Breed Specific Legislation
When Breed Should be Ignored
Can a law that bans or restricts ownership of specific breeds of dogs--called a "breed-specific law"--protect the members of your community from dog attacks?
According to experts, the answer is no.
Why? Popular breeds come and go. When ownership of one breed of dog is outlawed, those who want a dangerous dog simply turn to another breed. The Doberman pinscher--known as the dangerous dog breed of the 1970swas replaced in popularity by the pit bull in the '80s and the rottweiler in the '90s.
Breed-specific laws require that someone be able to prove that a specific dog is a member, or a mix, of that breed--not always an easy task. Boxers and bulldogs, for instance, may be mistaken for pit bulls. Any medium-large sized black and tan dog with a long tail may be mistakenly labeled as a German shepherd.
Breed-specific legislation doesn't acknowledge the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous. The law should protect your community from any such dog.
Breed-specific laws are difficult, costly, and sometimes impossible to enforce. It's one thing to require that every rottweiler in your community be muzzled whenever outside of the home; it's another to fund and support adequate animal-control staff to ensure that this happens.
In 1987 the Cincinnati City Council banned all pit bulls within the city after a series of severe maulings and one human fatality involving the dogs. The ban was passed even though the state of Ohio and the city of Cincinnati already had statutes that allowed authorities to seize any dog known to have injured or killed a person or another dog. Nearly ten years later, the council's law committee recommended that the ban be repealed, saying that it was unnecessary. The council recommended that pit bulls be handled like any other dogs and that owners be prosecuted only when the dogs were unrestrained or exhibited dangerous behavior. It made this recommendation in part due to the cost of enforcement. Confiscated dogs spent up to five months at the city's contracted shelter while the cases against the dogs' owners were being litigated. Many of the confiscated dogs were family companions with no history of aggression.
Legislation that restricts breeds may actually create a population of dangerous dogs within your community. When a community imposes strict regulations on a specific breed of dog, owners of those dogs may end up chaining or caging the dogs for long periods of time. Dogs so chained or caged can be so desperate for activity that they become uncontrollable should they escape. Restricted dogs often receive little veterinary care because it is difficult for their owners to transport them to a veterinary facility without violating restrictions. Most importantly, restricted dogs who don't get to experience normal opportunities for socialization and training will undoubtedly act in an unpredictable fashion when exposed to the real world.
The HSUS advocates laws that penalize the owners of dogs, not the dogs themselves, for dangerous behavior. Breed-specific legislation doesn't acknowledge the fact that a dog of any breed--or mix--can become dangerous.
New task force addresses canine aggression
During its inaugural meeting, Aug 15-17 , the AVMA Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions began developing a multifaceted, community-oriented model program to address canine aggression and injury caused by dog bites. The 15-member task force includes representatives from the AVMA, the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the PLIT [Professional Liability Insurance Trust], the insurance industry, the American Medical Association, national humane organizations, the National Animal Control Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the legal profession.
Working from issues raised during breakout sessions of the 1996 AVMA Animal Welfare Forum on human-canine interactions, the task force identified needed components of a program to prevent dog bites. These included methods for reliable reporting, multidisciplinary/multiprofessional involvement, well-enforced ordinances to control dangerous dogs, education of health care professionals, public education, a media focus, and sufficient infrastructure to coordinate the program.
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And this is the view of the Task Force on the subject of Breed Specific Legislation. I quote:
Regulatory issues and legislation
Concerns about "dangerous" dogs have caused many local governments to consider supplementing or replacing existing animal control laws with breed-specific ordinances. Members of the task force agreed that current statistics on fatalities and injuries caused by dogs cannot be used to responsibly document the dangerousness of particular breeds.
Task force members believe that legislators can respond effectively to citizen pressure for action regarding "dangerous" dogs without introducing breed-specific ordinances. Dangerous dog laws can be enacted that appropriately place responsibility for dog behavior on owners and current laws, if appropriately enforced, are often sufficient.
During the next several months, members of the subcommittee on regulatory and professional issues will generate a document specifying what they believe should be included in effective legislation for the control of dangerous dogs, as well as the potential impact of civil remedies.
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