Christiane Vadnais, 55, was mauled to death in the backyard of her east-end Montreal home by a neighbour's pit bull. Since the June 8 incident, there has been much discussion in the city, and the province, about the appropriate public-policy response.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has promised a new municipal bylaw that will ban the acquisition of new pit bulls, mandate the sterilization of existing ones and demand they be muzzled in public. Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume promised similar restrictions. Premier Philippe Couillard, for his part, mused aloud that Quebec may follow Ontario's lead and ban pit bulls and other dangerous breeds province-wide.
The obvious question here is: Why did it take another gruesome death and a relentless campaign by a big newspaper like La Presse for the politicians to finally wake up to this long-standing problem?
When wildlife – coyotes, cougars, bears – wander into cities, we take immediate action. We don't wait for them to kill. So why do we tolerate savage animals like pit bulls being brought deliberately in our midst and only act when something occurs that is so outrageous that inaction becomes politically untenable?
The usual justification for the do-nothing stance on vicious dogs is that "there are no bad pit bulls, only bad owners," echoing the B.S. gun-lobby rhetoric that there are "no bad guns, only bad people."
The reality is that dog bites, up to and including fatal maulings, are a complex public-health problem. There are an estimated 500,000 dog bites a year in Canada, and three-quarters of the victims are children under the age of 10.
Most of the bites are inflicted by pets that belong to family and friends – and they are often warning nips. (Children's behaviour often simulates that of dogs, they tend not to twig to warning signs like growling and they are less able to defend themselves than adults.)
But pit bulls and related breeds – and let's not be distracted by picayune debates about precise definition – are different. They often attack without warning and relentlessly.
Ms. Vadnais was sitting by her pool when she was attacked by a pit bull that snuck through a hole in the fence. The dog virtually chewed her leg off and had to be shot so paramedics could approach her mutilated body.
Dogs like this are not pets; they are weapons, and should be regulated as such.
Ontario banned the breeding and importation of pit bulls in 2005, and citizens are better off for it. In Toronto, the number of pit bull attacks has fallen to 13 in 2013 from 168 in 2004.
Critics, of course, will point to the fact that the number of dog bites overall is up since the ban. What matters is that the severe bites and fatal maulings are down because there has been a crackdown on the most aggressive types of dogs.
All dogs can bite – and many do so, for different reasons, including neglect, provocation and protective instinct – but few have jaws like a steel trap – like pit bulls – and fewer still are 50 kilograms of raw hatred wrapped in fur.
There are roughly four million dogs in Canada. About 6 per cent are pit bull breeds – but that's still about 6 per cent too many.
Animal rights organizations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) oppose breed-specific bans – saying behaviours, not breeds, should be targeted. There's some legitimacy to that argument except that it essentially means dogs get one free bite – and that's not good enough when an attack can be unprovoked and fatal, as it was in Ms. Vadnais's case.
Of course, pit bulls aren't the only problem. In Canada's Far North, attacks by feral dogs are commonplace and far too many children die. But they don't get the same attention – or response – as a death in a big city.
Licensing, leash and muzzling laws, spaying, neutering, bans on dangerous breeds and holding owners responsible for failings (criminal and otherwise) are all public-health measures that are needed to ensure safety, especially of children.
Owning a dog is not a right, it's a privilege – and it comes with responsibilities.