TORONTO -- An Ontario woman is fighting for the right to bring her senior dog home after he got out of the yard and was brought to animal services—who won’t return him because they say he may be part pit bull.

When Jessica Brandes’ 12-year-old dog, Ringo, escaped from her yard in Vaughan, Ont., she feared that he would wander in front of a car and get hurt. She said she was incredibly grateful that a family found him and called animal services in hopes of reuniting the pet with its owner.

What she didn’t expect was to be told that Ringo may never return home.

“I was devastated,” Brandes said. “I've had my dogs before I had my kids, so that’s how I look at them. They're part of my family.”

“Having them taken away or having to jump through hoops to prove that something is yours is no different than someone taking one of my kids and having to prove that it's mine. It’s wrong.”

On the morning of Oct. 26, Ringo wandered out of the yard after a gate was improperly latched. The family searched outside but couldn’t find him.

Brandes said she was thankful to find a photograph of Ringo on the City of Vaughan’s website later that day.

When she called animal services, they told her that because the dog’s microchip indicated he was part pit bull, he would have to remain in their custody.

Brandes said she was told that Ringo had been swabbed and if it came back showing the dog had pit bull DNA, he would either be euthanized or re-homed outside of the province.

Ringo was adopted by the Brandes family 10 years ago and they say he has never had one violent incident.

“You could break into my home and I doubt he would even bark or notice,” she said, adding that Ringo is a sweet, good-natured family dog that is laid back and loves attention.

“I always called him the grandpa dog, because he's the type that sits in the window watching the birds go by.”

Ringo and child

Brandes is now exploring other avenues of getting Ringo home, including finding the original records from a Toronto animal shelter, where she adopted the dog in the first place. She is also trying to get a veterinarian to write a letter attesting to the dog’s breeding.

“I'd never considered him a pit bull. I've always considered him a mutt because he just doesn't really resemble one.”

In 2005, Ontario prohibited the new ownership of pit bulls and mandated that any animals already in the province be spayed or neutered.

The law also required pit bulls to be muzzled and leashed in public areas.

A private’s members bill to repeal the ban was introduced in November 2019. It passed a second reading in the Legislature and has been referred to the Standing Committee on General Government.

“I may not get my dog back,” Brandes said. “Well, there are people that haven't got their dogs back simply because it's been labeled as something or misunderstood.”

“I don't agree with that. I think it's wrong.”

The City of Vaughan has said that it cannot provide information about Brandes’s case.

“Vaughan Animal Services cannot release any details about animals in its care to anyone but the pet owner, including whether or not a specific animal is in the possession of Vaughan Animal Services,” they said in a statement.

Brandes said that any dog, no matter the breed, can be violent if the owner is not responsible. To simply euthanize or remove a dog from its home because of its breed “is not right or fair,” she said.

“The amount of outpouring support I've had is from people that have gone through this before, and their stories are a lot more tragic than mine,” she said.

“I hope mine doesn't have that ending.”