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— October 29, 2013 —

What is BSL?
by Tim Wienckowski

BSL is the common acronym for Breed Specific Legislation and refers to laws passed by a legislative body against a certain breed or breeds of dog. The laws generally include restrictions or bans of breeds. Restrictions can include banning the breed from public areas, mandatory muzzling, posting signage at your home and registering your animal. The US military has banned “large dog breeds with a predisposition toward aggressive or dangerous behavior,” from military housing and have clarified this definition to include Pit Bull type dogs. The same dogs who were once decorated war heroes and stared in military ad campaigns. Although most of the attention is focused on Pit Bull type dogs, breeds of dogs that have legislation against them include: American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, Shar Peis, German Shepherds, Belgian Malanois, Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Great Danes, Irish Wolf Hounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Mastiffs, Boerboels, American Bull Dogs, Akitas, Chow Chows, English Mastiffs, Tosa Inu, Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, Cane Corso, Bull Terrier, Wolf Hybrids, and any Pit Bull mix or dogs with the characteristics of a Pit Bull. BSL assumes that certain breeds of dog are inherently dangerous by their nature to the public. Further, if dangerous animals are not permitted to be owned or are registered and monitored, it would certainly reduce the number of incidents and protect the safety of the public. That is if the targeted breed is inherently dangerous.

Studies have shown that BSL is not effective at reducing the number of bites, fatalities and is an inefficient way to address dog bites/attacks. The American Bar Association produced a study on breed specific legislation and they state “the American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.” In this report, it was found that one county in Maryland spent more than $560,000 in two years to enact their Pit Bull on maintenance of the dogs. They seized over 900 “Pit Bull type dogs”, which were not necessarily Pit Bulls by DNA testing but by the eye test. More than 80% of these dogs were maintained for processing, trial and eventually euthanized, not because of history of aggression or posing a threat, but because of their appearance. It is estimated that Pit Bulls account for 5 million of the nation’s 72 million dogs. The cost to enact BSL would come with a staggering price tag.

Dangerous Dog Laws have been in place in Europe for a number of years and are now being found ineffective in studies in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands. It has been found that breed bans have not reduced the number of incidents and had no effect on stopping dog attacks. Studies found that regulation of breed or appearance was not effective and recommended education on proper animal care and handling to curb attacks and bites. Further, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that you would have to eliminate 100,000 dogs of a particular breed to eliminate one serious bite. In a 2009 article discussing the impact BSL has had on Denver, Colorado twenty years after the ban was enacted, the director of Denver Animal Control admitted that “he is unable to say with any certainty whether it has made Denver any safer. Labrador Retrievers — the most popular dog breed — are the most likely dog to bite in the Denver metropolitan area.”

It’s clear that what these laws do not do, is target bad or irresponsible owners or dogs with a history of aggression. Many well meaning, but uneducated or inexperienced owners do not know what it takes to properly raise, train, socialize and manage any dog. A powerful breed in their hands could result in a serious bite (approx. 1 in 100,000 per the study discussed above). This doesn’t address the problem of lack of education and proper handling skills. These owners would likely create a dangerous dog of any breed. A Pit Bull or Rottweiler in the right hands is far less dangerous than a Labrador or Golden Retriever in the wrong hands. These laws also don’t target individual dogs with a history of aggression, only breeds. Bite data only records an incident and breed. It doesn’t account for repeat offenders. Some dogs, regardless of breed, can have serious behavioral issues that can be responsible for several bites while most Pit Bulls, Rotties and Doberman Pinchers are loyal and loving family dogs.

In the US, many states, counties and towns have their own versions of BSL. Many of these laws include bans forcing families to part with their pets, restricting where families owning these breeds are able to live, include hefty fines for violations, or could have pets removed from their family by law enforcement. Few jurisdictions have laws that evaluate dogs “dangerous” or “vicious” based on personality or history of aggression. Many laws include common Pit Bull breeds but also note that dogs with the characteristics of a Pit Bull could be determined a Pit Bull for enforcement of the law. Dogs that are not Pit Bulls but could be misidentified as pit bulls face the same danger as no DNA testing is done. Which is why this isn’t just a Pit Bull problem, but every dog lover’s problem.

As kids we learn to never judge a book by its cover. We are taught to judge people by their actions and not physical appearance. Yet BSL and the bad rap of these breeds are fueled by a rush to judgment. Do the right thing and meet a few Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and German Shepherds before passing judgment and understand that there are good and bad dogs of every breed and ultimately, every dog is different. The responsibility for a dog’s actions should not be shouldered by dogs based on breed or appearance. It is an individual responsibility. As owners, we must be accountable for our actions or lack of action and what we create or fail to create.

American Humane Association


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