Animal rescue groups worked ahead of the Sept. 27 vote to make sure dogs like Jack got out of Montreal. Jack is being cared for by a rescue group in Saskatchewan. (Photo: One Last Chance/Facebook)
Montreal's controversial pit bull ban has been suspended because it lacks clarity about what types of dogs would fall under the ruling — but it's only a temporary reprieve for groups trying to get dogs out of the province.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin officially suspended the ban on Oct. 5 at the request of the Montreal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), reports the Montreal Gazette. After hearing arguments from the SPCA and the city on Wednesday, the judge extended a temporary suspension he'd made earlier in the week. In essence, the ruling passed, but it never went into effect.
The city ruling would have made it illegal to adopt or buy pit bull-type dogs and those with “similar physical characteristics” in Montreal unless people had applied for a special ownership provision. Exceptions were to be granted to people without a criminal record, and owners were given until the end of the year to apply for a special permit. The ruling would have required that dogs covered under the exception be neutered/spayed and also get a microchip and a rabies shot.
How to define 'pit-bull-type dogs'
Despite months of protests and fiery debate, city council voted 37-23 in favor of the law on Sept. 27. The law was proposed by Mayor Denis Coderre, who said the legislation was necessary to protect people from vicious attacks similar to the one that took the life of 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, who was killed in her yard by a neighbor's dog in June. Police believe the dog was a pit bull, according to CBC News, but authorities said they are still waiting for DNA test results.
"My duty as mayor of Montreal is making sure I am working for all Montrealers," said Coderre. "And I am there to make sure they feel safe and that they are safe."
But during the Wednesday hearing, the SPCA argued that the law was vague in its definition of pit bull dogs, was discriminatory against dogs that weren't dangerous, and could result in the euthanization of hundreds of healthy and well-mannered dogs. Justice Gouin said several aspects of the law were troubling, including the overly broad definition of "pit bull-type dogs."
The temporary suspension will remain in effect until the SPCA can launch its full legal appeal. The process could take several months.
"The fight is far from being over, but we are very pleased with this first victory," the Montreal SPCA said in a statement. "We are particularly delighted to be able to continue finding adoptive homes for all of our healthy and behaviorally sound dogs, regardless of their physical appearance."
Rescue groups scramble to save dogs
When the law was originally passed, animal rights activists were not happy with the ruling.
"If the city of Montreal truly wanted to ensure public safety, it would not have forced a rushed adoption of controversial legislation which is unfair, unenforceable, and, most importantly, ineffective," the Montreal SPCA said in a statement at the time.
Some animal shelters are worried that abandoned or roaming healthy pit bulls will show up at their doors and will end up without homes if the new legislation is put back into effect.
"For the dogs who are already on the Island and are surrendered to local pounds and shelters, there may be a possibility to adopt these discarded dogs, but this will heavily depend of the shelters' or pounds' willingness to allow these dogs into their adoption programs," Annie Lortie of Montreal's One Last Chance - Animal Rescue Team told MNN. "Sadly, we suspect that many of these poor dogs might never make it out of these facilities alive."
Volunteers at One Last Chance had been working for weeks to to proactively find placement for the pups. They reached out to rescue groups across Canada, finding foster homes for puppies and adult dogs in places that don't enforce breed bans, commonly known in the animal world as breed-specific legislation (BSL).
Two organizations in Saskatchewan — which is 1,900 miles away — volunteered to help with pit bull-type dogs. So far, Prairie Sky Dog Rescue and Prairie Pooches Rescue have taken in nine adult dogs and six puppies.
Because of the long trek, the dogs have to travel via air to find their foster families (and in some cases, permanent homes).
"Typically, we fly them," says Lortie. "Although, this is the most efficient way of getting dogs out of province quickly and safely, the cost can be staggeringly expensive."
For the average size dog, she says, airfare costs between $350-$450, plus the cost of an airline-approved crate and basic vaccinations, rabies and a heartworm test. If someone is already flying to the area, taking the dog as baggage is much less expensive, which some people have offered to do, and others have donated crates. The Saskatchewan rescue groups are paying for the expenses, sometimes with the help of donations. So far, only one airline (WestJet) has agreed to fly pitbull-type dogs, Lortie says.
The rescue groups are gladly accepting donations, but they are also hoping residents will speak out against the proposal by contacting lawmakers.
"Education and public opinion speak volumes to politicians and decision makers," Lortie says. "Let our lawmakers know that the unilateral discrimination of certain breed looking dogs is never going to prevent dog bites or attacks. Responsible ownership is the only permanent solution."
Editor's note: This story was published in early September 2016 and has been updated with new information.