“Breed-specific” legislation (BSL) relates to laws that attempt to regulate or ban certain breeds completely in an attempt to reduce dog attacks.
Some city and municipal governments have enacted breed-specific laws completely banning certain breeds, such as pit bulls. The story of Lennox, who had been deemed an illegal "pit bull terrier type" dog in Belfast, Northern Ireland, affected animal rights activists worldwide.
Lennox's family fought to save their beloved dog, launching a two-year legal fight. During that time, Lennox remained imprisoned and separated from his family.
Animal rights protests erupted on both sides of the Atlantic. And despite the efforts of hundreds of thousands of Lennox supporters, he was still put down.
"I first became aware of BSL two years ago when I saw Facebook posts about peoples’ feeling of support and disapproval of the laws, particularly in Victoria, Australia and the USA," stated Keep the Bull Breed Free administrator Glenn B.
In Washington State and beyond, regulated and restricted breeds include American Pit Bull terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, English Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, American Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, any mix of these breeds, or dogs who simply have traits that resemble these breeds.
"Pit bulls" and "pit bull types" are often singled out for BSL. Pit bull ordinances in Washington State include:
- Auburn: Fighting breeds declared "potentially dangerous" including: Akita, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, Kuvasz, Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tosa Inu
- Buckley, Cathlamet, Enumclaw, Othello, Rosalia, Selah, Yakima: pit bulls completely banned
- Wapato: pit bulls, rottweilers, mastiffs, and American bulldogs completely banned.
- Royal City: pit bulls and rottweilers completely banned.
- Everett, Kennewick, Pasco, Prosser, Quincy, Rainier, Seatac, Toppenish: pit bulls declared "potentially dangerous"
- Connell: pit bulls and rottweilers declared "potentially dangerous"
While BSL was created to protect humans from dangerous dogs, the ASPCA asserts that Breed-Specific Laws are costly and ineffective.
The ASPCA notes that there is currently no evidence that BSL makes communities safer for people or for companion animals.
The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) chose to not support BSL, citing the inaccuracy of dog bite data and the difficulty in accurately identifying dog breeds.
The CDC also noted the likelihood that as certain breeds are regulated, those who exploit dogs by making them aggressive will replace them with other, unregulated breeds.
The ASPCA notes that breed-specific laws can be highly problematic for several reasons:
- When cities enforce breed-specific laws, pet owners of highly regulated or banned breeds often try to hide their dogs to keep them protected, forgoing licensing, microchipping, and regular veterinary care.
- BSL punishes all dogs who look like banned or restricted breeds based upon the appearance of the dog.
- Breed-specific laws compromise rather than enhance public safety by shifting the focus from effective safety laws to regulating certain breeds.
- Breed-specific laws potentially encourage ownership by irresponsible people. The rise of pit bull ownership among gang members coincided with the introduction of breed-specific legislation
The CDC noted that many factors beyond a dog's breed can affect a dog’s tendency toward aggression. These factors include heredity, sex, early experience, reproductive status, socialization, and training.
The CDC notes that the last two concerns are particularly apt, given the following statistics:
• More than 70 percent of all dog bite cases involve unneutered male dogs.
• An unneutered male dog is 2.6 times more likely to bite than a neutered dog.
• A chained or tethered dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than a dog who is not chained or tethered.
• 97 percent of dogs involved in fatal dog attacks in 2006 were not spayed or neutered.
• 78 percent of dogs involved in fatal attacks were maintained not as pets, but rather for guarding, image enhancement, fighting, or breeding.
• 84 percent of these dogs were maintained by owners who abused or neglected their dogs, failing to humanely control or contain them.
The ASPCA seeks to find breed-neutral laws that will hold dog owners accountable for the actions of their animals.
In Washington State, animal advocates such as Adam Karp are working to help protect dogs and those who love them.
Karp, who will be providing a thorough legal perspective on BSL in Washington State later in this series, successfully sued the City of Moses Lake and got them to repeal the entire BSL.
"I also successfully persuaded the City of Sumas to not apply its BSL against a disabled client's alleged pit bull, citing violation of her rights under the FHA and ADA," Karp stated.
Have you or someone you know been impacted by BSL?
Do you have questions or concerns about BSL in your community?
Throughout 2013, the Seattle Pets Examiner will provide articles on BSL in the Seattle area and beyond.
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