by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
How Our Elite Masters Shaft Reason, Logic, Facts and Animals
Among my list of appalling politicians is one who, if you don’t live in Ontario, you have probably never heard of: Michael Bryant. A Harvard Law School graduate, he perches upon a comfortably high rung of the social ladder, and was the youngest person ever to be appointed attorney general of the province of Ontario, in which post he advocated for a complete ban on handguns and for the destruction of any cars involved in street racing.
(photograph by Daniel Fox)
He won neither campaign but in 2005 he did win on a third effort: the banning of so-called pit bulls in the province. He did this in spite of overwhelming evidence that pit bulls were no more dangerous than other breeds and less so than some. Expert evidence and testimony was simply ignored. See my blog “Why I Am in Contempt of Court.”
The ban included pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers, and “a dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar to those of dogs referred to in any of the above categories.” Huh? One doesn’t have to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard to see how many harmless, happy dogs could fit that description.
The law allows you to own a pit bull, but it must be neutered and, away from the confinement of the owner’s property, leashed and muzzled. Too many innocent animals have been killed as a result of this legislation, and woe betide any unsuspecting tourist from out of province who takes the family pet into Ontario, if said family pet “has an appearance and physical characteristics,” all quite undefined, shared by one of the breeds named in the provincial Dog Owner’s Liability Act.
Ironically, since leaving government in2009 Bryant killed more people, one, than any pit bull in Ontario. That was on the night of Aug. 31, 2009, when a drunk and belligerent cyclist made the mistake of arguing with Bryant as the latter drove his Saab convertible home from a wedding anniversary. The cyclist grabbed the car as Bryant veered into the opposite lanes, causing the cyclist to smash into a fire hydrant, with fatal results. Some witnesses thought it looked like Bryant was trying to knock the cyclist against trees and mail boxes, others thought the cyclist had taken hold of the steering wheel. The cops initially charged Bryant, but of course the whole thing got thrown out of court, sorry for the inconvenience, sir.
And why do I mention all this now? The whole ugly mess came to mind when I read a brief but brilliant blog by Yonah Ward Grossman. Grossman uses antique photographs to show that “pit bulls” were once America’s “nanny dog,” the dog of choice for babysitting, and the second most tolerant breed of dog, after the ever-patient golden retriever.
And Grossman’s blog also reinforced for me the dilemma I face each day: People need villains, and again and again and again, animals fit that need, with logic, facts and reason having nothing to do with it. Just this morning, as I was reading Grossman’s blog, I heard on the radio an interview with a farmer from western Canada who was complaining that the current level of flooding in Manitoba, called the “once in three hundred years” flood, came on the heels of having to deal with beavers. Beavers! All across the eastern part of the continent, including most of the Mississippi drainage, we are currently seeing massive, in some cases unprecedented, flooding with subsequent loss of human life and property — and we still worry about beavers?
Coyotes, geese, wolves, pit bulls, deer, elk, cormorants ... oh, the list of evil animals goes on and on. Again and again we find that the arguments against them are exaggerated, mythical and illogical. But people seem to need enemies, and animals can’t speak for themselves. We can, my colleagues and I — sometimes successfully, sometimes not — but we will continue to do our best. Thank you, Mr. Grossman, for thoughtful reasoning.