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Sarnia ‘pit bulls’ saved

ONTARIO, CANADA: A CANADIAN lawyer convinced Sarnia city officials to move four dogs, suspected of being ‘pit bulls’, to new owners living in Quebec, rather than destroy them as had first been mooted.

Chris Avery said he felt compelled to come to the dogs' defence after seeing a news report detailing how the city's animal control officers seized the animals. Avery said the city was trying to ‘backdoor’ its way into euthanizing the dogs. He tracked down the dogs’ owners and offered his services.

‘As a dog lover I was horrified by it,’ said Avery.

As previously reported in OUR DOGS, the dogs, belonging to Brian Edwards and his girlfriend, Cassie Bates, were seized June 6. The mother, Rowen, and her two-month-old pups had been scheduled to be destroyed just days later.

However, the city agreed to another extension to allow for the dogs to be moved to Quebec. ‘The city took the back door on this’ by not charging the owners, said Avery. ‘Had they been charged, Sarnia would have to prove the dogs are pit bulls. But by seizing the dogs the burden of proof falls to the owners. This way there is no trial, there's no hearing, there's no evidence. That's what's got me banging my head against the wall.’

Ontario's Dog Owners Liability Act states that any seized dog believed to be an unregistered pit bull can be destroyed or moved out of province. Avery said that he had found willing owners in Quebec.

The lawyer also warned that other dog owners could face the same problem as the Edwards family. ‘A poorly bred Labrador can pass as a pit bull,’ he said. ‘The law is too vague.’

The legislation has been challenged by the anti-BSL organisation, the Dog Legislation Council of Canada. A superior court judge deemed portions of the law unconstitutional in late March and said the definition of a pit bull is too vague.

Locally, the Edwards family has collected 1,000 signatures on a petition following a pair of weekend rallies held outside city hall and the humane society.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said the issue was not one that should be directed to council. ‘It's a bad law,’ he said, but added the city is only trying to comply with the province's legislation. Lobby efforts should focus at the provincial level. They're barking up the wrong tree by aiming their lobby at the city.’

A dog rescue team from Windsor-based Advocates for the Underdog left with Rowen and her three puppies one morning in late June, according city solicitor Brian Knott. The team assessed the dogs’ temperaments and said they were suitable for adoption in a jurisdiction where there is no pit bull ban similar to Ontario’s Dog Liabilities Act, Knott said. The Edwards family said a tearful goodbye to their pets at the Sarnia Humane Society.

‘We all broke down,’ said Brian Edwards Sr. who organized a demonstration outside city hall to save the dogs. The mother, Rowen, and her three pups have never so much as growled or shown other signs of aggression, Edwards Sr. said. He considered his campaign a success, noting the city has euthanized other dogs in similar circumstances.

‘Most people only have four days after the dogs are seized but my protest worked,’ he said. He intends to formally speak to city council and make his opinions about the Act known at Queen’s Park. ‘There are so many options other than putting down these dogs,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to look at adopting them out-of-province and we have to look at the legislation that allows dog catchers to go into someone’s home without a warrant.

‘They have more power than the police. I won’t stop working at this because this is a terrible law.’
Tami Holmes, general manager at the Humane Society, said shelter employees were also in tears as they prepared for the dogs’ departure.

‘Several staff would take Rowen home if we could. She’s such a nice dog,’ Holmes said, stressing that the Humane Society was providing shelter only and had nothing to do with the dogs’ seizure. Whoever gets them will be a lucky family. They are fantastic dogs,’ she said.