The ASPCA defines Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) as “the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.” Pit bulls are the most commonly targeted breeds. Why should we care? Because over 700 U.S. cities have enacted them, and more often than not, in fact they target not just one, but many, breeds, and this affects thousands of animals. Given the reality that 1.2 million dogs are euthanized each year, the fact that these targeted dogs have even less of a chance of finding homes due to such laws is extremely unfortunate. Moreover, more and more people are renting these days. In 2015, the New York Times recently announced that more people are renting, and home ownership is at a relative low. Furthermore, the cost of rental properties is increasing. This puts many in a position where they may even find it difficult to find a rental property given the restrictions on the breeds they can keep at their apartments. Equally unfortunate are the cases where people can’t adopt desired pets, or (worse still) are forced to give them up because of breed restrictions put in place by their landlords or rental property policies. Even those who own homes are subject pieces of legislation that target them as owners of specific breeds. One of the earliest pieces of this Breed-Specific Legislation dates from 1980, when the Florida’s City Commission demanded that all pit-bull owners complete a special registration and possess $25,000 in liability insurance. The ASPCA, while supporting “non-breed specific dangerous dog control legislation,” is a strong opponent of BSL. Their public statement includes the finding that “there is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals.” Breed-specific laws, do however, have plenty of consequences.
Here are 15 reasons why BSL, AKA banning pit bulls, is never the answer to protecting our communities, and our families.
15. They are Costly
Breed specific legislation is in fact very expensive. In 1997, in Prince George’s County in Maryland, the County’s Animal Management Division reported that none can “own, keep, or harbor,” any variety of pit bull terriers (whatever that means – but we’ll get to that). Owners are charged fines of up to $1,000 if they are found keeping a dog deemed to be a “pit bull.” Those who have owned the breed prior to 1996 are permitted to keep the dogs; however, these dogs need to be kept inside or on “unbreakable leashes.” Not only is the fine costly to those who may possibly own a “pit bull,” it’s costly to enforce. In 2003, a special task force, which aimed to study the effectiveness of this ban in Prince George’s County determined it to be incredibly expensive. The Animal Management Division itself acknowledged that human resources are stretched thin, and they have been unable to respond adequately to other violations of county codes. The Baltimore Sun also reports that the non-profit Best Friends Animal Society, which sought to examine this Prince George’s County code, found that the cost of maintaining the legislation – including litigation, DNA testing, kenneling, vet care, and euthanasia – is $1.3 million annually in the county alone.
14. There are Alternatives
There are many alternatives to breed-specific legislation that are both concrete and abstract. They are as demanding as that all adopted dogs be microchipped. Rather than promoting legislation, communities and their government enforcement agencies can spend their time more effectively by conducting educational outreach programs to help teach both children safe and unsafe ways to approach dogs, as well as teach owners on how to be aware of the risks their dogs inevitably pose in public places. The money used for special breed-specific task forces can be used to sponsor educational and cautionary media material. In the case of rental properties, both apartment complexes and individual landlords can draw up written contracts for policies such as deducting damage caused by a pet from security deposits, or simply charging a pet fee (as many already do). These same entities could conceivably even enact legal policies to require owners to have their pets undergo professional obedience training. Many individual owners already follow the ethical and practical directives to microchip their dogs , but this, too, could become standard law, in place of breed-specific mandates.
13. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is Against It
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention – the nation’s leading public health institute – conducted a study in the year 2000, which resulted in their strong opposition to such legislation. While they did conclude that bites are a breed-specific problem, other breeds actually cause fatalities at higher rates. Their public statement is that “the study does not identify certain breeds that are most likely to kill or bite, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic.” Furthermore, they identify that the practical consideration that “there is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no way to measure which breeds are more likely to bite or kill.” The CDC further clarified that only a small portion of dog bite incidents are fatal, for which reason they claim that there are better alternatives for the prevention of dog bites than breed-specific ordinances.
12. It is Not Possible to Visually Determine a Dog’s DNA
The cost of determining a dog’s DNA is tremendously expensive on any grand scale is prohibitive. DNA kits cost upwards of $60. This is a modest price to satisfy indulgent owners’ curiosities; however, it is not a practical solution for an entire community of dogs. Additionally, there are problems with regards to executing the process. Mother Nature Network’s (MNN) science editor, Russell McLendon, conducted a test with his personal mutt, Otis. After purchasing two kits and paying $80 per test, he explains how his little guy turned out to be either (yes, either!) a mix of a pug, Pekingese, beagle, and bulldog or a spaniel, sheepdog, and terrier. The breed test kits used by McLendon were BioPet and Wisdom Panel (the former has apparently stopped selling its products owing to a patent infringement suit by Mars Veterinary). Finally, the logistical considerations of invading the cheeks of an entire nation of dogs with cotton swabs seems impractical, to say the least.
11. It is a Misnomer
As in the case of Prince George’s County, as we saw before, the Animal Management Division placed a ban on “pit bulls”; however, “pit bulls” in fact represent an entire class of dogs. The American Pit Bull Terrier itself is an an American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized breed. The term in popular usage includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Bully (a recently created breed originating from the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Bulldog), and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This does not include mixes, and other breeds that are often commonly mistaken as “pit bull.” Breeds and breed mixes such as Boxers, Dogo Argentino, Cane Corso, and even Labrador Retrievers have been mistaken for “pit bulls.” While some places use DNA testing to determine whether or not a dog is a “pit bull,” many places often go by a visual assessment instead. Given the vast amount of dog breeds, and breed mixes, that could be confused as a “pit bull,” this clearly does not seem to be the most accurate way of determining whether the dog is a banned breed. Furthermore, many breed bans As an example of this “breed”-specific legislation, New Zealand has put into effect a Dog Control Act, which threatens a $3,000 fine for not muzzling and neutering Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosas, Dogo Argentinos, and Fila Brazilieros, which they class as “menacing dogs.” In accordance with this act, dogs of these breeds that attack people or domestic animals may be seized or destroyed to stop an attack. For an attack causing serious injury to a person, an owner faces a maximum three-year prison term or a $20,000 fine. Coupled with the relative uncertainties of DNA test results, regulating effective against specific breeds is simply impracticable. There is sure to be another viable solution.
10. It Does Little to Make Irresponsible Dog Owners Accountable
Irresponsible Dog Owners are going to continue to be irresponsible regardless of the breed of dog they own. For example, in Canada, Malamutes, Huskies, and other types of sled dogs are responsible for the majority of attacks on humans. In Alaska, where sled dogs are also especially common, over 70 percent of fatal attacks have been the result of a child wandering too close to a dog while unsupervised. In the case of the Alaskan and Canadian sled dogs, the dogs are trained to guard and fight, and then left unsupervised. Not only would these dogs be unaddressed by BSL (as BSL most often targets “pit bulls”), they would continue to endanger the public. It seems that to effectively prevent dog bites and attacks, the most logical route would be to hold the owners of such dogs responsible, and accountable. Unfortunately, breed-specific legislation only punishes the dogs (often fatally), and the owners are all too often unscathed.
9. It has No Support from any Canine Welfare Associations
Breed-specific legislation has a decided lack of professional support. Both dog-related and non-canine specific legal organizations have issued public statements taking a position against breed-specific legislation. These include the American Bar Association, which “urges local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership… to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.” The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) itself supports animal legislation at the levels of state, county, and municipal government, “provided that legislation does not refer to specific breeds or classes of animals.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is in support of leash laws for dogs that have caused injury, however, they oppose laws that ban specific breeds, claiming that such laws “unfairly discriminate against responsible dog guardians based solely on their choice of breed.”
8. It Punishes Responsible Dog Owners
In many cases, those who choose to adopt pit bulls are among the most responsible dog owners. Why? Because they are aware of the sad statistic that 40% of the approximately 1.2 dogs euthanized each year are pit bulls. These loving families are eager to change that statistic by overcoming the stereotypes and breed-specific regulations outlined here in order to galvanize change. The Ohio Valley Dog Owners (OVDO) organization expressly outlined the risk that “banning a breed or declaring it inherently vicious punishes those responsible dog owners who are the types of citizens that communities need to keep, not drive away.” Responsible dog owners of customarily restricted breeds, all public officials in animal control enforcement agree, don’t pose a problem. The question that naturally follows is, “why do they need to be punished?” After all, they inevitably are punished when legally bound to contain their dogs in excessive ways (e.g with muzzles), or keeping their pets in constant containment. Not only does breed-specific legislation inherently suggest that dog owners of those restricted breeds do not socialize or train their dogs to any standard, it in fact discourages this socialization in the case of restricted breeds.
7. Owners of Banned Breeds Switch to Another
Very often, the irresponsible among the owners of banned breeds, who, in fact, are the type to train their dogs to be aggressive, simply switch to another breed. Alternatively, according to a report from the Ohio Valley Dog Owners group, it was found that many of these owners actually go underground (meaning that they don’t obtain dog licenses and avoid professional veterinary care). This exacerbates the problem, as now these ill-trained dogs are untraceable and unaccounted for in the public system. Furthermore, they are so far from being properly socialized that, when are outside of containment, they are especially liable to cause harm if approached imprudently. Unfortunately, a sort of vicious cycle results in which these owners who so require reform as a result of their own behavior, just continue to eschew public animal control and veterinary services because they are unwilling to cooperate with reasonable regulations. Pit bulls owned by these folk are decidedly more at risk of biting, and these maltreated dogs are destroyed.
6. Several U.S. States Have Announced it as a Failure
For many of the reasons outlined here, the U.S. and the U.K have acknowledged Breed-Specific Legislation as a failed experiment. “Pit bull” refers to a type of dog bred for fighting, not a specific breed, and Breed-Specific Legislation by definition attempts to legislate against breeds. In 2006 in Aurora, Colorado, a city council put enacted a breed ban of (among others) American Bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Cane Corsos, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasileiros, and “and any mixed breed dog resembling one of these.” A study five years later proved the inefficacy of the ban; the total number of dog bites – including serious dog bites – did not decrease. Furthermore, there were historically more bites from non-restricted breeds each year. In Denver, Colorado, a pit bull ban has been in effect since 1989; however, they have half the dog population and twice as many dog bite incidents as Boulder, which has no such restriction. 20 years later (in 2009) city officials of Denver publicly acknowledged the inefficacy of the ban.
5. European Countries Have Announced It as a Failure
In 2005, the Dutch Government announced that it would repeal its ban on pit bulls after 15 years, after witness the rise in dog bites regardless of the ban. In 1991, the United Kingdom passed the Dangerous Dog Act, which originally was drafted to include four breeds and cross breeds (including the American Pit Bull Terrier). Nevertheless, reports indicate that the number of dog bites has not decreased. In fact, the number of incidents requiring hospitalization increased by 41%. In 2013, the House of Commons issued a public statement in which it was admitted that “the current ban on certain dog types in the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 has not prevented attacks by dogs either of a banned type or those of types not banned. It is not helpful for policy to focus on the breed type since any dog may become aggressive in the hands of an irresponsible owner.”
4. It Makes Targeted Breeds More Attractive to Irresponsible Owners
The result of breed-specific legislation is much like that of criminalization of humans. Specifically, the breeds will become more appealing to individuals who are interested in having a dog only to exude aggression, toughness, and the capacity for violence. The power of restriction breeds to fit the bill for such an image desired by these irresponsible owners is only heightened in the face of breed-specific legislation. This class of dog owners in turn see Rottweilers or Pit Bulls as having added advantage precisely because they are illegal, or if not entirely banned, publicly classed as a potential aggressor. Incidentally, the organization Stop BSL observes that, throughout history, the type of dog perceived as dangerous changes with the zeitgeist; in the 1940s Dobermans were threatening in popular opinion, and in the 1800s, Bloodhounds were perceived in the way pit bulls are today. Then as now, these types were actively sought by irresponsible owners.
3. It Makes for Pronounced Unfairness to Victims of Attacks by Non-Targeted Breeds
When a pit bull attacked an 12-year-old boy in San Francisco in 2005, it was published on the front page of several California newspapers. Also, in this case, the mother left the child unattended with the dogs. The incident actually galvanized state-level legislation to ban pit bulls. Nevertheless, when a two-year old girl was killed by a husky in the same state, it appeared in a local paper just once. Likewise in the case of a a 7-year old girl killed by an Alaskan Malamute in Fruita Colorado after being left unattended by her parents with both a male and female of the same breed. What is remarkable is that no charges were pressed against the parents in this final case, while the mother of the boy attacked by the pit bull was charged with a child endangerment (a felony), which resulted in his death.
2. Animal Control Resources are Misdirected
In 2008, Obama drafted a bill to ban pit bulls that would cost an estimated half a million dollars. Thankfully, in 2013, he has come out against it. The breed-specific ban in Maryland cost an estimated $750,000 to enforce. Between 1991 and 1996 alone, the United Kingdom.s Dangerous Dog Act cost $14 million. In many cases, these bans are legislated, and so enforced, at the municipal level by small, local governments with meager budgets. It is a shame that these limited funds are used to promote responsible dog ownership of restricted breeds (to say nothing of the human capital designated for the purpose). For these communities, even thousands of dollars is a staggering expense. The painful irony is that these are the communities that often so actively promote breed-specific legislation. Given the fact that shelters are too often having their budgets cut by commissioners, these funds could be much more productively appropriated.
1. Innocent Dogs are Killed
At the end of the day, there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Targeted breeds especially are the ones who suffer at the hands of responsible owners so keen on avoiding public protocol. These dogs don’t receive proper veterinary care, to the extent that they can die from lack of proper medical attention. In fact, high kill shelters have been accused of not providing proper care, and pit bull breeds are chief among these shelters’ occupants. Thankfully, a handful of states, including New York, Illinois, and Texas, recognize the caveats outlined here, and so choose policies that identify individual dogs as dangerous and refuse to outline specific breeds. At the end of the day, the problem stands to be solved not so much by public policy as by those of us who interact with dogs.
American author, Dave Barry, describes a dog in the following way, “You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘My God, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!’” If we, as owners, train our dogs properly, adopt and purchase from reputable rescues and breeders, while at the same time letting them know that they are loved unconditionally, this will be more effective than any laws, regulations, muzzles, or microchips. At the same time, individuals — dog-owners and non-dog owners (dare I say, “cat people?”) alike — need to approach all dogs with caution and respect that is owed to them, regardless of their breed.
Sources: huffingtonpost.com, nytimes.com, animallaw.info, baltimoresun.com, nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com, pets.webmd.com, mnn.com, wisdompanel.com, parliament.uk, stopbsl.org, dogbreedstandards.com, advancedrm.com, examiner.com