Our fight against discriminatory, breed-specific legislation (BSL) is likely to gain momentum with a raft of states considering legislation to remove and prevent restrictions on pet owners keeping certain breeds and types of dogs.
Dog experts and researchers – along with just about every reputable humane organization, from The HSUS to the ASPCA to the American Veterinary Medical Association – have long rejected the idea that breed specific legislation works in preventing dog bites or other dangerous encounters with dogs. Science shows us that a dog’s breed and how he or she looks does not necessarily predict the dog’s behavior, or provide any insight into the animal’s propensity to harm someone. What’s more, such laws are typically very difficult to enforce, given that many dogs are mixed breeds and aren’t readily classed by breed type. In fact, there is no breed known as a pit bull, and many pit-bull type dogs are of mixed lineage.
What breed specific legislation does achieve is to take dogs with good behavior away from loving families. Typically, these dogs are taken to shelters, placing additional burdens on already oversubscribed facilities and handing them an animal with few options but euthanasia.
It also turns law-abiding people into lawbreakers. So many people who love their dogs will risk non-compliance because they cannot stomach the idea of giving up their animal. It’s an act of loyalty and love for them not to submit to a law that makes little sense and breaks the bond of a lifetime.
As an alternative, we think it’s important to focus on the dog and the animal’s caretaker. We have long backed effective “dangerous dog” legislation that targets animals known to cause a problem, or an owner who simply cannot keep their animal under control. Appropriate penalties should be meted out against people who recklessly handle the responsibility of owning a dog.
We understand the impulse that lawmakers and even citizens have after a harmful incident, or perhaps even a human fatality. They are grieving, and they worry about other dogs replicating that behavior. It may be emotionally satisfying to pursue a breed-specific ban, of pit bulls or akitas, but such a ban simply sweeps with too broad a brush and discriminates against dogs and their owners who’ve done nothing wrong.
We estimate that more than 500 localities have breed discriminatory policies, so there’s a lot to unwind here. We now have created a great resource to assist you if you want to fight against breed bans and work on “dangerous dog” ordinances in their place: a toolkit specifically designed to provide comprehensive information on this issue, giving you the confidence to challenge BSL in your community, making it a safer place for both dogs and people. You can explore this new resource at animalsheltering.org/bsltoolkit.
Besides the toolkit, we are also offering this year a daylong course on BSL at our Animal Care Expo in Fort Lauderdale this May. If you are involved in the national, state, or local fight to end BSL, or would like to be, please join us for a day of strategic planning and training.
Pet keeping is a serious responsibility, but so is lawmaking, and both actions should be conducted with care.