Bill Bruce, director of the highly successful and much lauded Calgary Animal Services, was in town on Friday night, as a guest of local animal rescue, ORA, to give a presentation on what makes CAS work.
Afterwards I asked him about his experience with Pit Bulls. According to my fading memory, this is how the conversation went:
Me: When you first took over Calgary Animal Services, did Calgary have a Pit Bull problem?
Me: Does Calgary have a Pit Bull problem now?
Me: So there are fewer Pit Bulls in Calgary now than when you first started?
Bruce: No, there are more.
Me: What's your opinion of Pit Bulls? Do they have any breed traits which stand out?
Bruce: Pit Bulls are very focused dogs. If you give them a job to do, they go all the way with it. If you teach them to fetch a frisbee, they'll fetch a frisbee with everything they've got. They're very people focused. They love being around people, pleasing people.
Me: Do Pit Bulls like other dogs?
Bruce: Not always but a lot of dogs aren't dog dogs. Pitties are people dogs. And lots of other breeds are similar.
Bruce: Huskies, for example. Huskies can sometimes have a very high prey drive.
Here I'm mashing up a bunch of things Bruce touched upon throughout the formal presentation and, later, during our conversation:
Bruce: Education, education, education. That's key. We must educate the public on what is proper and acceptable levels of care for dogs and what is acceptable behaviour for dogs in the community. It doesn't matter what the breed is. Alberta has got no breed specific legislation and yet Calgary's dog bite rates are the lowest in the country. We need to dispel myths, like the locking jaws of Pit Bulls. You compare the skulls of Pit Bulls with other dogs and they're no more locking than any other dog. It's all about responsible ownership. Pit Bulls are wonderful dogs. They used to be called the nanny dog.
It's only behaviour which can and should be regulated and not breed. CAS has quite successfully implemented and continue to enforce by-laws which correct and, if necessary, penalize bad behaviour on the part of irresponsible dog owners. Our enforcement does not focus on breed.
When you create laws that discriminate against a breed of dog, you polarize the community and create enemies. Anyone who has a good Pit Bull and all the people who know that dog and know it's a good dog are now your enemies. This doesn't lead to any solutions. On the other hand, if you create laws which target bad behaviour, then you get the support of the whole community. No one wants uncontrolled, aggressive dogs out in the community.
Bill Bruce is an internationally recognized leader in civic animal welfare. With the Calgary Animal Services, he has built an organization whose accomplishments are the envy of communities everywhere. These accomplishments include:
1. Calgary has the lowest euthanasia rates in Canada (probably North America) for a major urban center.
2. Calgary Animal Services' operations is full funded through its own funding mechanisms. Ninety percent of this is supported by licensing while the remainder is made up of fines and donations.
3. State of the art veterinary facility, soon to include a rehab pool for dogs.
4. Working partnership with Calgary Humane Society and other local rescues.
5. Lowest dog bite rates in Canada (and probably North America) for any major urban center.
6. Highest return to owner rates for lost animals.
7. Wide ranging public support.
8. Supports by-laws based on dog behavior and owner responsibility not breed.
9. Does not support pet limit by-laws. As long as pets are in good care, there is no limit to number of animals allowed in the house.
10. Does not support mandatory spay/neuter laws because it discriminates against those in lower income groups but does strongly encourage spaying and neutering and provides low/no cost speuter clinics for those who can't afford market vet rates.
11. And there's much more so if you're interested, check this out or just do a Google search. There's loads of information about him out there.
So now everyone's not so secret plan is to figure out a way to get Bill Bruce back to Ontario (his roots) to help evolve some of our municipal animal services. Imagine a whole province run as well as Calgary Animal Services.