Breed Specific Legislation: Truth and Consequences

It was a morning walk like any other: I was out with my toddler and my dog and we were paused at the local bridge, watching the creek water run rapidly over the rocks after recent rains. My daughter was delighting at the sound of the water as my dog sniffed every blade of grass she could find. Then a Police car drove past us, which didn’t phase me until he slowed right down and pulled a U-turn in the middle of the street and drove back towards us. Thanks to Breed Specific Legislation, I froze then and there.

My heart started beating out of my chest, I could feel my body temperature rising, I felt like my coat was suffocating me and I couldn’t help but start trembling. The Policeman pulled into the parking lot directly next to where we were standing, all the while staring straight at us. I didn’t dare look his way but could feel his eyes burning through me. He got out of the car and started walking towards us. A million thoughts raced through my mind.

How Breed Specific Legislation Affects Dog Owners

What do I do? Do I turn around and walk away? No, that makes me look guilty. Do I look at him and smile, try to warm him over with my adorable daughter? No, don’t make contact of any kind. Keep your head down. Keep talking to the girls. Maybe I should have muzzled her. But it’s not enforced here, everyone knows that. Maybe he’s not here for us at all. I have her leashed, totally under control, she’s minding her own business, we’re not doing anything wrong. But we are doing something wrong. Legally, she should be muzzled. But I will not ever do that to her.

That’s why we live here because I don’t have to muzzle her here. We know for a fact that the muzzle law isn’t enforced here. Even my own MPP has confirmed that in conversation. So what does this Cop want? Why is he walking towards us? Oh no, she is starting to notice that I’m panicked. Look at her ears, now the hairs on her back are up, please don’t react! You’re a good girl, stay a good girl. Oh, I’m being ridiculous. There is no one around with a squeakier clean record than mine. Please don’t take my dog. Please, please, please. OMG, I can’t breathe.

The Policeman walked straight past us, smiled a warm smile, and walked across the road and gave the car parked on the side of the road a ticket. But not before I had a full-blown panic attack, to the point where I walked around the corner and sat on the ground, in front of my daughter’s stroller, and counted to twenty while taking deep breaths, while my poor dog paced back and forth.

Panic Attacks Sponsored by Breed Specific Legislation

This kind of panic is not uncommon, sadly, for those of us who own pit bull type dogs under the law. Breed Specific Legislation (commonly referred to as BSL) clearly states that any pit bull-type dog, which is defined as three named breeds but also any dog who looks “substantially similar” to those breeds, under which my dog clearly qualifies, must be leashed, muzzled, and registered as a potentially dangerous dog. My dog is grandfathered, meaning she was born before the law came into effect, in 2005, but the law clearly states that she should be muzzled.

Some people will tell me that I’m a bad dog guardian because I don’t muzzle my dog when out for a walk, but I would certainly hope those people are saints before they judge how I love my dog and want to give her the best, happiest life I possibly can. I have seen the change in facial expression, in body language, when I put a muzzle on my dog and I won’t do that to her when she has done nothing wrong. I don’t care how much anyone tries to defend it, a dog cannot fully enjoy a walk, smell the smells of nature, with a cage around its face. Because we don’t muzzle her, we keep her close to home, where we feel she is safest, and we live a significantly more sheltered dog-life than most of our friends with different types of dogs.

Impacts on Mental Health

That is the entire root of the problem with Breed Specific Legislation: It punishes dogs and their guardians when they have done nothing wrong. This law targets dogs solely based on their physical characteristics. It is canine profiling, equal to racism, and it is fundamentally wrong. But Breed Specific Legislation has much farther reaching effects than on a moral level.

Breed Specific Legislation causes mental anguish, anxiety, panic and fear for guardians and their dogs, all of which are so unfounded when you look at statistics and science, both of which have been completely ignored when lawmakers enact/enforce Breed Specific Legislation. Ironically, Breed Specific Legislation was only introduced out of panic-policy making, to create a façade of public safety at a time when these dogs were not the dogs responsible for the highest numbers of dog bites nor injuries, and yet the media and some negative celebrity cases presented these dogs as culprits of harm. Breed Specific Legislation is discrimination at its best… or worst.

Mislabeling of Pit bulls doesn’t Help

Our animals are a large part of what keeps us happy, calm, feeling loved and being compassionate. Knowing that an animal depends on you for its well-being has far-reaching effects on your mental health. The level of responsibility for a pet has been shown to help motivate those suffering from mental illness, acknowledging that another living being needs you in their life. The emotional impact that dogs have on their families is immeasurable. Our bodies experience physical changes when interacting with our dogs: Levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress, are naturally reduced in the brain, and serotonin, the chemical responsible for happiness, increases. Dogs are natural mood enhancers, even on our darkest days.

And it’s because of the bond we share with our dogs that our dogs are also finely in tune with the way in which we feel and react to stimuli. When we get stressed, they get stressed, and sometimes subsequently ill. For those of us with pit bull-type dogs, Breed Specific Legislation enslaves us under a cloud of fear and paranoia, which ultimately rubs off on our animals as well. I can just imagine the emotions that my dog experienced as that Policeman walked past us that day. She could read how I was feeling like an open book.

We are no Criminals

One of the things I resent most about Breed Specific Legislation is how the government makes those of us who have one of these pit bull-type dogs feel like criminals. We are seen as rebels, going against the rules, instead of the compassionate rescuers of these dogs that so many of us are. According to Breed Specific Legislation, my loving, loyal, family dog, best friend, and protector of my young daughter should be muzzled every time she leaves the house and registered as potentially dangerous. My fun-loving dog cannot play nor run in dog parks with all other dogs and she doesn’t understand why, she cannot attend dog training seminars nor socialization classes like all other dogs, we cannot take her to the beach, we cannot travel with her across the province safely … the list goes on.

Our dog is a member of our family! And yet we live under the black cloud of Breed Specific Legislation-induced fear every single day, not because of anything our dog has done but because of the shape of her head, her chest, her legs, the length of her coat, we are forced to live like paranoid criminals. We are victims of discrimination, for a dog who has done nothing wrong and who has been grossly misrepresented by this law.

We Deserve Respect

Just like people, all dogs are individuals and deserve to be treated as such. Dogs are “man’s best friend” for a reason! They give us unconditional love every day and they want nothing more than for us to be happy. They do not deserve this type of discrimination and certainly do not deserve to die, just because of the way they look. Breed Specific Legislation is failing our beloved 4-legged family members. It is failing society. It is making us all sick, physically and metaphorically, and it’s time that more people turned to educating themselves on the truth about these wonderful dogs rather than discriminating against them.

About Emily Clare

Emily is a woman of many hats! Born in England, Emily is a writer, specializing in matters pertaining to mental health and wellness. She is a graduate student of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Toronto. She is the Executive Director of the Gerladina Orphanage and Education Centre, located in Tanzania, where she visits as often as she can. She is an impassioned advocate for breed neutral laws for dogs, founding a virtual, international gathering place for dog lovers called United Paws, with an aim to fight together against breed discrimination worldwide, all inspired by her own dog, Bella, who Emily credits for changing the direction of her life. Emily is also a mother to a toddler and is currently working on a children's book, inspired by Breed Specific Legislation.

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