‘He’s not a pit bull’: GTA dog owner fights DNA test that could see puppy deported out of province

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Tommy Chang was relieved when Vaughn Animal Services called to tell him that his family’s one-year-old pet dog had been recovered after moving out of the family’s Woodbridge home over Thanksgiving weekend.

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The stuntman’s relief turned to alarm when an animal control officer told Chang that the family’s beloved Dawezi had characteristics of dogs banned in Ontario, and that a DNA test would be conducted to determine its pedigree.

“What did I say? He’s not a Pit Bull, he’s an American Bully,” Chang recalled of the conversation. The Dog Owners Liability Act (DOLA) “was created to protect the community from dog bites, not such dogs—he’s a mule, he’s incapable of hurting anyone.”


Based on the DNA results, Chang was told that Dwyzi could be transferred to a foster home in another province, possibly Quebec. But not without a fight. Chang retains defense attorney Leo Kinahan who has given notice to Vaughan’s officials that “all avenues will be taken” and that the dispute could be headed for the courts.

Sixteen years after Ontario amended the law to prohibit the breeding and importation of pit bulls, Chang’s battle with local officials about whether his pet is actually banned, once again over breed-specific legislation sheds light. It has always been controversial, with opponents considering it discriminatory and not applied uniformly across the province. (A rally is being held in Queens Park this Saturday as part of a Breed Specific Law Awareness Day.)

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the law says that no owner possesses a pit bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, or “a dog whose appearance and physical characteristics are substantially similar” to those restricted animals not to be “near or harbor” needed.

B.C.-based animal rights attorney Rebecca Breeder said enforcement is next to impossible for officers to ask whether a dog is a pit bull based on its appearance. He added that even DNA testing is often inconclusive. “Pit Bulls by definition are a mixed breed … and so the confusion is, when you have a Staffordshire Bull Terrier mixed with a Bulldog, does that make the dog a Pit Bull?” Some will say yes, others no; It is a mixed breed, Breeder said.

Ontario is the only province with a widespread breed-specific ban. Elsewhere, municipalities such as Calgary and Vancouver have repealed breed-specific bylaws, citing the cost of enforcement and complaints from the public, Breder said.

BC-based animal behavior and law expert Rebecca Ledger said studies show that even professionals have a hard time identifying dog mixes, and while DNA testing can provide some information, it is not 100 percent reliable. .

In any case, “if it’s a really nice friendly dog ​​that isn’t a risk to people, why does it matter?”

He said research shows that breed-specific restrictions do not reduce dog bites, noting that a Canadian study found The deadliest attacks were by Husky-type dogs, an irregular breed.

Nevertheless, Ledger has also worked with municipalities that have confiscated dogs that have caused serious injury to people or other animals and in Vancouver, for example, “the majority are pit bull-type dogs,” according to owners. are associated with a certain demographic of people who use to be guarded dogs.

“There are a lot of arguments on each side,” she said.

Ontario’s pit bull ban was introduced controversially by the then-liberal government in 2005 after a series of high-profile attacks, including a near-fatal case in which a Toronto man was brutally assaulted by two dogs. He was walking to a friend who was beaten up. Then-Attorney General Michael Bryant supported the change in 2004, arguing that “some animals are nothing short of dangerous weapons.”

The law, which immediately provoked a backlash from dog owners, who complained that it was too broad and would affect any dog ​​that looked like a pit bull, was later upheld in court after a constitutional challenge. “Dog ownership is not a right,” Justice Thea Herman said in 2007, finding that although the evidence of danger posed by pit bulls was inconclusive, legislators were entitled to err on the side of safety.

Provincial Tories said as recently as 2019 they were considering repealing the ban.

Deanna Wheeler is confident she is on the right side of the debate. She lost her dogs, Noah and Dexter, last March after straying from her home in West Gray Township, south of Owen Sound. A “Good Samaritan” took them to a vet clinic in downtown Durham, where animal control officials advised they were pit bulls and illegal in Ontario.

Wheeler said he had provided proof of pedigree and microchipping information but was told that DNA testing was needed to prove the dogs’ breed. She said township-ordered testing confirmed the dogs as pure American bullies, but the city would not release them. He was transferred to a foster home in Quebec last June.

She’s hired Owen Sound paralegal Carrie Bertrand, who has launched a small claims court action against the Municipality of West Grey’s for $35,000 and Wheeler’s personal property — the return of her dogs.

In an email, Bertrand wrote that they are seeking “substantial damages due to the emotional and psychological trauma that her entire family has endured and continues to endure.” He said the municipality has appointed a lawyer and the defense statement is expected soon.

Back in Vaughn, Chang said he had little or no knowledge of Dola when he asked this Toronto breeder last year for this wife, three sons, ages 20, 18 and nine, and the family’s Pomeranian, Kimchi. Bought Dwiji as a companion dog. .

They did some research, and decided on an American Bully, because “they don’t have an ounce of aggression, they can look the part, strong and powerful, but small and muscular.” It “didn’t even cross his mind it could be a pit bull.”

Named after the Korean word for “piggy bank”, Chang said, Dwaji has spent the past year pleasing the family during the pandemic, sleeping in family members’ beds and engaging everyone he meets on the streets.

“He has a lot of love and affection, and was just the way we met him,” he said, adding that his family is deeply pained by what has happened to “a member of his family”.

In his letter sent to elected and non-elected officials in Vaughan last week, Kinahan suggested that the animal control officer should not have confiscated Dwiji without a warrant based only on a “subjective belief” that the dog’s presence and physical The characteristics are largely similar to those of bred dogs.

“It is accepted that Blue (another name for Deeji) has 4 legs, a tail and a round head and is a dog,” wrote Kinahan. “However, this is where the similarities end.”

He said that if it turns out that the seizure was legal, he would like to know what authority Von Animal Control has to conduct a DNA test. He argued that there was no right to “take such drastic measures”, and also demanded to know the names of the testing facilities – some Americans do not even test for bullies, meaning that any results are “false and may be inconclusive”.

“I hope common sense prevails,” Kinahan wrote. “It’s a one-year-old puppy that basically thinks he’s human and plays with kids and Pomeranians; it’s not Cujo roaming the streets of Vaughan, foaming at the mouth, looking for someone.” Used to be.

Vaughan City said in an email to the Star sent on Friday that the matter was under investigation and could not comment at this time. The statement read: “Mayor (Maurizio) Bevilacqua and members of the council know that at the heart of every family is a family pet.”

At the same time, “many members of the council are also pet owners and are particularly sympathetic to the concerns of dog owners.”

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter who covers crime and the courts for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @powellbetsy

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