Breed specific legislation (BSL) refers to laws which prohibit or restrict the ownership of certain dog breeds or breed types. If ownership is prohibited, dogs are forcibly removed from their homes and either destroyed, or especially in the case of mixed-breeds, placed in kennels to establish whether or not they fit the profile of a “dangerous” dog.
However, studies show that many evaluations are based on appearance and not behavior. Mixed breeds that have a pit-bull-look are particularly at risk.
If ownership is restricted, owners have to comply with certain rules, including muzzling, providing suitable accommodation, keeping dogs on property, and mandatory sterilization.
Which breeds are banned?
Pit Bull-type dogs top banned dog lists. Depending on the definition breeds include the standard American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terriers, English Bull Terriers, and American Bulldogs. Other commonly targeted breeds include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Chow Chows, Mastiffs, and the Japanese Tosa. Less common, but still affected by some laws are the Dogo Argentino, Presa Canario, and Filo Brasileiro. These laws are often clear, as many dogs targeted merely resemble the above breeds. Laws are therefore type-specific, rather than breed-specific.
What are the consequences of breed specific legislation?
Families may hide their dogs to prevent forced removal. They limit exercise and interaction with other dogs and people. They may even avoid the vet for fear of alerting the authorities. In addition, shelter dogs who are perfectly adoptable are euthanized because they look ‘dangerous’. All of this does more harm than good.
Pet guardians also suffer under the law. Families have no choice but to move if they want to keep their beloved dog. If they don’t move and keep their dog, they face legal charges. Even worse, the forcible removal and euthanasia of the dog can leave families utterly heartbroken and scarred for life.
Why does breed specific legislation not work?
Breed specific legislation is a blanket law that takes into account the appearance of the dog only. It doesn’t consider the dog’s behavior, history, training or responsible ownership by pet parents. People also think that dogs who are aggressive to other dogs are dangerous to society.
However, there is no correlation between dog-dog aggression and aggression towards people.
Costs are also astronomical. Policing the situation as well as kenneling and euthanizing dogs is extremely expensive.
Many studies carried out over many years have simply no factual evidence to substantiate the claim that breed-specific legislation decreases dog bites.
But what about all the injuries and even fatalities caused by dog bites?
The vast majority of dog bite victims are children. This is a serious consideration. Children are often clumsy and do not know how to interact with a dog. Dogs of all sizes will react if children hurt them. However, the only ones that make it to the emergency room or in the headlines are bigger dogs that have bigger jaws and therefore bigger bites. Is it then fair to ban all dogs over a particular size? Certainly not. All studies have shown that dog bites come from a variety of breeds, not just those listed in breed-specific legislation. In fact, small dogs like dachshunds are far more aggressive towards people than large breeds. But they don’t do nearly the same damage.
The majority of injuries are avoidable when people manage their dogs properly and provide proper socialization (an absolute crucial element). Other key components were lack of appropriate care, lack of supervision and mistreatment of the dogs that resulted in the aggressive behavior, sex of the dog and reproductive status. These factors far outweighed breed-specific injuries.
Are there organisations who can back up these studies?
Yes, there are many. The British Veterinary Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, Best Friends Animal Society, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Humane Society of the United States, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals UK, to name but a few. All these organisations reject BSL and instead lobby to introduce breed-neutral legislation which will require responsible ownership of dogs, regardless of their breed.
Public education is also critical. Dogs are bred for a specific task. Pit bulls are bred to fight. They enjoy it. They need special parents who understand the breed. People must understand that pit bulls prefer to be only dogs, and that they are unpredictable around small children.
Legal regulation should govern how pet guardians care for their dogs. Socialization and training should be compulsory, and, depending on the breed, perhaps a course on body language and primary, breed-specific needs, as well as how to meet these needs. Dangerous dog laws should embrace breed-neutrality and make a case against individual dogs and their owners. In dogs, like people, behavior should trump appearance.
The matter is an extremely emotional one. Take, for example, the outcry over Montreal’s decision to ban certain breeds. Virtually every sector of the companion pet industry has weighed in on the matter and on the 3rd of October, 2016, the ruling was suspended. What will happen next? We wait and see.