Opinion

Attacks Keep Coming, Ban Dangerous Dogs in BC Now

What will it take for politicians to find the courage to act?

By Bill Tieleman 5 Jan 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

"It was worse than a horror movie. It was like something out of a nightmare. There was blood absolutely everywhere." -- Sheryl Elgie, daughter of pit bull attack victim Robin Elgie

Five people in British Columbia have been viciously attacked by pit bull and Rottweiler dogs in five days -- two very seriously injured -- and yet not one provincial or municipal elected official dares to speak out on the obvious need to protect the public.

Is it not overwhelmingly obvious when Robin Elgie lies in a hospital bed facing the possible amputation of both hands after two pit bulls invaded his Fort St. John home on Christmas and ripped him to shreds in what he called "a shark attack" before RCMP shot them -- that something must be done?

Is it not obscene that after Kati Mather received 100 bites, a separated bicep and fractured arm from a Rottweiler-Husky cross breed attack while defending her three-year-old nephew in a Richmond park, no elected representative calls for new laws?

Three other people were also attacked in the two incidents, suffering serious bites.

So does a child have to be killed by a dangerous dog and the public totally outraged before politicians finally find the courage to act?

I deeply fear that is likely, because elected officials appear to be more afraid of dog owners and their fearsome lobbying organizations that fight proposed laws restricting pit bulls and other dangerous breeds than they are of a fatal dog attack.

Echoing past BC attacks

Neither B.C. nor Canada keep detailed statistics on dangerous dog attacks that identify breeds, but in the United States in 2015 there were at least 32 human fatalities, with the majority coming from pit bulls, followed by Rottweilers and other breeds or mixed breeds, according to the advocacy group Dogbites.org, which meticulously documents each attack.

In 2014, the last year with complete statistics, there were 42 U.S. dog attack fatalities. Sixty-four per cent, or 27 attacks, were by pit bulls and 10 per cent, or four attacks, were by Rottweilers -- meaning three-quarters came from just those two breeds. The numbers are similar for previous years.

It's why groups like BanPitBulls.org call for breed specific legislation in both the U.S. and Canada.

The group points out that between 2007 and 2014, pit bull attacks in the U.S. rose by an astonishing 773 per cent and that most fatalities are children.

That has very nearly happened several times in B.C. already.

In January 2015, a six-year-old Vancouver girl was attacked in Crab Park by a pit bull, requiring 14 stitches to her face and leg, with her mother telling me exclusively that the dog came at them "like a shark."

And a New Westminster woman suffered "life changing" facial injuries when a pit bull attack sent her to hospital in July 2015, while a man in the same apartment was also bitten.

New Westminster had previously repealed bylaws restricting pit bull and other breeds. Despite the July attack, a spokesperson told me that month there were "no plans" to reinstate the vicious dog bylaw.

A nine-year-old girl in Penticton was also the victim of an unprovoked pit bull attack in June 2015, requiring five stitches on her arm when the dog lunged for her face.

These are just the human attacks in B.C. -- many helpless pet dogs and cats have been killed by raging pit bull attacks.

A man whose cocker spaniel puppy was allegedly "ripped apart" by a pit bull in June 2015 is suing its owners, alleging they failed to muzzle the dog as ordered by the City of Vancouver after it had previously attacked a small dog. He's also suing the City for not having the pit bull euthanized as a dangerous animal. None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

'They just ate him'

It's not just this province -- a 22-year-old man in Lancashire, England was mauled to death by his own pit bull cross on Jan. 1, 2016.

The same day police in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania shot a pit bull attacking a 10-year-old boy outside his apartment after Tasering the dog failed.

On Jan. 2 in Big Bend, Wisconsin, four people including one child were sent to hospital after a pit bull attack.

And on Dec. 2, 2015 in Detroit, four-year-old Xavier Strickland was killed by four pit bulls while walking on a residential street with his mother.

"They pulled him from me and (dragged) him under the fence. They just ate him," said Lucille Strickland. The dogs had previously gotten loose and attacked children, the Detroit News reported.

Bring on the ban

While most jurisdictions look the other way, Winnipeg has banned pit bulls since 1990 and Ontario since 2005 -- with significant drops in dog bite attacks, while Burnaby has upheld strong restrictions on "vicious dogs" that include muzzling in public and higher licensing fees.

To be clear, no pit bulls were killed in Winnipeg or Ontario under the ban, but they were not allowed to breed and no new dogs can be imported.

Pit bull owners and organizations are very aggressive in opposing such laws and angry each time I write about them, with responses ranging from polite to obscene and some bordering on threatening.

We have an obvious problem in B.C. with ongoing dangerous dog attacks injuring children, adults and pets. We also have a clear solution -- legislation to ban the breeds most responsible for fatal and serious injuries that has worked elsewhere.

What we don't have is the political will to stand up for the silent majority of British Columbians who want dangerous dog breeds banned.

Let's not wait for a child to be killed before politicians finally take action. Tell them to do it now, before it's too late.  [Tyee]

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