Banning Pitbulls: The Problem with Breed-Specific Legislation

By Andrea Fogelsinger

Over the last month or so, the City of Montreal has come under scrutiny due to its recently passed by-law that bans a person from owning a pit bull within the city limits.[1] Legislation of this type is often referred to as breed-specific legislation (BSL).[2]

The breed ban was passed on September 27th, 2016.[3] As a result, any dog that fits the by-law’s definition of a “pit-bull type dog” will no longer be allowed in the city of Montreal.[4] However, current pit bull owners in Montreal can keep their pets, under the new by-law, if they meet several specific requirements.[5] The ban was passed in response to an incident where a 55 year old woman was killed after she was mauled by a dog.[6] The mayor of Montreal stated that the primary motivation for the new ban was the safety of Montreal citizens.[7] Clearly, safety is a very important concern for everyone on some level. But when do measures intended to protect safety go too far?

The new by law defines a “pit bull-type dog” as a dog belonging to the following species: American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, or Staffordshire bull terrier breeds; a dog that is a mixed or cross breed of the previously listed breeds; or any dog that shares similar physical characteristics of the types of dogs mentioned above.[8] However, a person can be permitted to own a pit-bull type dog if the guardian of the animal holds a special license for pit bull-type dogs.[9] For a pit bull owner to obtain one of these licenses they must: file an application, show proof of the dog’s vaccination against rabies, and follow-up vet visits, proof that the dog is microchipped, proof that the dog was sterilized, and the owner must pass a background check for criminal activity.[10] Additionally, the new by law places restrictions on pit bull owners when they have their dog outside. The restrictions include that when the owner of a pit bull has his or her dog outside the dog must be muzzled at all time, and be kept on a shorter leash.[11]

This new by-law would inevitably lead to the deaths of pit bulls currently within the boundary of the city.[12] Pit bulls that are currently in shelters will no longer be able to be adopted out to qualified families, unless those families want to go through the stringent application process for the special permit. As a result, these dogs will either have to be transferred to shelters outside the city, which can be very expensive,[13] or be euthanized if the shelters cannot find other alternatives for the pit bulls currently in their care.

Montreal SPCA launched a court case trying to have the ban repealed, and a Montreal judge has suspended the ban until a hearing can be conducted.[14] The judge who issues the suspension of the ban indicated that it seemed as if the by-law was “written in haste.”[15] The judge particularly noted that the definition of the term “pit bull-type dog” was imprecise and vague in need of further clarification.[16] The definition allows any dog that simply looks like a pit bull to be subject to the new bylaw. This sweeping definition would result in bringing any dog that has a large head and muscular body under the requirements of the new by law, regardless of the dog’s actual breed or disposition.[17] The definition of a pit bull-type dog is where the by law comes under the most scrutiny, particularly the part where it includes any dog that “looks” like a pit bull is considered to be a pit bull type dog. Many experts have noted that “visual identification of dog breeds is notoriously difficult.[18] If you want to test your own ability when it comes to identifying pit bulls, follow this link. ( The definition provided in the statute becomes even more ridiculous when one considers that the dog involved in the situation that sparked the desire for the ban was not even a pit bull, but a bull dog.[19]

The judge also posed the question of whether the City of Montreal has the right to mandate such a ban, which would result in the seizure and euthanization of pit bull-type dogs that may not actually be dangerous.[20] The definition provided in the by law completely ignores an assessment of whether the dog’s disposition is dangerous or if the dog has aggressive tendencies.

A final decision on the legality of the ban could be months away as both sides prepare arguments, and court dates are scheduled. [21]This decision that is reached on this ban could widely influence further cities and counties that want or have breed specific legislation.

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[1] Anita Kapuscinska, Montreal SPCA Launches Lawsuit Against the City of Montreal in Relation to New Breed-Specific By-law, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Sept. 28, 2016),

[2] See id.

[3] Id.

[4] Rene Bruemmer, Montreal to ban New Pit Bulls, Require Microchips and Sterilization, Montreal Gazette (Aug. 18, 2016, 1:10PM),

[5] City of Montreal: By-Law Concerning Animal Control, 16-060, at 7-8 [hereinafter “Pit Bull Ban”].

[6] Christine Hauser, Montreal’s Pit Bull Ban is Suspended Until Wednesday, The New York Times (Oct. 3, 2016),


[7] Id.

[8] Pit Bull Ban, supra note 5, at 2-3.

[9] Id. at 7.

[10] Id. at 7-8.

[11] Id. at 8.

[12] Montreal SPCA to Take Legal Action Against New ByLaw Targeting Pit Bulls, CBC News (Sept. 28, 2016),

[13] Mary Jo Dilonardo, Montreal Suspends Pit Bull Ban, Mother Nature Network (Oct. 6, 2016, 9:00AM),

[14] Kapuscinska, supra note 1.

[15] Jaela Bernstien, Judge Extends Suspension of Montreal Pit Bull Ban, CBC News (Oct. 5, 2016, 5:00AM),

[16] Id.

[17] Kapuscinska, supra note 1.

[18] Hilary Hanson, Montreal’s Pit Bull Ban is on Hold Because it Makes No Sense, The Huffington Post (Oct. 6, 2016, 2:05PM),


[19] Hause, supra note 6.

[20] Bernstien, supra note 15.

[21] Id.