Thursday, September 19, 2013

Breed Specific's the pits

President Obama’s recent commentary against breed specific legislation has brought national attention to the issue. Breed specific legislation (an ongoing thorn in the sides of many pit bull rescuers and owners) was created with the intent of enhancing public safety, but this legislation has failed to follow through on such intent.

Breed specific legislation (BSL) is defined as “a statute or regulation that is directed toward one or more specific breeds of dogs”. BSL operates under the assumption that a breed of dog is inherently dangerous, regardless of the individual dog’s history and behavior. While BSL has been applied to a variety of different breeds (including Rottweilers, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers) the vast majority of BSL is directed toward pit bulls.
BSL began in the early 1980s in Florida, in response to a perceived growth in the number of serious injuries engendered by dogs of certain breeds (i.e. pit bulls). In 1980, an ordinance passed in Hollywood, Florida required resident owners of pit bull dogs to complete special registration forms and possess $25,000 of liability insurance. This ordinance incited the development of countless more ordinances, and it wasn’t long before BSL had been implemented in hundreds of cities across the country.
The problem with this type of legislation is that there is no proof of its efficacy. Numerous studies conducted in various communities with BSL have failed to find any convincing data that this breed specific strategy is working. In fact, some reports have shown that the enactment of legislation against one breed has resulted in a counter-increase in bite incidents from other, unregulated, breeds. For example, in 2005 in Council Bluffs, Iowa the number of Boxer and Labrador Retriever bites and total dog bites increased following a pit bull ban.
Here are just a few reasons behind the futility of BSL:  
  1. There is no credible evidence that any particular breed of dog is more prone to biting. Controlled studies by the American Veterinary Medical Association have shown that pit bull type dogs are no more inherently dangerous than any other breed of dog.  
  2. Breed identification is a subjective and unreliable guessing game. A Matrix Canine Research Institute survey of over 600 people ranging from animal experts to the general population found that only 2% of people surveyed were able to correctly identify an American Pit Bull Terrier without also incorrectly identifying a different breed as an APBT (in fact, none of the animal control personnel or veterinarians surveyed were able to correctly delineate the various breeds).
  3. BSL takes dogs out of the hands of law-abiding citizens and drives them underground into the hands of more nefarious owners.
  4. Any breed can become dangerous when they’re raised to be aggressive (whether intentionally or unintentionally)
  5. Focusing primarily on the breed of dog at fault often results in the neglect of human and environmental factors that contribute to dog bites.
This is not to say that there should be no legislation. Dangerous dogs can become a significant problem if not properly addressed by the community. In contrary to BSL, many studies have shown positive effects following the initiation of well researched breed-neutral legislation. The general consensus is that the institution of breed-neutral legislation allows law enforcement officials to focus their efforts on enforcing dog license laws, leash laws, animal fighting laws, and sterilization laws; thus attacking the problem at its core.
In summary, it is widely accepted amongst the animal rescue community that breed specific legislation is ineffective and that a breed-neutral approach to dog bite prevention is a better alternative for resolving issues surrounding dangerous dogs in the community. Better outcomes can be achieved by encouraging responsible ownership. With community support, animal welfare organizations can help these efforts through the promotion of education, training, and supervision along with offering population control via low-cost spay/neuter clinics. 

National organizations against BSL:
  • Center for Disease Control (CDC)
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
  • American Bar Association
  • American Kennel Club (AKC)
  • American Veterinary Medical Association
  • National Animal Control Associates
  • The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors 
States that prohibit their municipalities from passing breed-specific laws:
California*, Colorado*, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia
  • Certain Colorado municipalities (i.e. Denver) have passed and enforced BSL by claiming "home rule" status
  • California does not have breed bans, but does have breed specific spay/neuter policies


  1. Well, can't say I'm too comfortable with breed specific legislation you've said, there's really no proof to say that one is more prone to biting than another!

    1. Thank you Michelle! It's nice to know that there are other people uncomfortable with BSL out there!

  2. What a well written editorial - thank you for the info.

  3. Very informative! Thank you for clearing some things up, a lot of people need to read this.

  4. I don't like BSL either! My apartment made us show proof that Duke wasn't of certain breeds, especially since some people think he looks half pit bull. I'm glad to hear that these major organizations have come out against certain BSL. Hopefully once we're out of apartment living we won't run into any issues!

    1. We are glad things with Duke worked out! It's just too bad it has to be like that. Glad you are anti-BSL!

      (Love you Duke! You cutie pie.)