Breed bans, also known as Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) are ineffectual and at best serve only to temporarily reassure a community afraid of dog attacks. At worst, they result in the needless killing of family dogs with loving pet parents, while vicious dogs remain in the possession of abusive humans.
Breed-specific legislation usually comes about either because a dog attacks someone and legislators feel pressured to respond, or because a group of concerned citizens bands together to petition for a breed ban in their community. Due to their current popularity as the dogs of choice for abusive owners who run illegal dogfighting rings, Pit Bulls are the usual targets of BSL. However, other breeds are often affected as well. Don’t assume you won’t be affected by BSL just because you don’t own a Pit Bull!
Most large guardian breeds have been banned in one place or another, along with many other breeds, both large and small. Even Pugs– about the most harmless canine companions I can imagine– are on the list of banned breeds!
Why BSL Doesn’t Work
Dogs that attack humans are generally not dogs belonging to responsible owners who obey all existing pets laws. In general, dogs that become human-aggressive were either mistreated in some way, neglected, or were otherwise influenced to behave aggressively by their owners. When a breed is banned, the conscientious owners who make the tough decision to either move or rehome their dogs outside the area of the ban are not the owners whose dogs are likely to attack. Owners who abuse dogs, run dogfighting operations, or encourage their dogs to behave aggressively are likely to simply ignore the new law. It would require an enormous outlay of money and resources to inspect every home in an area for a banned breed, so the dog owners ignoring the law would likely get away with it, leaving aggressive dogs in the community.
Secondly, even if owners of aggressive dogs were to obey BSL to the “T,” they would still own aggressive dogs– they’d just pick a new breed. There’s ultimately no difference between a Cocker Spaniel and a Pit Bull Terrier owned by someone who encourages their dogs to behave viciously. I wouldn’t want to come near either one! The only way to make sure that nobody owns a vicious dog would be to ban dog ownership altogether, and I don’t think anyone wants that.
Finally, most BSL laws leave the determination of a dog’s breed up to the Animal Control Officer or Police Officer who encounters the dog. There have already been numerous cases throughout the United States of mistaken identity, where a dog was seized or killed under a BSL law, and turned out not to be the banned breed at all. In one case, a registered Labrador Retriever was held as a Pit Bull for months, despite his owner’s presentation of the dog’s papers to the authorities!
What WOULD Work?
Advocates for more sensible dog laws use the slogan, “Punish the deed, not the breed.” This means that, instead of heavy-handed and ineffective BSL, municipalities ought to pass legislation that strongly punishes owners whose dogs attack humans, regardless of the dog’s breed.
Even a Chihuahua can cause fatal injuries if it attacks a human, particularly a small child. Owners of vicious dogs ought not to get off more easily simply because they chose to own a breed that wasn’t on a banned list, and owners of docile, friendly dogs don’t deserve punishment.
What’s to Be Done?
If you’re concerned about BSL, write to your state legislator and Congressional representative. Perhaps during the Obama administration we’ll see some positive change in the way dog attacks are handled! Barack Obama didn’t exactly make BSL a key issue– or any issue at all– in his campaign, but it’s possible that his desire for more intelligent, less reactive government will trickle down to dog law.