A dog whose breed is banned within city limits must be moved out of Winnipeg or disposed of following complaints of aggressive behaviour, despite his owner’s insistence that he is a highly effective service animal.
Council’s protection and community services committee rejected an appeal by the owner on Wednesday by upholding the order against the dog, which the city identifies as an American pit bull terrier.
The decision follows reports that the dog seriously attacked another canine, attempted to bite a doctor and growled at kids. However, the committee also received multiple reports that the dog was friendly, compliant and very helpful to its owner.
The dog’s owner told the committee he is a responsive service dog who helps her cope with seizures, migraines, panic attacks and other health issues.
"Every seizure, every alert, he’s with me at my side to help… He helps me with everyday tasks," said the owner, who the Free Press has chosen not to identify over health-related privacy concerns.
She alleged some of the complaints may be linked to the breed, not the dog's behaviour.
"There are a lot of people that have a prejudice against dogs and against his alleged breed," she said.
Leland Gordon, the city’s chief operating officer of animal services, stressed the city takes "no joy" in issuing such an order. He said the case was complicated by the owner’s claim of service dog status, which can trigger some legal protections while also leading the canine to be in frequent contact with the public.
"Real service dogs, in my opinion… should have no aggression issues toward other dogs. They should have no aggression issues toward people. They should be properly trained," said Gordon.
He noted the dog wouldn’t have come to the city's attention had allegations of aggressive behaviour not been made.
"If the dog was a friendly, prohibited dog and a legitimately trained service animal, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation," said Gordon.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, the city’s protection and community services chairwoman, said her vote to uphold the order was partly based on the fact the owner stopped short of guaranteeing the dog would exclusively stay home.
"For me, I couldn’t mitigate the risk of aggression," said Rollins.
She said the hearing highlights the need for clearer rules on what constitutes a service animal. After those are set, she said the city should also ensure its animal services bylaw accounts for those standards.
Meanwhile, some Winnipeggers fear the city’s breed-specific ban — which applies to American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers — could lead some Winnipeggers to accuse such animals of aggression more often.
Jane Olijnek, founder of End BSL (breed-specific legislation) Manitoba, said the city should have no bias toward a specific breed but instead focus on training, education and enforcement to ensure responsible animal ownership.
"People don’t understand that aggression is not a breed trait. It is a learned behaviour," she said.
While she refrained from commenting on the specific details of Wednesday’s hearing, Olijnek said she’s heard many complaints that dogs on the banned breed list can become targets for complaints due to preconceptions about their behaviour.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.