The Only Dangerous Blockheads in Montreal Aren’t Canine

Something I often tell animal advocates working with legislators is to root their arguments in facts and not appeal to emotion because factual arguments are usually more compelling to policy makers. But the issue of breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL) flips the usual script. When it comes to BDL, instead of animal advocates telling sob stories, it’s the people who want to ban pit bull terriers using emotional manipulation. Why? To put it plainly, because there are no studies or real life examples supporting BDL.

BDL refers to laws that illegalize or place restrictions on certain “breeds” of dogs. Different dog breeds have been targeted over the years, but today these laws usually involve pit bull terriers. Multiple studies and studies of studies have confirmed that BDL is ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s comprehensive review of dog bite studies that included ten countries and forty years of data concluded: “There is no evidence that breed-specific bans reduce the rate or severity of bite injuries.”[1] Despite this, Montreal is expected to pass a devastating law that discriminates against dogs resembling pit bull terriers. If enacted, experts expect it to result in the deaths of thousands of dogs.

1907326_10152285129829335_5071598038332494933_nThis isn’t to say that animal advocates have to rely solely on emotion in other cases. From community cats to anti-tethering to retail pet sale bans, the model laws that For All Animals recommend make sense in terms of fiscal responsibility, public health and safety, and animal protection. It’s just easy for animal advocates, who tend to feel passionately about their work, to fall back into emotion when arguing their case. But in this case, it’s the people on the other side relying on anecdotes, emotion, and scare tactics to push breed-discriminatory legislation.

Making matters worse is that the Montreal law is poorly drafted and overly vague. Essentially, it’s a bad version of an already bad law. The proposed law places restrictions on dogs that have “several morphological characteristics of the breeds and the crosses listed.”[2] The listed breeds are the American Staffordshire Terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier. Morphology is the study of the form (like size and shape) of organisms, in other words, the physical characteristics. So Montreal is essentially restricting dogs with block-shaped heads. In an interview with The Dodo, the director of animal advocacy at the Montreal SPCA, noted that the law “doesn’t make any sense. I have a legal background and read the legislation a thousand times and can’t understand what it will entail.”[3] In Devine’s estimation any medium-sized dog “with short fur and a big head” is at risk.

You’re probably wondering what constitutes a “block-shaped” or “big” head. Who really knows? It’s subjective. I have a Chihuahua named Alvin. He’s probably safe because he tips the scales at five pounds and his head is more pea-shaped than anything else.

But most other dogs, from Labrador Retrievers to Boxers, are at risk.

It’s unclear what Montreal is hoping to accomplish. Its proposal has already outraged animal advocates across Canada and the United States. And because BDL has been proven to be ineffective, it won’t make the community safer. It seems the city is trying to appease a tiny group of people who both don’t like dogs or facts. I’ve never been to Montreal, but I’m going to guess not many people there fit this description.

So why is Montreal even considering this law? It’s an impulsive response to recent dog attacks in the city. It gives the illusion of increasing public safety when, in reality, it will do nothing (except endanger dogs’ lives and waste taxpayer dollars). The only blockheads that need to be banned in Montreal are the legislators who proposed this dangerous, cruel law.

Check out Attorney at Paw’s resources for more information about why and how BDL fails dogs and communities.

[1] American Veterinary Medical Association: Animal Welfare Division. (2015). Dog Bite Risk and Prevention: The Role of Breed. Retrieved from:



Liz CircleElizabeth ‘Liz’ Holtz is For All Animals’ director of legislative affairs. She is an animal rights attorney and lifelong animal advocate. Liz manages For All Animals’ coalition efforts to pass state laws that protect animals—like strengthening anti-cruelty laws—and defeating laws that harm animals—like ag-gag laws. She also oversees For All Animals’ Attorney at Paw program, which provides assistance to advocates interested in passing laws and ordinances that protect animals on a local level.