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SFU math prof questions city's use of stats
When Burnaby resident Mary-Catherine Kropinski adopted Jesse, their friendly black dog, from a local city shelter, staff there told her it was a border collie-retriever cross.
Then as a Christmas gift, her husband gave her a dog DNA analysis kit.
"He ended up being a white shepherd-terrier mix, so it really kind of brings into question any legislation that's based on identifying breeds by sight," she said.
Kropinski wrote to Burnaby council last week raising concerns about proposed changes to the city's animal control bylaw that would increase penalties and restrictions on pitbulls under its existing breed-specific vicious dog provisions.
She is not a pitbull owner, but she is an associate professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University.
After hearing about the proposed bylaw amendments from the owner of Jesse's doggie daycare, she looked at the city staff report recommending the changes and was concerned.
Kropinski stressed that she is not a statistician. However, "anytime I see numbers and I see conclusions the natural question to ask is do these numbers actually support the conclusions that are being drawn? In this case, basically all I did was answer that question and to me, the answer is no."
For instance, while she doesn't believe city staff have proven their assertion that dog bites are increasing in Burnaby, if they are on the rise, the data doesn't rule out that it could simply be due to a growing dog population in the city, she said.
And while pitbulls are a category that includes several breeds, they are directly compared to a single breed, German shepherds, when it comes to the number of bites they've inflicted.
"That's not really a fair comparison, it kind of exaggerates the number of pitbull bites."
The city also doesn't seem to have a good handle on how many pitbulls are in the city, she said. The report states only two per cent of licenced dogs in Burnaby are pitbulls, arguing that they cause more than their share of bite incidents.
"Anybody who fills out a dog licence is asked to identify the breed themselves," Kropinski noted.
"I'm not convinced there's a pitbull problem at all, I'm not even convinced that there's really a dog bite problem … Overreacting to this issue doesn't seem to be warranted."
She also questioned the report's use of statistics from the U.S.-based dog-bite victims group, dogbites.org, on pitbulls being responsible for a high number of fatal American dog attacks. She said the website does not have a scientific advisory board and simply draws its figures from unfiltered media reports about pitbull attacks.
"When I'm looking at numbers presented in a study, I expect to see some sort of scientific weight behind them and in this case there isn't that."
Kropinski said she has great sympathy for good, responsible owners of pitbulls, or even dogs who happen to look like pitbulls, "because they're faced with a great deal of prejudice."
Her views were echoed by delegations at Monday's city council meeting, who all spoke against the bylaw amendments and the existing breed-specific legislation.
Burnaby dog trainer Jorge Santa Barbara said he rehabilitates aggressive dogs, an indication that it's not the breed itself that is at fault.
Forcing sociable pitbulls to be muzzled and leashed while in public will only cause them to be less social and more reactive, Santa Barbara said.
"Our bylaw is creating dangerous dogs."
Rebeka Breder, a lawyer who specializes in animal law, said focusing on the breed does not ensure public safety.
"The current amendment does nothing to address the negligence and the carelessness of some dog owners. It only punishes the good dog owners who happen to have a dog that looks somewhat like a pitbull."
April Fahr, executive director of HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society, noted that in the last 10 years, several Lower Mainland municipalities have moved away from breed-specific legislation, while none have gone forward with it.
Burnaby is only one of three municipalities in the region, along with Richmond and West Vancouver, to have such a bylaw.