The CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies visited Humber College on Wednesday to talk to students about animal cruelty, breed-specific legislation and other animal issues.
Barbara Cartwright, a Humber College alumna, joined the CFHS in 2011 after many years of international wildlife work at places like the International Fund of Animal Welfare and the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.
“We’re focused on legislation, farm and companion animals. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look at the bigger frameworks of how we in Canada treat all animals,” said Cartwright of the Ottawa-based advocacy group that represents about half the humane societies and societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals in the country.
A leading challenge for CFHS is to get the federal government to update the Criminal Code of Canada to help fight animal cruelty, an area of abuse largely ungoverned by highly antiquated laws at all levels of government.
Speaking to packed gathering of journalism students at the Humber North campus, Cartwright said the legislation has done itself a disservice over the decades in referring to animals as “property.”
While Cartwright touched on several topics related to animal activism issues ranging from animal mistreatment – even citing the taboo topic of bestiality as a significant cruelty issue – a significant part of the discussion centred on breed specific legislation (BSL), particularly Ontario’s ban since 2005 on pit bulls.
BSL again became a hot topic in Canada when a woman in Montreal was mauled and killed after a brutal dog attack in June. Since then, Montreal became part of the more than 40 municipalities in Canada to impose a pit bull ban.
“We have 36 Canadian municipalities that have been studied, and there’s no difference in dog bites between those with breed specific legislation, and those without breed specific legislation,” Cartwright said.
One of the biggest problems with breed specific legislation and how it relates to pit bulls, she added, is how difficult it is for a dog owner to prove their dog’s breed.
“In Ontario, if anyone calls your dog a pit bull and you can’t prove otherwise, your dog is a pit bull,” she said.
“Pit bulls aren’t a breed, if you don’t know that. They’re category breeds. It’s your American pit bull terriers, your bull terriers. Anyone who even looks like that.”
In criminalizing a dog breed, Cartwright believes, it becomes more valuable in criminal activity.
“As we criminalize pit bulls, we actually drive them underground into criminal rings,” she said. “Because now they’re the dog to have because they’re illegal. Now you drive the breeding underground, and you start breeding for those traits that are good at fighting. You destroy the entire breed of animal just by making it illegal,” she said.