Vaughan, Ont. woman wants justice for dog held by animal services for more than 100 days

A family in Vaughan, Ont. says they are heartbroken after their four-year-old dog was taken from them more than three months ago because he might be part pit bull.

In 2016, Natalia Ramirez says her family was struggling, largely due to her parents going through a difficult divorce.

They purchased a dog named Gamboa, a labrador retriever American bulldog mix, in hopes of bringing some joy to the family and to offer emotional support to Ramirez’s mother.

“Gamboa, to our family, is more than just a pet. He is our family member,” Ramirez told CTV News Toronto. “He is the glue that holds my brother, mother and I together.”

In July of this year that glue was ripped apart when Gamboa got out of the house without his collar.

Vaughan Animal Services picked up the dog and he has been in its custody ever since.

“Not having him now has been one of the most heartbreaking things in my life,” Ramirez said.

“His absence has affected my work and concentration with school, I am unable to perform due to emotional distress. I’ve cried myself to sleep many nights over this situation,” she said.

According to Ramirez, Gamboa is being held unlawfully due to his alleged pit bull pedigree, despite her best efforts to prove otherwise.


Ramirez said her family went as far as recruiting their own veterinarians and even a Canadian Kennel Club member to assess Gamboa and prove that he is not in fact a pit bull.

The family said they offered documented proof of the dog’s breed, including veterinary letters and adoption papers, but the paperwork wasn’t accepted.

“We have been trying to release Gamboa since day one and the city has been prolonging the situation with doing investigations and ‘poking holes in assessments’ done by experts.”

At issue is Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act, a type of breed-specific legislation that prohibits pit bulls in the province.

Amended in 2005, the act banned the new ownership of pit bulls and mandated that any animals already in the province be spayed or neutered. 

According to Vaughan Animal Services, if an animal in its custody is a pit bull, as defined by the provincial legislation, “VAS actively works to arrange an adoption for the animal with an owner who resides in a province where pit bulls have not been banned.”

“If the breed is not a pit bull, VAS will reunite the dog with their owners or arrange adoption with new owners into a safe, loving home.”

Ramirez said seeing CTV News Toronto’s story about Ringo, a dog in a similar situation who was released last week, makes her feel “devastated” that Gamboa is still in the shelter.

READ MORE: Ontario woman reunited with senior dog held by animal services

“Ringo was deemed ‘not pitbull enough,’ which is extremely ridiculous,” she said.

Jessica Brandes and Ringo

In the meantime, Ramirez said her family and members of the animal advocacy group Reform Advocates for Animal Welfare (RAAW) will rally in front of Vaughan Animal Services on Tuesday to demand Gamboa’s release.

A petition to free Gamboa and another dog named Kilo, which RAAW alleges is still being held despite Vaughan Animal Services saying otherwise, has been established and currently has 3,500 signatures.

MPP Rick Nicholls tabled Bill 147 in November 2019 to “eliminate breed specific legislation which discriminates against a specific breed and their families.” The bill is currently in front of the Standing Committee on General Government.

With files from CTV News Toronto Katherine DeClerq.

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