Column: Recent attacks should be a warning to dog owners

As much as there are excellent owners who do all the right training, when instinct kicks in, outcomes can be devastating.

On June 8, Montreal resident Christiane Vadnais was fatally attacked by a neighbour’s pit bull.

The horrific attack triggered Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre to promise a new by-law to ban the acquisition of pit bulls, mandate sterilization of existing ones, and that all pit bulls in public must be muzzled. Quebec City is introducing a similar ban to go into effect next year and which include the pit bull and bull terrier breeds. The ban may go province-wide. Premier Philippe Couillard is considering whether Quebec should follow Ontario’s lead when they banned the pit bull breed in the province in 2005.

On Monday, a woman in Surrey was seriously injured by an uncontrolled pit bull whose bite broke bone. She was outside a convenience store when the attack happened. The dog’s owner led the animal away, leaving her lying on the ground.

How cold and irresponsible is that?

The same day as the Surrey incident, the Mayor of Peachland was walking her husky when it was attacked by a pit bull and had its face ripped.  Last week a Maple Ridge man was attacked by a pit bull. On the same day as the Montreal attack, a woman visiting a friend in Richmond was injured in an unprovoked attack by the pit bull in the house.

All dogs can bite but according to the website, the pit bull breed accounts for the greatest proportion of unprovoked dog attacks across Canada and the U.S.  A compilation of press accounts by Merritt Clifton, online editor,, documented 165 breeds or cross breeds whose bites or attacks delivered bodily harm, injury or death to children or adults between September 1982 and June 2016.

The vast majority of those attacks by breed were in the single or double digit numbers. However, the pit bull numbers were 4,360 for attacks doing bodily harm, 1,678 attacks on children, 1,815 adult victims, and 340 attacks resulting in death over the past 34 years. In the report, the Rottweiler was the second breed most documented with 555 attacks doing bodily harm, 314 attacks on children, 154 adult victims and 88 deaths.

In the U.S., pit bull attacks rose 773 per cent from 2007 to 2014 and the number of fatal or disfiguring attacks rose from 78 to 603 in the same period.

As much as there are excellent owners who do all the right training and controls for their animals and there are thousands of extremely well behaved pit bull family pets, when a dog’s behaviour goes sideways and the fight/attack instinct kicks in, outcomes can be devastating.

“What the data reveals is actuarial risk,” wrote Clifton in his report. “If almost any other dog has a bad moment someone may get bitten but will not be maimed for life or killed and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, someone is maimed or killed – and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.”

“It’s not the dog, it’s the owner” is an over simplified approach to dealing with unprovoked attacks. What subtle triggers cause attacks are never clear. But the animal’s breeding heritage has equipped it with a deadly vice-like grip and hold-and-shake behaviour. Sometimes only firearm intervention can stop it.

According to, the breed is banned or restricted in Burnaby, Richmond, West Vancouver, Pitt Meadows and White Rock as well as other cities around B.C. Surrey has a dangerous dogs by-law.

Owners must remain vigilant and keep their dogs muzzled, controlled, and on leashes at all times in public places and securely contained at home.