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The word pitbull is sprinkled throughout Lise Vadnais’s new book. It’s even in the title. And that in itself is an act of courage.
Pitbull is a term many only dare utter with extreme caution. Mere mention is likely to cause the ears of a powerful and determined lobby to perk up. If associated with anything negative, it is certain to raise hackles or elicit a snarling backlash. And all too often, it forces critics to beat a hasty retreat. For those who defend pitbulls can be as ferocious as their beloved breed is reputed to be.
But Vadnais has already experienced the worst pitbulls and their proponents are capable of. So she isn’t backing down now.
On June 8, 2016, her sister, Christiane Vadnais, was attacked and killed in her own backyard in Pointe-aux-Trembles by a dog later found to be majority American Staffordshire Terrier, a type of pitbull. This tragedy shocked Montrealers and unleashed a furious political debate.
Attention Chien Dangereux: L’histoire tragique de Christiane Vadnais, tuée par un pitbull is a sibling’s tell-all account of her younger sister’s life and violent death. It is set to be released March 27. But it is also the tale of how Lise Vadnais and her family were bullied and threatened for trying to ensure their loved one didn’t die in vain.
It’s the story of how efforts to protect the public from dangerous dog attacks were influenced by intimidation and disinformation. Published by Les Éditions JCL, the book is an indictment of politicians, organizations and authorities who have been scared into submission.
“We live in a world where the pitbull is master, where it matters more than human life, where it matters more than children’s lives and public safety,” said the soft-spoken Vadnais in a recent interview. “People should be revolted by that.”
Vadnais knows that by writing this book she will likely draw a fresh torrent of hatred. Sadly, she’s inured to it. Cruel online abuse started only days after her sister died, as soon as she started giving media interviews. The book contains more than two full pages of insults, riddled with slurs like “slut” and wishing her harm. But those vile examples are just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s the pitbull first and foremost. It’s like brainwashing,” she said. “If you dare to say anything that suggests the pitbull has a negative temperament, it’s like an insult, a total denial.”
From the outset, Vadnais makes clear that she has nothing against dogs. In fact, she has one of her own. But for suggesting that Montreal and Quebec follow the lead of hundreds of cities and dozens of provinces, states and countries by phasing out pitbulls through moratoriums on breeding and mandatory sterilization, she has been accused of seeking vengeance.
Vadnais contends that her only motivation is public safety and that she is basing her proposals on data, not emotion.
The book is also a compendium of Vadnais’s own research, undertaken once it became clear she couldn’t trust others to provide unbiased information. Quebec’s order of veterinarians presented a brief at parliamentary hearings relying on research funded by the pitbull lobby and minimizing the findings of other studies. The coroner who investigated her sister’s death got bogged down in the existential question of what constitutes a pitbull. The autopsy report ultimately declined to determine the breed of Lucifer, who was registered as a boxer even though his owner considered him a pitbull, and DNA tests that later showed him to be 87-per-cent American Staffordshire Terrier.
Vadnais’s book points to much research that shows pitbull-type dogs figure in a disproportionate number of attacks and account for many of the most severe injuries. She also points to data that show bites and injuries dramatically declined in places like Ontario, after breed-specific bans.
The main arguments of those who oppose phasing out pitbulls are that there are no such things as bad dogs, only bad owners, and that a dog’s dangerousness has nothing to do with its breed — an assertion sometimes likened to racism.
Vadnais remains troubled that most politicians backed off when confronted by outraged pitbull proponents. Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume reversed course on a promised ban within days. Denis Coderre, then Montreal’s mayor, perservered. But when he was defeated by Valérie Plante, one of her first acts as mayor was to scrap the pitbull moratorium. The Quebec Liberals also neutered their legislation, adopted last summer.
What haunts Vadnais now is that Montreal’s supposedly new-and-improved dangerous dog bylaw appears toothless.
When an American pitbull attacked six people, including four children, in two incidents in the same home on the same day last August, it was an important first test of Montreal’s policy. But so far neither human, nor canine, has been held accountable.
Last week prosecutors announced no charges will be laid against the grandmother caring for the animal. And just Thursday, Vadnais attended a court hearing where a prominent Montreal lawyer is seeking to spare the life of the aggressive pitbull from the city’s euthanasia order.
“Very little has changed. We are not really any safer today than the day Christiane was killed,” Vadnais lamented.
And so she will keep fighting.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019