Montreal Suspends Law Banning Pit Bulls

Jack, pit bull rescue dog CROP. One Last Chance
Jack, pit bull rescue dog
Animal rescue groups worked ahead of the ban to make sure dogs got out of Montreal. One Last Chance/Facebook

Montreal has suspended its controversial pit bull ban, which made it illegal to adopt or buy a pit bull-type dog. The bylaw also required the breed-specific dog to be muzzled in public and only walked by people over the age of 18.

"The pit bull-style dog will no longer be considered a dangerous breed in Montreal," City Counselor Craig Sauve told CTV News. "We'll have a global approach that includes all dogs and I believe it's the right approach for Montreal."

A new bylaw will be introduced in 2018 after the local government consults with animal behavioral experts and non-dog and dog owners.

The bill was also temporarily suspended in October 2016 because it lacked clarity about what types of dogs would fall under the ruling — but it was only a temporary reprieve for groups trying to get dogs out of the province.

Law went into effect in 2016

The Quebec Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 1, 2016 in the city's favor with most elements of the law going into effect immediately, according to the Montreal Gazette. The law prevents people from adopting or buying any pit bull-type dog that they don't already own. It requires people who already have pit bull dogs to leash and muzzle them when they are outdoors and purchase a special $150 pit bull permit by Dec. 31. The dogs must also be supervised by someone who is at least 18 years old.

The Court of Appeals is holding the city to several concessions it made during the appeals hearing, at least until the Superior Court issues a final ruling that clarifies the law and some of its contested wording. The city agreed not to euthanize animals strictly based on breed or physical appearance. People who own pit bulls will be allowed to reclaim their dogs from shelters, no matter the dog's breed or how it looks. And shelters and animal rescue groups will be permitted to look for homes for pit bull-type dogs outside of Montreal.

The law had been suspended at the request of the Montreal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). In essence, the ruling passed, but it never went into effect.

SPCA Montreal issued a statement saying it will continue to fight the ban.

"Though the fight is not over, we are extremely disappointed by today's decision and particularly preoccupied by not being able to continue finding adoptive homes in Montreal for all of our healthy and behaviorally-sound dogs," said Alanna Devine, the SPCA's director of animal advocacy.

“The Montreal SPCA has, at the core of its mission, the protection of all animals, regardless of species or breed. Not being able find homes for healthy, adoptable and behaviorally-sound dogs and puppies goes against the very essence of what our organization stands for."

How to define 'pit-bull-type dogs'

Despite months of protests and fiery debate, city council voted 37-23 in favor of the law on Sept. 27. The law was proposed by Mayor Denis Coderre, who said the legislation was necessary to protect people from vicious attacks similar to the one that took the life of 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, who was killed in her yard by a neighbor's dog in June. Police believe the dog was a pit bull, according to CBC News, but authorities said they are still waiting for DNA test results.

"My duty as mayor of Montreal is making sure I am working for all Montrealers," said Coderre. "And I am there to make sure they feel safe and that they are safe."

But the SPCA argued that the law was vague in its definition of pit bull dogs, was discriminatory against dogs that weren't dangerous, and could result in the euthanization of hundreds of healthy and well-mannered dogs. Justice Gouin said several aspects of the law were troubling, including the overly broad definition of "pit bull-type dogs."

The temporary suspension was to remain in effect until the SPCA could launch its full legal appeal.

"The fight is far from being over, but we are very pleased with this first victory," the Montreal SPCA said in a statement at the time. "We are particularly delighted to be able to continue finding adoptive homes for all of our healthy and behaviorally sound dogs, regardless of their physical appearance."

Rescue groups work to save dogs

When the law was originally passed, animal rights activists were not happy with the ruling.

"If the city of Montreal truly wanted to ensure public safety, it would not have forced a rushed adoption of controversial legislation which is unfair, unenforceable, and, most importantly, ineffective," the Montreal SPCA said in a statement at the time.

Some animal shelters were worried that abandoned or roaming healthy pit bulls would show up at their doors and end up without homes now that the new legislation is put back into effect.

"For the dogs who are already on the Island and are surrendered to local pounds and shelters, there may be a possibility to adopt these discarded dogs, but this will heavily depend of the shelters' or pounds' willingness to allow these dogs into their adoption programs," Annie Lortie of Montreal's One Last Chance - Animal Rescue Team told MNN. "Sadly, we suspect that many of these poor dogs might never make it out of these facilities alive."

Volunteers at One Last Chance had been working for weeks before the legislation passed to proactively find placement for the pups. They reached out to rescue groups across Canada, finding foster homes for puppies and adult dogs in places that don't enforce breed bans, commonly known in the animal world as breed-specific legislation (BSL).

Two organizations in Saskatchewan — which is 1,900 miles away — volunteered to help with pit bull-type dogs. Prairie Sky Dog Rescue and Prairie Pooches Rescue took in nine adult dogs and six puppies.

three pit bull puppies rescued in Montreal
These are just three of the puppies sent to foster homes in Saskatchewan. One Last Chance

Because of the long trek, the dogs had to travel via air to find their foster families (and in some cases, permanent homes).

"Typically, we fly them," says Lortie. "Although, this is the most efficient way of getting dogs out of province quickly and safely, the cost can be staggeringly expensive."

For the average size dog, she says, airfare costs between $350-$450, plus the cost of an airline-approved crate and basic vaccinations, rabies and a heartworm test. If someone is already flying to the area, taking the dog as baggage is much less expensive, which some people have offered to do, and others have donated crates. The Saskatchewan rescue groups are paying for the expenses, sometimes with the help of donations.

The rescue groups gladly accepted donations, but they were also hoping residents would speak out against the proposal by contacting lawmakers.

"Education and public opinion speak volumes to politicians and decision makers," Lortie says. "Let our lawmakers know that the unilateral discrimination of certain breed looking dogs is never going to prevent dog bites or attacks. Responsible ownership is the only permanent solution."