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Ontario's pit bull law claims more victims, including Rambo, a Brampton dog whose vet says he's a boxer. The city says he's a pit bull.
Ontario's pit bull law claims more victims, including Rambo, a Brampton dog whose vet says he's a boxer. The city says he's a pit bull.

Dog fight

Boxer mixes caught up in pit bull controversy Add to ...

One veterinarian's boxer is another vet's pit bull.

As a result, Rambo and his sister Brittany are languishing behind bars at the City of Brampton's animal shelter, possibly headed for the death chamber.

Their aggrieved owners, meanwhile, complain that whatever the city may say, neither beast is a pit bull at all.

Pit bulls are a type of dog rather than a breed and have garnered numerous headlines and a couple of high-profile court hearings since an amendment to Ontario's Dog Owners' Liability Act took effect four years ago.

Under the new rules, pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire bull terriers and American pit bull terriers are outlawed; those already here were allowed to remain, providing they be muzzled and leashed.

Straightforward enough. However, the legislation also contains a clause banning any dog "that has the appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar to" those specified.

For Rambo and Brittany, born in separate litters to the same parents, that inclusiveness has spelled bad news and their future looks bleak: If homes are not found for them outside Ontario they may be euthanized, though no execution date has been set.

Rambo belongs to 75-year-old Maria Gaspar. Brittany's home is across town with the Branco family.

Both were seized Jan. 13 by city animal control officials who said they believed the dogs were pit bulls.

Not so, says Rui Branco, who will host a press conference outside his Reeve Road home Wednesday morning in efforts to highlight the plight of the two siblings, neither of which is known to have attacked or threatened anyone.

Rather, their perceived sin rests with their lineage.

The dogs' mother was Jersey, a purebred boxer. No problem there.

But their dad was Tyson, born shortly after the pit bull law took effect in late November, 2005, and a survivor of the ban, apparently through an oversight. He was, nonetheless, classified as a pit bull, although Tyson's family vet disagrees, calling him "a healthy and well-socialized pet … a cross between an American bulldog and a boxer."

Either way, Tyson's label as a pit bull means his offspring are deemed pit bulls, too.

"Animal Services has documentary and veterinary evidence that (Rambo and Brittany) are pit bulls," city spokeswoman Mariam Mesbah said.

"The bottom line is that if the mother or the father is a pit bull and documented as such, any of their brood would be considered pit bulls. We are required by law to follow the legislation."

Lawyer Megan Burkett, acting for the Brancos, is preparing a court motion to get both dogs back on grounds they were improperly seized, and says the law casts too wide a net.

"Tyson is an American bulldog and a boxer and if they wanted boxer to be in the legislation, it should have said boxer," she said.

"That's what's causing the problem. Our position is that he looks like a boxer. A lot of breeds are being caught up in this that shouldn't be."

Rambo's troubles began when he was spotted atop his doghouse in his fenced yard, and his detention left his elderly owner, Ms. Gaspar, distraught.

For the previous two years the city had licensed him as a boxer/American bulldog cross, she told a local newspaper, and his vaccination certificate states that.

Brittany was picked up later the same day. And her vet, Dr. David Kirkham, voices the same complaint of mistaken identity. "I don't understand why (city officials) are fighting me so hard on this," he said.

"Brittany doesn't look anything like a pit bull."

Last June, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to consider whether the four-year-old law is unconstitutional.

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