Breed Specific Legislation, commonly referred to as BSL, is an issue of public policy and whether dog owner or not if affects each of us as Americans. It is an issue that allows discrimination to take hold in our daily lives. There are many cities across the US that have a breed ban in place and can seize and destroy dogs just because of the way they look. Again, they can seize and destroy dogs for no other reason than the way they look, even though only about 3% of their DNA accounts for their physical appearance.
BSL is defined as a statute or regulation directed toward one or more specific breeds or type of dog. Presently, the most commonly targeted type of dog, when it comes to BSL are dogs labeled as “pit bulls”. But, pit bulls do not face this discrimination alone. Other commonly regulated breeds include Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and the Chihuahua.
Throughout the world, BSL is enacted in various degrees including:
• An outright ban on owning certain kinds of dogs
• Mandatory Spay/Neuter
• Mandatory Muzzling
• Requirements for dog owners to carry higher insurance limits
• Mandatory licensure or registration
• Special Confinement regulations
So we ask, “What is the intent of BSL?” Breed Discriminatory Legislation is typically enacted with the goal of increasing public safety. However, the methods commonly being used time and time again prove to be ineffective; focusing on the attributes of certain types of dogs diverts attention from the real issue, responsible ownership.
The United Kingdom passed the 1991 Dangerous Dog Act, a breed specific measure based upon the way a dog looks. The thinking behind this infers that we can predict the behavior of a dog based solely upon its appearance. A recent study on dog bites in the UK has revealed that despite the breed specific laws that are in place, dog bites have doubled in the last 10 years and taxpayers are left with a bill of approximately $2 million dollars a year. As a result, the government now sees the law as ineffective and will be revising it in 2012.
Here in the US, probably the most notorious BSL city of them all is Denver, CO. Denver has had a strict ban on pit bull type dogs since 1989. In a 12 year study of dog related hospitalizations, Denver reported 273 cases while the neighboring city of Boulder, which does not have BSL, reported 46 cases of dog related hospitalizations. Meanwhile the taxpayers of Denver are shelling out an estimated $1 million per year to enforce a law that fails to make their community any safer, the intent of the legislation.
So whether looking at cities, towns or even entire countries that have enacted BSL measures, it quickly becomes apparent that these restrictions and guidelines are doing nothing to create safer communities when it comes to dogs. These are just two examples of the ineffectiveness of BSL.
A major flaw in the thinking behind BSL is breed identification. A pit bull is not a breed of dog, but a commonly used term to describe many kinds of dogs. In some instances the term may be used to describe the breeds that commonly make up the pit bull group: the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In other circles the term pit bull can be used to describe dozens of breeds and types of dogs including the Cane Corso, American Bulldog, English Bulldog and the Dogo Argentino. In Manteca, CA a pit bull is partially defined as: Any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier or an American Staffordshire Terrier. While in South Bend, Indiana a pit bull is defined as an American Pit Bull Terrier, but does not include American Staffordshire Terrier or the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. As you can see, especially when it comes to “pit bulls”, breed identification is difficult at best as it seems that just about everyone has a different perception about what a pit bull is.
Now breed identification is not a problem limited to pit bull type dogs. Recent research has shown that 75% of the time shelter workers misidentify a dog based solely upon appearance, as only 3% of a dogs DNA accounts for outward appearance. When we play the game of trying to single out a particular type or group of dogs, we are missing the point all together. Despite the myths promoted by the media about pit bull type dogs, the fact is, there is no scientific evidence that shows one kind of dog poses more of a danger to people than any other kind of dog.
What we really need to look at when someone is injured by a dog are all of the circumstances that have played into that event and start asking the right questions, such as:
- What was the role of the dog? Was it a family dog or a resident dog? A resident dog is typically kept outside the household and used for guarding/protection, fighting and/or intimidation.
- Was the dog humanely contained or was it chained up or allowed to roam?
- Was the dog humanely cared for or was it subjected to abuse or neglect?
- Was the dog spayed or neutered?
- And most importantly, what role did the owner play? Did they encourage aggressive and undesirable behavior from the dog? Or were they responsible in trying to ensure their dog was a safe member of the community?
Focusing on breed attributes of dogs diverts attention from the owner and responsible ownership practices. Without owners taking responsibility and being held accountable for their dogs and their actions, it is difficult to have a safe and humane community.
Currently in Nevada there aren’t any municipalities that have enacted BSL. However, dogs & their owners in our community are subjected to discrimination based upon appearance or perceived breed. Many homeowners associations prohibit the ownership of certain types of dogs within their communities. Most apartment complexes claim to be dog friendly, but still impose breed restrictions. And all but a handful of insurance companies refuse to provide homeowners coverage to owners of certain types of dogs.
Currently Nevada has a reasonable set of laws on the books in regards to dogs considered to be dangerous or vicious. We are currently working with state Assemblyman John Hambrick on a bill that would revise NRS 202.500 to include language that would prohibit any dog from being declared dangerous or vicious based solely on breed or perceived breed, as well as prohibit any municipality within Nevada from enacting any laws that would be breed restrictive or discriminatory. This bill was originally drafted and brought before the state Assembly by the Nevada Humane Society with the help of Best Friends Animal Society.
Maybe some of you are thinking, but I own a Golden Retriever, or a Shitzu, or a Springer Spaniel. Why do I care about BSL? Besides the fact that BSL is blatant discrimination based upon appearance alone, without consideration of individual behavior, the simple truth is that these laws can be enacted and enforced against any kind of dog at any time. We sincerely believe that each and every dog, no matter what their appearance or perceived breed should be regarded as individuals. We also believe that the responsibility of ensuring a dog is a safe and well-mannered member of the community ultimately lies with the owner.