Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan is not ready to give up on breed-specific animal control bylaws just yet.
Corrigan addressed a delegation from the HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society at Monday night's council meeting, regarding the city's reasons for having breed-specific legislation in its animal control bylaw.
"Time tends to fade memories of what was happening," he said of the time the bylaw was introduced in 1991.
Corrigan was a Burnaby councillor then and said there were "horrendous stories" in newspapers at the time about pit bull attacks. While it was found that pit bulls were "loyal and protective dogs," he said, cities had to consider "the devastating consequences of a pit bull bite."
Burnaby's bylaw from 1991 defines a vicious dog as one that has attacked a person or animal without provocation, or "a Staffordshire bull terrier, an American pit bull terrier and any dog generally recognized as a pit bull or pit bull terrier and includes a dog of mixed breed with predominant pit bull or pit bull terrier characteristics."
Under the bylaw, dogs defined as vicious must be muzzled in public and confined when on the owner's premises.
The City of Burnaby is looking over its animal control bylaw and plans to move forward on any changes, after public consultation, late this year.
The city is also considering whether to ban pet stores from selling animals.
Coun. Dan Johnston mentioned he'd received emails in advance of the meeting from members of the public about specific attacks.
"There are emails on the other side (of the issue)," he said.
Coun. Sav Dhaliwal asked if the delegation had looked at statistics and reports that did not support its position or if it was only interested in the one side of the issue.
Pit bulls have been bred to fight, Corrigan said, bringing up the case of quarterback Michael Vick's dogs.
Vick pled guilty to dog-fighting charges in 2007, and 51 pit bulls were taken from his property.
"We wondered why anyone would create a dog like this," Corrigan said.
But Kirsten Neratini, director of events and community outreach for the society, told council the Vick case is a perfect example supporting the society's position.
According to multiple media reports between 2008 and 2010, 47 of the dogs were rehabilitated, and some went on to work as therapy dogs.
The owner, and not the dogs, was the problem, Neratini said.
News reports of pit bull attacks in the '90s were meant to sell newspapers, she added, and created a perception that the breed was more dangerous than others without scientific evidence.
Breed-specific statistics are often unreliable, particularly those based on reports of pit bull attacks in the media, she added.
Dogs have been misidentified as pit bulls in news stories, she said, and there is a tendency to report on pit bull attacks multiple times.
Breed-specific bylaws are "an archaic way to deal with animal control," Neratini added, and they penalize good dog owners.
Instead, she would like to see Burnaby move to a model similar to Calgary's, where education is a big focus, as well as strict licensing enforcement and fines for licensing infractions, with no breed-specific aspect to the bylaw.
Burnaby is one of a handful of municipalities in the Lower Mainland that still has breed-specific bylaws. Other Lower Mainland municipalities have either gotten rid of breed-specific bylaws or are in the process of revamping their animal control bylaws. Coquitlam got rid of the breed-specific wording in its bylaw last October.
B.C. SPCA spokesperson Lorie Chortyk said aggressive owners are a bigger issue than aggressive breeds.
"It's usually not the dog, it's the kind of training and the kind of guardianship, the kinds of things the dogs have been trained to do," she said.
Dog owners who want an aggressive dog aren't swayed by breed bans, Chortyk pointed out, as they'll just move on to another breed that can be trained to cause harm.
"In places where they put breed bans in effect, they can have 30 breeds, because they just keep adding to it," she said. "Our position is, dangerous dogs of every breed need to be addressed."