September 1, 2014

Should Dangerous Dogs Be Banned?

The stories are terrible…children mauled, adults attacked, other pets killed.  Aggressive dogs make headlines across the nation and so do the efforts to control them.  The problem?  Quick Fix laws don’t work!

Since the 1980s, breed specific legislation (BSLs) or aggressive dog laws have been working their way across the United States and Canada.  Touted by many to be the answer to vicious dog attacks, BSL initiatives are more frequently seen in state legislatures, city council meetings, and small town agendas.

A breed specific legislation is defined as a statute or regulation that is directed toward one or more specific breeds of dogs.  According to the website, www.animallaw.info, the majority of BSLs focus on dogs that some consider to be “dangerous” breeds.  These include pit bulls, German Shepherd Dogs, Chow Chows, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers.   The list, however, is growing and often includes mixed breed dogs that show characteristics of these breeds.  Thirty-seven states have already enacted laws or have legislation pending at some level of government.
The current trend for enacting breed specific legislation began two decades ago after a series of attacks left several people dead and many more injured.  As examples, in 1980, the city commission of Hollywood, Florida passed an ordinance requiring that persons owning pit bulls must file special registration papers and maintain $25,000 public liability insurance.  In New Mexico, a 1984 town ordinance allowed animal control officials to confiscate and euthanize pit bulls due to a newly enacted ban on the breed.

Opponents of breed specific regulations will often use the definition of the law as one of their main arguments against it.   The BSLs are aimed more at restricting certain breeds than addressing the specific behavior of individual animals.  Other points opponents make include the difficulty and often arbitrary nature of actual enforcement of the laws, an overloaded court system and the mis-identification of animals.  The American Kennel Club’s Position Statement on BSLs says that the AKC will support dangerous dog control that is non-discriminatory and is enforceable (www.akc.org).  Additionally, the AKC is encouraging all types of dog lovers and veterinarians to become active in or start animal control advisory boards locally.

Besides nationally known groups, many smaller local groups have been voicing their concerns as well.  Entire organizations have been created to help defeat these bills.   The Ohio Valley Dog Owners says that BSLs are not likely to work because “irresponsible owners and the criminals who use dogs for illegal purposes simply won’t obey the laws or switch to another breed.”

The city of North Chicago just recently passed a BSL restricting the ownership of pit bulls.  The restrictions include annual license fees of $500-$1000, requirements that the dogs be kept on 4 foot leads and muzzled whenever on the streets, registration and notification of all births of pit bulls and photo identification to be supplied to the city.  North Little Rock, Arkansas has a similar ordinance but includes rottweilers as well.

Even with some local municipalities taking the plunge to prohibit certain breeds, some states are putting their foot down to stop any reactionary legislation.  According to Colorado’s state laws, no municipality may enact a law that is restrictive based on breed alone.  Recently 4 BSLs were stopped due to public outcry or cost ineffectiveness in Colorado, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.  However, California has recently repealed a ban on BSLs, allowing cities to adopt ordinances banning or restricting certain breeds.

Even as the debates on BSLs heat up, dog attacks continue to make news with alarming regularity.  In Grant County, Indiana, a story originally surfaced about a rottweiler type dog and a potential pit bull entering the home of an 88 year old woman on oxygen and attacking her.  After two days of frantic reports of stray dog sightings and the canceling of recess at a local elementary school, the real culprits were found to be the dachshund and Labrador owned by the woman’s daughter.  Because of breed misconceptions and stereotypes, some pets are considered to be less dangerous than others simply due to their breed makeup.  This story illustrates how wrong that assumption can be and how ineffective BSL can be in the context of these misconceptions.

Searching the Internet for Breed Specific Legislation, more than a quarter of a million sites appear on MSN alone.  All of the national dog clubs and even the American Veterinary Medical Association have position statements denouncing the need or wisdom of such knee-jerk breed specific laws.  It is important that dog owners of any breed, or any mixed breed, pay attention to laws that may affect their right and ability to keep their dog.  Remember, it is often the individual dog, not the breed, that is at issue.  Stronger aggressive dog laws that are non breed specific will do a better job of helping to stop the terror of dog attacks.

As always, visit your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog’s behavior and have questions about the breed.  For more information, visit www.MyVNN.com and watch the video detailing these laws.