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The trouble with pit bulls

No sooner had Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant unveiled his decision to ban pit bulls province-wide than the caterwauling began. It's inhumane. It's unfair. There are too many varieties of pit bull to distinguish banned dogs from others. It's not the dogs that are at fault, it's their owners.

Each of these criticisms ignores the central truth in this debate, which is this: Pit bull terriers and their variants have been bred for nearly a century for one purpose and one only -- to fight. Originally, the dogs were trained and culled to battle each other, in gambling contests. More recently, they've become the pet of choice for drug dealers, outlaw bikers, thugs, hoods and bullies.

Even pit bulls raised from puppyhood to be gentle family pets have been known to turn savagely on their masters for no apparent reason. They are particularly unpredictable around small children. And they have a killer instinct that, once ignited, makes them all but impossible to stop. Often the only way to do so is to shoot them -- not once, but repeatedly. No other breed comes close to matching the pit bull's ferocity when aroused.

So why would any civilized community want to keep these animals around? In particular, why would anyone object to their being muzzled and leashed in public? (While the bill would prohibit the breeding or sale of pit bulls, existing pit bulls would be allowed to live out their lives.)

Mr. Bryant did not conjure this ban, or the accompanying toughening of the Dog Owners' Liability Act, from thin air. It has been a couple of months in the making (and is to become law later this year). It began with the savage mauling in August of a Toronto man who had been walking his friend's two pit bulls. Neighbours rushed to the scene. The dogs were beaten with sticks, smothered with a mattress and eventually shot by police -- 16 times -- before they succumbed. Last month, another Toronto-area man was attacked and seriously injured as he mowed a lawn.

Mr. Bryant asked for public input, and he got it. Thousands of Ontarians e-mailed him. Others made their views known in consultations. The vast majority, Mr. Bryant said last week, were in favour of a ban. The reason? No doubt they were tired of seeing dangerous animals on the streets of their cities.

Yes, implementing the ban will be difficult. Public safety is worth the effort. It's a move long overdue.

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