What Is Breed Specific Legislation?
What Is Breed Specific Legislation?
Breed specific legislation, or BSL, are any laws or regulations that discriminate based on breed. Period. So what’s the big deal? There has been a lot of talk recently in the news and around the web regarding these policies, but why? This type of policy exists in the hope to protect people from potential danger. But does it really prevent bites?
Well, there is some support that Pit Bull bites are more commonly reported and cause more damage than other dog bites. However, there is no research supporting that areas with BSL have a lower bite rate or injury rate than any other area and there are many issues with the interpretation, application, variation and results of BSL across the country (http://journals.lww.com/annalsofsurgery/Abstract/2011/04000/Mortality,_Mauling,_and_Maiming_by_Vicious_Dogs.23.aspx).
One of the major issues with BSL is the way in which it is interpreted or applied. While many of these policies state a list of breeds that are either banned or restricted in some way, the fact that Pit Bulls are generally targeted, but not easily described, causes a lot of misinterpretation and problems. Petsmart©, a national pet store and pet care brand, even has a difficult time describing the characteristics that they attribute to Pit Bulls and bully breeds when banning them from their day camp program: “Pit Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, American Bulldogs, or mixed breeds that have the appearance or characteristics of one of these breeds” (taken from: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=196265&p=factset07).
The troubling part of this description is “mixed breeds that have the appearance or characteristics of one of these breeds.” Let’s be clear here, the AKC does not recognize the Pit Bull Terrier as a breed. In fact, there is no one breed that can be labeled a Pit Bull. Pit bull is a type of dog, much the way a retriever is a type of dog. When a company or town or any other body cannot easily recognize the group they are labeling, there is an intrinsic issue at hand. One website defined Pit Bulls as broadly as “includes dogs of various sizes and appearances, but which have a number of common characteristics such as exaggerated jaw muscles, heavy necks and shoulders, and large physical mass” (www.dogbitelaw.com). If you read this as written, it could apply to a number of very different breeds including Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and even Newfoundlands.
BSL is not only misinterpreted and applied very broadly, but the policies themselves vary widely. For example: Denver, Colorado has prohibited “any person to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, or sell within the city any Pit Bull” and this is limited to the city limits only. One of the main points of contention in this law is the word “transport,” which has led to dogs and owners being punished for driving through city limits with a Pit Bull (remember that Pit Bull still is not really a breed), even a legally owned Pit Bull that is not engaging in any wrongful behavior.
Other BSL includes North Little Rock, Arkansas, which has restricted ownership of Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Bull Terriers or mixes of any these breeds by implementing a breed-specific licensure fee of $500.00. Keep in mind most dog licenses cost less than $50. There are also building or residence level restrictions where landlords prohibit specific breeds. Keep in mind these dogs are allowed in the cities and towns where the buildings are located. The wide breath of BSL makes it difficult for many owners and perspective owners to know what their current and local policies are. Often people don’t know until they are already in trouble and need to relinquish their pet. This adds to the problem of overpopulation in many shelters because people who would otherwise adopt a Pit Bull cannot due to housing or district issues. This means more dogs that would be otherwise lovely pets are being euthanized because they have characteristics that may or may not look like a potential Pit Bull type dog. Starting to see some of the problems BSL can lead to?
From a public policy standpoint, it is understandable why legislators would want to enact some sort of law to protect people from dog bite injuries. The issue really is at the end of the day who is at fault and are certain types of dogs inherently more dangerous than others. Another way of looking at this problem is to look at the human side of the equation. Are some people more likely to own dangerous dog and are they in fact making the dogs more dangerous through some behavior or treatment? It is obviously easier for lawmakers to look at grouping a type of dog over a type of person for many reasons which compounds the issue when trying to do further public safety.
Hector, one of the Pit Bulls abused by Michael Vick in the infamous dog fighting ring breakup, has been a huge ambassador for anti-BSL across the country (http://www.hectorthepitbull.com/). He is great example of how a dog who would normally fit right in with the concept of “dangerous dog” can actually be a phenomenal pet and shining star of the Pit Bull type breed. He even became a therapy dog to reach out to children and those in need.
In the end, do we punish the dogs for people’s poor decisions? Can we judge a whole class of dogs based on the potential behavior of a few? I am going to leave these questions unanswered for you to consider, but I believe it is obvious that the current way BSL is written and applied is flawed. Just to be clear, here at Perfect Pooch, we do not judge any dog based on its breed. Every dog is required to pass the exact same evaluation process, regardless of any physical characteristics or breed type. We believe that each dog is an individual defined by their own behavior. I am sure there is a lot more we could discuss in regards to BSL and breed traits in general, so please feel free to talk to a staff member any time if you have questions.
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, ACK CGC Evaluator