: Why modernizing animal protection laws fail to pass

Georges Dupras

For over fifty years Georges R. Dupras has advocated for animals. He is a member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), a Director of the Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC), Quebec Representative of Zoocheck Canada and past Board member of the Canadian SPCA. He worked on the original Save the Seal campaign in 1966 that culminated in the founding of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 1969. He has published two books including Values in Conflict and the eBook Ethics, a Human Condition. Georges currently lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. Allan Lewrey

    If the politicians and proponents of breed-specific legislation truly wish to deal with this issue they need only look in the mirror. The problem is not the dog – it is the dog owner/handler. Breed-specific laws will be just a slippery slope. First a ban on Pit-bulls, then on Rottweilers, Dobermans ,German Shepherds, etc, etc. Personally, as an avid recreational runner, I’ve been nipped by more Chihuahuas than any other breed – perhaps that would be a good breed to start with.

  2. Jean Le marquand

    Unfortunately, pit-bull type dogs are so often sought out by nefarious individuals involved in dog-fighting or just wanting to create a ‘macho’ image. These same types of dogs are also disproportionately involved in dog abuse cases. Through no fault of their own, they often attract irresponsible and violent people. That being said, I believe in the long run, making it more difficult for breeders to continue breeding and more severe fines for irresponsible and abusive owners is a good beginning. So sad that it is always the innocent animals who get the short end of the stick.

  3. Vicki Van Linden

    It’s so true that we need to focus on the guardians (owners) of dogs who cause injury. Holding people responsible for the actions of dogs living in their care is the best way to provide safety for humans and other animals. In the case of the dog who tragically killed Christine Vadnais there were warning signs that the dog’s guardian was unable to properly care for the animal. My sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Ms. Vadnais, and we can best serve her memory by creating meaningful bylaws that hold guardians of dogs responsible for their proper care and training. Breed bans penalize innocent dogs and caring guardians while leaving irresponsible people free to simply acquire a different breed of dog.

  4. Sinikka Crosland

    This is an excellent article. I am reminded of an aggressive off-leash dog who once attacked and injured a quiet old dog I was walking on leash. The aggressor was a black lab, a breed often admired for its gentleness. But the training methods used by the young dog’s owner in the past had included a lot of yelling and a swift kick to the flank for stepping out of line. It wasn’t necessary to look any further than the owner to pinpoint a cause for the dog’s bad behavior. Breed-specific legislation is prejudicial and doesn’t address one of the common underlying reasons for canine aggression – abuse by owner.

  5. joan sargent

    I knew two men who shared a home and ownership of a pitbull, the sweetest most loving dog one could meet. When one man moved to Ontario, there were still shared visits of 3 months at a time. Finally the pitbull stayed in Ontario. Last time I met up with the pitbull with my GSD (previously its best friend and play buddy) the pitbull attacked. The difference was the ownership. Left on his own, this owner turned the dog mean by teasing it, no exercise, and encouraging aggression. Even had a studded collar! This sweet dog became untrustworthy and it was the owner who did it.

  6. Anne Streeter

    On another note, I am always astounded at the unevenness and treatment of a death by a dog or a death by a human. A fatal dog attack is rare but is front page news for months and stirs up so much controversy. Meanwhile people are shot and stabbed almost daily and it is just a footnote in the news. Does this say something about our society? Are we completely inured to the latter as it is such a common ho hum occurrence? It is something to think about.

  7. Heather Clemenceau

    In the last two years, nearly 20 people and animals were seriously injured or killed by pit bull type dogs in the province of Quebec. Bill 128’s own working committee found that there are an estimated 164,000 cases of dog bites in Quebec every single year, and pit bull type dogs have inflicted a disproportionate number of serious bites and maulings to people, pets and livestock. Multiple sources – independent, retrospective and/or longitudinal studies available on National Institute of Health databases, opinions of reconstructive surgeons, epidemiologists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, insurance companies, and trauma units all arrive at the same conclusions. Are they dog or breed experts? No, and they don’t have to be – they study and report on the effects of dog bites.

    The debates occurring as a result of the BSL legislation passed in Montreal and Quebec might lead the casual observer to conclude that the ban (but apparently not the maulings) is the greatest social problem in the entirety of the province. In reality, the requirements of the ban are not unreasonable; the Montreal and Quebec legislation still guarantees rights of current pit bull owners provided they adhere to the licensing, muzzling, neuter/spay, and leash regulations. At least 6,500 out of 7,000 pit bull type dog owners in Montreal actually complied with all the licensing requirements before the Bill was rescinded by the Plante government.

    Any law that is enforced will be effective. Public health decisions are not always made on the basis of the number of people negatively impacted. The population in question can be large as the inhabitants of several continents (as in the case of a pandemic) or as small as a few individuals. For instance, over 2 million baby cribs were recalled in 2009 after “only” 4 infant deaths. People who care about dogs won’t care that they can’t import or breed more pit bulls. They can go to the shelter, Petfinder, or many other rescues on Facebook and choose to help a dog that is sitting on death row, which is far more ethical than breeding or importing (and ultimately euthanizing) more prohibited dogs into the province.

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