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Dog not guilty in Ontario BSL case

SARNIA, ONTARIO: A dog with ‘some’ pit bull similarities has escaped death in what is believed to be the first successful legal test of Ontario's new breed specific legislation which bans ‘pit bull type’ dogs and several bull breeds.

A veterinarian's letter given in evidence to a Sarnia court had stated that ‘Tidus’ — a muscular dog with short reddish hair and a pointed tail — had ‘some’ pit bull similarities.

But justice of the peace Helen Gale ruled that this insufficient reason to hold dog owner Jody Kirby accountable to strict BSL laws brought in by Attorney General Michael Bryant on behalf of the Liberal Administration last August.

Kirby was cleared of charges of failing to muzzle, leash, sterilize and provide ownership of her dog as required by the Dog Owner’s Liability Act.

Her lawyer, David Stoesser, said that it was the right verdict for an inadequate law. He added that the law, which considers pit bulls to be any dog with a physical appearance that is ‘substantially similar’ to four distinct pit bull breeds, should be clarified.

‘In light of these proceedings, I would hope some significant amendments to the legislation are considered,’ remarked Stoesser, who believes the trial was Ontario's first since the ban. ‘It puts a very difficult burden on our animal control officers, on the courts and indeed, on dog owners.’

A spokesman for the Attorney General Michael Bryant’s ministry that that officials will review the ruling.

‘It's our position that the law is sound, constitutional legislation that improves public safety for Ontarians,’ said spokesman Brendan Crawley.

Crawley said government officials don't know if the case is the first to go to court under the law because they don't track that information, since it's up to municipalities to lay any charges.

The Dog Owner's Liability Act says that the definition of a ‘pit bull’ includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or a dog with a physical appearance that is ‘substantially similar’ to any of these breeds.

Violations of the pit bull restraints law require the pit bull to be put down.
Kirby, 35, told the court that she was given the dog and wasn't sure of its breeding background.
She described Tidus, estimated to be 4 years old, as loving and non-aggressive. ‘I wouldn't have him out in public if he was a safety hazard, not even slightly,’ said Kirby, who was convicted two weeks ago on separate municipal bylaw offences for not having her dog leashed or licensed.

In her ruling, Judge Gale said the veterinarian's letter did not convince her that the dog could be defined as a pit bull. ‘That letter falls short,’ said Gale. ‘That does not actually call it a pit bull and I think that's what the legislation entertains.’

The Crown said it might appeal against the ruling.