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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?

Bruce: Yes.

Me: Does Calgary have a Pit Bull problem now?

Bruce: No.

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.

Me: Like?

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.

6 Comments to “Bill Bruce talks Pit Bulls”

  1. Luan says:

    Bill Bruce's description of Pit Bulls could also be an apt description of Border Collies (and other herding breeds), Terriers, Sighthounds, any breed that was created primarily to do a job. Those instincts must be appropriately directed and controlled through a commitment to training and positive reinforcement, and pet owners must educate themselves on the traits of any breed, not just the size, appearance and amount it sheds. It is about time that Ontario took the responsible educated route and not the path of cheap sensationalism and fear based on appearance.

    If Bill Bruce moved to Ontario and ran in a Provincial Election, I'd vote for his party. Heck, given the skills he's demonstrated both politically and strategically, he should be Prime Minister!

    Luan Egan
    Southern Ontario Border Collie Rescue

  2. Julie says:

    His work is a legacy and we could use his expertise here so desperately. We can all only hope that he comes back here to whip the entire GTA into the model that Calgary has become.
    And thanks for attending and providing this information to everyone - much appreciated.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Bill didn't mention that dog bites doubled in Calgary last year, with his dearly imported pitties being the leading biter.

  4. Fred says:

    1. Prove it with real numbers showing how imported Pit Bulls have caused bites to double in Calgary.
    2. If what you claim is true, then that means there were twice as many irresponsible dog owners in Calgary last year. Every dog and dog owner should be judged by deed, not breed. Every year tens of thousands of people in North America die because of car accidents. Does that mean every car driver is irresponsible and cars should be prohibited?

  5. Selma says:

    I just checked their stats and it doesn't show that bites doubled in 2010, unless I'm missing something. There appears to have been a very slight increase in all dog-related incidents but the population increased as well.

    So, what Fred said.

  6. vintage is a pitbull hater who has several websites spreading one-sided stories and made up "theories" about pitbulls. THere's no way he/she can prove anything he/she says because those numbers don't exist.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.