April Chairmans Report
While many in the fancy focused on federal legislation pertaining to canine welfare last year, a threat to our rights and privileges as dog lovers has been gaining momentum at an alarming rate across the country - breed-specific legislation.
In 2005, the AKC tracked 106 breed-specific measures. This year, through March alone, 55 measures have been proposed, far outpacing last year's numbers. To see how pervasive this type of legislation is, you need only pick up a newspaper anywhere in the country, in large cities and small towns alike.
Breed-specific legislation, banning or restricting the ownership of specific breeds, usually results from a tragic incident where a person, very often a child, has been attacked by a dog. Rather than address the details surrounding the tragedy, such as the owner's responsibility, legislators rush to ban the breed of dog involved. Ownership of the breed is either completely prohibited or restrictions are placed on ownership that are totally unreasonable. These may include mandatory spay and neuter of the restricted breeds, muzzling on or off the owner's property, and excessively high licensing fees. Additionally, there is a detrimental trickle-down effect: breed bans in the homeowners' insurance industry; in airlines' policies to ship dogs; in the prohibition of specific breeds at dog shows.
Legislators claim that breed-specific laws are needed to ensure adequate public safety. We know, however, that breed bans will not accomplish that end. Those who exploit, or abuse or neglect their dogs until the dogs become dangerous or vicious will simply choose another breed if their breed is banned. Irresponsible owners will not suddenly become responsible. Meanwhile, responsible owners of targeted breeds will either be burdened by excessive restrictions or forced to give up the dogs they have nurtured and loved and considered part of the family.
AKC knows there are better alternatives to breed-specific legislation. We support reasonable, enforceable, non-discriminatory laws to govern the ownership of dogs. Laws should establish a fair process by which dogs' behavior is evaluated on stated, measurable actions, in short, on deed rather than breed.
In the majority of cases, when AKC learns of breed-specific proposals, we turn legislators around and non-breed specific laws are adopted instead. We offer valuable resources, including model legislation that has been successful elsewhere, and legislators are grateful that we share their interest in protecting communities while at the same time preserving the rights of responsible dog owners.
Over the past two years, we've defeated breed-specific proposals in major cities such as Detroit and Indianapolis and on the state level in Oklahoma, Illinois, and Texas. Recently, we were pleased to see the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Ohio ruling that local and state breed-specific "vicious" dog laws were unconstitutional on equal protection and due process grounds, as well as being unconstitutionally vague. This decision may be appealed further, but the victory at this stage is extremely significant and may serve as a precedent in future breed-specific cases.
I encourage you to be vigilant in monitoring canine legislation in your communities as well as on the state and federal level. Please don't hesitate to contact our Canine Legislation Department for materials and support for your legislative efforts. We are a strong, powerful voice of authority, and we know from experience that legislators welcome our input. We need to validate what many legislators are now learning, that we are the solution, not the problem when it comes to dog ownership issues.
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