What is BSL (Breed Specific Legislation)?
While supporters of BSL argue that the only way to be safe from dog bites is to eradicate “dangerous breeds” from the community, there is little evidence that supports BSL as an effective means of reducing dog bites and dog attacks. On the contrary, studies have shown that it is not the breeds themselves that are dangerous, but unfavorable situations that are creating dangerous dogs. Often, the very research that some cite as “support” for BSL actually argues for alternative, more effective means. Examples include:
According to the American Pet Products Association, out of 73 million pet dogs, 31 million are classified by their owners as “mutts”.1 While almost all BSL refers to “pit bulls,” many breeds of dogs have the facial and body characteristics of a “pit bull,” but are actually not pit bulls at all, including Labrador retrievers, bulldogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, mastiffs and many others.
Enforcing breed-specific legislation can be burdensome and costly. BSL is enforced by animal control agencies on tight budgets, expanding their duties without necessarily expanding their budget. Additionally, many rural areas do not have funding to establish and effectively run an animal control division. Costs can include additional animal control staff to enforce the law, the kenneling of dogs awaiting breed determination and/or appeal, court time and costs, expert testimony and veterinary care. As an example, one county in Maryland spent more than $560,000 maintaining pit bulls (not including payroll, cross-agency costs and utilities), while fees generated only $35,000.2 As a result of such costs, many cities have considered repealing or have repealed breed-specific legislation. In the Maryland case, the task force found that while the county spends more than a quarter-million dollars each year to enforce the ban, “public safety has not improved as a result [of the ban]”.3
Credit: American Humane Association
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We don't support breed-specific legislation -- research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at twenty years of data about dog bites and human fatalities in the United States. They found that fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog bite injuries to people and that it's virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds.
The CDC also noted that the types of people who look to exploit dogs aren't deterred by breed regulations -- when their communities establish a ban, these people just seek out new, unregulated breeds. And the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they're intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.
For all those reasons, the CDC officially recommends against breed-specific legislation -- which they call inappropriate. You can read more from them here.
As an alternative to breed-specific policies, the CDC recommends a community-based approach to prevent dog bites. And ultimately, we think that's a much more promising way to build stronger communities of pets and pet owners.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, offering this statement: There is currently no accurate way to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill.
The AVMAs take is that dog bites are preventable through training and responsible pet ownership. Unfortunately, many attempts to control dog aggression have been misguided and ineffective, including breed-specific legislation.
In other words, not only does the nations leading veterinary organization conclude theres no science to support breed bans, it actively opposes them for their shortsighted and counterproductive approach to dog aggression.
I called aldermen, reporters and news stations out of panic," Kearney said. "I don't look at my dogs just as pets; they are members of our family. It broke my heart to see them in muzzles and always on a leash in our fenced in backyard, I had to do something. It wasn't fair for them."
Luckily the majority of her neighborhood was extremely supportive. They wrote letters and made phone calls, too, giving character references for Kearney and her dogs. When Tyanna Flynn heard about Kearney's plight, she started a petition on Change.org. The petition was shared by community members on Facebook and gained more than 2,500 signatures.
Flynn's partner, Paul Emmerich, contacted Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends contacted the city council and the city attorney about how they could turn around their dog laws by repealing the breed discriminatory law and cracking down on reckless owners instead. The American Bar Association TIPS Animal Law Committeesent the city attorney a free copy of the ABA book, A Lawyers Guide to Dangerous Dog Issues.
But the key to Wentzville's success was that the residents mobilized. They packed the city council meetings. When speaking, they were factual and polite and they didnt go away. Indeed, they followed much of the strategy set forth in Best Friends tool kit to fight breed discrimination.
The St. Louis-based Phoenix Pack rescue organization also supported the effort to repeal Wentzville's breed ban. "Wentzville is an inspiration for cities in Missouri to revisit their breed ban laws and start focusing on bad owners," said the group's founder, Gale Frey. "Cities have limited resources and their time and money needs to be directed towards bad owners instead of banning breeds of dog. Education is a powerful tool and hopefully using this tool will prevent dogs from unnecessary death."
While the support of outside experts certainly helped their cause, it was the determination of local citizens and their polite but persistent outreach that got the attention of city officials.
Democracy wasnt muzzled in Wentzville. In the end, the dogs carried the day and canine profiling was repealed another example of the continuing trend in cities and counties across the U.S. to end breed discrimination.
Photo Credit: Amanda Kearney