Montreal pit bull owners still unclear on how to prove a dog's breed




Some Montreal dog owners say they still don't know how the registration process for a pit bull permit will work, with less than a week to go before the proposed rules are expected to come into effect.

Owners of American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers, or mixes of these breeds, will be required to obtain a special $150 licence and comply with other restrictions in order to keep their dogs. 

But the bylaw also states dogs that share "several morphological characteristics" with these breeds must also obtain the licence.

The new rules are expected to come into effect Oct. 3, but dog owners will have until the end of the year to get the licence.

Montrealer Mireille Goulet said her dogs are registered as the breeds that she thinks resemble them most closely: a Patterdale terrier and a Dalmatian-Boxer cross respectively. 

"They're just mutts with short hair and medium size," she said. "I have no way of knowing what they are because I adopted them from shelters in the United States."

She's concerned that a municipal inspector might consider them to be pit bulls. 

Bylaw unclear

The bylaw proposal does not indicate what documentation owners can use to prove a dog's breed, nor does it list which characteristics the dog must have to be considered a pit bull type. 

A wide jaw and neck are possibilities, according to Anie Samson, Montreal executive committee member. 

"Specialists across the world have defined this, whether in Europe, the United States or Canada," said Samson, in response to a question from Goulet at city council last month. "Clearly a chihuahua and a pit bull type don't exactly have the same build."

But Goulet said this doesn't clear up how dog owners are expected to prove their dog's breed at the moment of registration, and said multiple calls to the municipal hotline 311 have left her without answers.

"They just say to call back later, that there will be more information on their website," she said. "When I ask 'when?' they don't know."

Honour system

Owners aren't currently required to bring their dogs with them when they are registered, according to Lucie Guindon, manager of Animal Expert Maisonneuve, a pet store in the Ville-Marie borough where dog owners can obtain licences.

"It's really on the good faith of the owner," said Guindon. "It's not in the owner's interest to lie because if they get caught, their licence is no longer valid." 

While eight boroughs currently allow some pet stores and vet offices to issue permits, Mayor Denis Coderre said Thursday that pet registrations will now be done at Access Montreal offices.

New inspectors

​Coderre said the city is also adding eight new inspectors to enforce the bylaw. They will be trained in how to identify different breeds, but Coderre did not specify what that training involves. 

A team of private contractors hired by the city this summer handed out more 900 tickets over the past two months to owners with unregistered dogs, or dogs that weren't on a leash. 

That extra enforcement prompted a shortage of dog tags at some locations, as owners scrambled to get their registration up to date.

"We went from 20,000 to 31,000 registered dogs," he said.

But opposition Projet Montréal councillor Sterling Downey is skeptical that eight new inspectors are enough.

He said the death of 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, mauled by a dog that had previously bitten at least two people, shows the city struggles to enforce the rules already on the books.

"Why weren't these bylaws enforced? Why wasn't this dog seized and evaluated?" Downey asked.

"Where did the application of the current system fail? Before we implement a new one, we have to figure out where the other one failed." 

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