Montreal’s SPCA fears it will have little choice but to euthanize pit bulls in its care after new rules limiting adoption or sale of the dogs come into effect next month.

The new bylaw starts on Sept. 26 and forbids Montrealers from buying or adopting pit bulls. Anyone currently owning a pit bill must apply for an owner’s permit, muzzle their dogs during walks, sterilize them and microchip them by 2020.

The rules were made after a Montreal woman was attacked and killed by an off-leash dog in her backyard in June. Police identified the animal as a pit bull. Documents obtained by Humane Society International Canada under an Access to Information request revealed that the animal was registered as a boxer and named “Lucifer.”

The SPCA's Director of Animal Advocacy, Alanna Devine, says the new bylaw fails to address the root problem of dog attacks: bad owners.

“To think that if someone wants a dog for the wrong reason … they are just going to simply go out and get another large Rottweiler mix or Great Dane mix or be irresponsible and inhumane or abusively train that dog," said Devine.

The challenge with the ban, Devine says, is in how officials label the dogs. The Montreal bylaw defines a pit bull as:

  • an American Pit Bull Terrier;
  • an American Staffordshire Terrier;
  • a Bull Terrier;
  • a Staffordshire Terrier;
  • any crossbreed with one of the above animals as a parent; or
  • any dog that shares physical characteristics with a pit bull, such as large jaws or a stocky build

The rules could also be applied to any dog deemed dangerous. Those decisions would be made on an individual basis, officials said.

Devine says that identifying a pit bull or pit bull cross is challenging, even for those working at the SPCA.

"We have no idea what breed these dogs are, and the way that the bylaw is drafted, it's technically any large dog with short fur could fall under this legislation,” she said.

She added that safeguards are already in place to prevent unsafe dogs from being adopted.

“We behaviourally test every animal that comes through the shelter so dangerous dogs, dogs that are not safe, are euthanized. But it is against our mission to be euthanizing healthy, behaviourally sound animals simply because the way that they look,” Devine said.

But if pit bulls can’t be adopted by new owners, the animal agency may have little choice but to put the animals down. In that case, Devine says, the city has left some critical questions unanswered.

“Who is going to be euthanizing these animals? Who is going to be covering the cost of the consequences we have to deal with when animals have to be put down when we can’t place them in adoption?”

Mayor Denis Coderre has called the legislation balanced and said it targets those breeds considered dangerous.

At least 10,000 people have already signed a petition put forward by the SPCA calling for the city to reverse the decision.

A similar pit bull ban already exists in Ontario, where a few humane societies have found ways around euthanizing the dogs. In 2015, a Saskatoon SPCA adopted at least four pit bulls and transferred them to new owners across provincial lines.

With a report from CTV Montreal