Does your dog have almond shaped eyes? A heavy and muscular neck? A tail medium in length that tapers to a point? A smooth and short coat? A broad chest? If you said yes to these questions, then congratulations, you own a “pit bull” …At least according to the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control.
The American Kennel Club takes exception to this generalization. In fact, AKC does not recognize the “pit bull” as a specific breed. However, across the country, ownership of dogs that match these vague physical characteristics are being banned – regardless of their parentage. The City of Kearney, Missouri, for example, only requires a dog to meet five of the eight characteristics on their checklist before they are banned from the city. Would your pug with its broad chest and short coat be in danger of getting banned under these requirements?
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) affects everyone.
According to the organization Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States, there are currently 75 banned or restricted breeds in the United States. Worldwide, the breeds of dogs banned or restricted is also surprising. In Ukraine there are 80 breeds banned and restricted, including one of America’s most popular dogs, the Labrador Retriever. In Bermuda, you will need to take extra precautions if you plan to walk your Australian Cattle Dog or Bouvier des Flanders in public. And in Ireland, you must be 16 years of age and have your dog muzzled if you plan on taking your Rhodesian Ridgeback off your property.
BSL is a slippery slope that can affect any breed of dog. Introduction of BSL is most common after a tragic attack or bite incident. While proponents have good intentions in trying to protect their communities from dangerous dogs, breed-specific bans ultimately punish responsible dog owners, while doing very little to actually punish irresponsible owners. A study published by the Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances found that owner behavior has a direct impact on dog aggression and personality (“Factors Links to Dominance Aggression in Dogs.” Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances. 8(2): 336-342, 2009). The study of approximately 50 purebred breeds concluded that the time an owner spends caring for and training a dog is inversely correlated to the level of aggressive behavior the dog exhibits. Other studies, including one from the United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), support the premise that any dog can be exploited and trained to be aggressive, and when specific breeds are regulated, offenders will switch to unregulated breeds to exploit. Additionally, in 2003, Italy had a list of 92 banned and restricted breeds, a list that included the Bearded Collie and Corgi, until policymakers came to the realization that it is more effective to hold the owner than the breed responsible for the actions of a specific dog.
Many experts have also observed that public perceptions of which breeds are most dangerous have changed throughout the decades. In the 1970s, Doberman Pinschers were singled out. In the 80s, German Shepherds targeted. In the 90s it shifted to Rottweilers, and today it’s pit bulls. This begs the question, will your breed be next? Or can we finally put the responsibility for dangerous dogs where it really belongs—on irresponsible owners regardless of breed.
Although there have been many studies on the effectiveness of BSL, there is no evidence to support the notion that some breeds of dogs are more inherently dangerous than others or that banning ownership of certain breeds lowers the bite rate. In fact, the American Kennel Club, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Animal Control Association, the American Bar Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and a host of other respected national organizations oppose BSL and recognize the inequities and inherent fallacies of such laws.
Why Does BSL fail?
First and foremost, it is difficult to enforce. Many Animal Control agencies use a very vague list of breed characteristics to determine whether a dog is considered a certain breed. The time spent on breed identification takes time away from important tasks that could impact the community for the better. It is also very difficult for public officials to enforce such provisions in a fair and effective manner.
Second, BSL is extremely costly to the community. According to the Best Friends Animal Society, Prince George’s County, Maryland spends more than $250,000 annually to enforce their pit bull ban. This money could be used more efficiently by addressing the root cause of the problem- irresponsible dog ownership. When BSL is implemented in a community, the shelter costs for that community increase when residents are forced to abandon household pets of the targeted breeds at shelters. Because adoptable dogs of the targeted breed cannot be adopted out, they are generally euthanized at the shelter at public expense.
Third, BSL provides a false sense of security. The time and money spent enforcing BSL means less time and money is spent on enforcing better alternatives to keeping a community safe. Strongly enforced animal control laws (such as leash laws), generic guidelines on dealing with dangerous dogs of any breed, and increased public education efforts to promote responsible dog ownership are all better ways to protect communities from dangerous animals. Uniformly enforced animal control laws will force all owners, regardless of the breed of dog they own, to be responsible animal owners while also preventing irresponsible owners from simply turning to a different breed.
In the United States, more than 700 cities have enacted BSL, affecting thousands of dogs across the country, in addition to the many breeds affected worldwide. Enforcing laws that punish “the deed, not the breed” ensures that communities stay safe and individuals can enjoy their choice of breed and the best pet for their lifestyle.
For more information and talking points on this issue, visit the Breed-Specific Legislation Key Issues page in the AKC Government Relations Legislative Action Center.