BSL stands for Breed Specific Legislation. It is a law or laws that ban or severely restrict the ownership of a particular breed. These laws declare an entire breed “dangerous or vicious” based on the actions of a few members of the breed. Breed specific laws are often a knee-jerk reaction from politicians who want to say they are “doing something” to stop dog bite incidences and fatalities. These changes in laws tend to happen after a highly publicized dog attack takes place. These highly publicized attacks bring about a “perceived” need for more stringent laws governing the restraint of dogs. We all want to prevent dog attacks, however, breed specific laws have proven to be ineffective in the reduction of dog bite incidents. Breed specific laws do not protect communities from fatal dog attacks and/or dog bite injuries.
Furthermore, breed specific laws target and punish all dogs, and the owners, of a particular breed (the guilty ones as well as the innocent). Well behaved dogs of that particular breed are seen, classified, and treated the same as the dogs that have in fact bitten or attacked individuals. Deeds, not breeds, should determine whether a dog is dangerous. Why should a well-behaved American Pit Bull Terrier, and its owner, be punished for the irresponsible actions of somebody else who simply happens to own the same breed? Laws need to hold individuals accountable for their own actions. Law abiding citizens should not be punished for the reckless or irresponsible actions of others. Breed Specific Legislation solves nothing..
There are also Breed Specific Restriction Laws: These laws may require that an owner of a targeted breed do any of the following or more, depending on how the law is written:
- Muzzle the dog in public
- Spay or neuter the dog
- Contain the dog in a kennel with specific requirements (6′ chain link walls, lid, concrete floors, etc.)
- Keep the dog on a leash of specific length or material
- Purchase liability insurance of a certain amount
- Place “vicious dog” signs on the outside of the residence where the dog lives
- Make the dog wear a “vicious dog” tag or other identifying marker
Breed-specific legislation applies only to dogs of a certain appearance, not to any and all dogs. It does not take into account how the owner has raised, trained, or managed the dog. It does not take into account the dog’s actual behavior.
Why doesn’t Breed Specific Legislation work?
- Breed specific laws have been ruled unconstitutional and continue to be challenged in several court cases across the United States.
- Breed specific laws don’t acknowledge the fact that a dog of any breed can be dangerous. The law should protect your community from all dangerous dogs.
- Breed specific laws target breeds that statistics claim are responsible for more bite incidences than other breeds. The “breed” most often targeted is the “Pit Bull.” The “Pit Bull” is not a breed, but a “type” that encompasses several registered breeds and crossbreeds. Therefore, statistics that claim “Pit Bulls” are responsible for more attacks than other “breeds” are not at all accurate.
- Breed specific laws are hard to enforce fairly and effectively because the task of breed identification requires expert knowledge of the individual breeds, and is compounded if the law includes mixed breeds. The only way to identify a dog’s breed is by its appearance. Breed cannot be determined genetically and many breeds have the same, if not very similar appearances. Click here to play the “Find the Pit Bull” game. This will test your ability to properly identify a real American Pit Bull Terrier.
- Breed specific laws are extremely burdensome and costly to implement. A majority of dog attacks could have been prevented if there had been strict enforcement of existing laws. If it’s already too difficult, or perhaps not a priority to enforce current dog laws, additional laws will do nothing to make a community any safer.
Who identifies breeds for BSL?
To know whether BSL affects any particular dog, breed determination is usually made by an animal control officer or a veterinarian (depending on how the law is written). However, contrary to popular assumption, veterinarians and animal control officers—despite handling many dogs for a living—are not trained in breed identification. For the most part, they are no better than average citizens at breed identification.
- Animal Control Officers (ACOs) and Workers: There are not many hiring requirements to get a job as an animal control officer or shelter worker (the major requirement is having a physical ability to do the work, which may include picking up or restraining large animals). Being able to accurately and certainly identify dog breeds is decidedly not a requirement. Because AC departments are usually understaffed and underfunded, any sort of official training is minimal (most officers learn their duties on the job), and breed identification training is a complete rarity. Additionally, ACOs do not generally learn breed identification on the job to any great degree, because they rarely, if ever, receive feedback regarding their breed designations—so they have no idea if they are labeling dogs correctly or incorrectly.
- Veterinarians: Veterinarians do not have to be trained in breed identification to receive a veterinary license—and most aren’t. In fact, most veterinarians don’t even receive training in dog behavior. Their focus is on treating disease, and they don’t need to know a dog’s breed to diagnose and treat disease.
Checklists for Breed Identification
Some places with BSL use checklists for breed identification in an attempt to standardize and objectify identification processes. Some checklists are very short, while others tick off dozens of characteristics in great detail. The person performing the identification may be asked to choose along a sliding scale whether a particular dog matches or does not match a particular characteristic on the checklist.
Unfortunately, these checklists consist almost entirely of subjective characteristics. Using descriptive—but unmeasurable and nonscientific—words like “medium length,” “broad,” “high,” and “strong,” the checklists ask their users to draw personal conclusions about whether a particular dog matches each item.
To make things more confusing, a dog that doesn’t really meet any single breed standard may be categorized as a type of dog rather than a specific breed. Dogs may be identified as terriers, pit bulls, shepherds, or retrievers; none of these are actual breed names, and the breeds that really do make up these categories come in a startling variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. There’s a huge difference between an Airedale Terrier and a Jack Russell Terrier, so what does a “terrier mix” describe?
Important Points Against BSL
- BSL does not improve public safety or prevent dog bites.
- BSL ignores the plight of victims and potential victims of non-targeted breeds.
- BSL is costly.
- BSL requires each and every dog to be identified as a breed—something that has proven impossible to do accurately and objectively.
- BSL makes targeted breeds more desirable to irresponsible and criminal owners.
- BSL does nothing to make irresponsible dog owners accountable.
- BSL punishes responsible dog owners.
- Not a single canine welfare organization supports BSL.
Stronger dog laws and an emphasis on abuse prevention are the best alternatives. The only way to properly combat BSL is to offer better alternatives that will tackle the real problems of dog bites and attacks head on. Below are a few proposed alternatives to Breed Specific Legislation (BSL):
- Better Dog Ownership Laws. Studies have shown that dog owner mismanagement is frequently the cause of dog bites. Dogs that are not properly socialized, trained, and contained are often implicated in dog bites. Furthermore, dogs have no control over their environment, but their owners do. Consequently, dangerous dog laws should more properly be called dangerous dog owner laws, because the laws should focus on owner actions (and inactions), and owner responsibility (and irresponsibility). Dog owners are capable of—and should be held responsible for—safely controlling their dog, no matter what breed or type of dog they happen to own.
- Abuse Prevention. To achieve a safer and more humane community, abuse and dog fighting are two practices which must be of primary concern to animal control and police departments. Sadly, resources to tackle these two serious issues are often lacking. The way an animal is treated and their environment strongly affects their temperament. While our media gives dramatic reports of dog attacks, they often exclude important information about the manner in which the attacking dog was kept. Unfortunately, Pit Bulls are a direct target of scrutiny for the media and their involvement in dog attacks/bites are immediately reported by the media, while other attacks involving different breeds go unreported. Furthermore, the Pit Bull is the most abused breed of them all. The problem of Pit Bull abuse is so severe and unique that many dog registry’s such as Pet-Abuse.com, have a separate category specifically for abuse cases involving “Pit Bull” type dogs. Overall abuse of “Pit Bull” type dogs makes up 20 percent of reports of dog abuse in the United States database. Of tethered dog abuse cases, “Pit Bull” type dogs make up 40 percent of the total. Considering how many “Pit Bulls” suffer at the hands of cruel masters, their involvement in dog attacks and/or bites is almost obsolete. Efforts to stop dog fighting will also directly help this breed. Stronger laws against dog fighting should be implemented and there should be more research and investigation taking place to end these disgusting acts of torture. Identifying and preventing all forms of animal abuse will help make attack incidences less prevalent.
- Safety Education and Awareness: Education is a key component in dog bite prevention strategies. Yet this approach continues to be scoffed at by some lawmakers. Short-term studies have indicated that a child’s behavior around dogs is influenced by such education. Considering the pervasiveness of dogs in society, it makes sense that all people, young and old, should learn the basics of dog safety, even if they do not own a dog. In the United States, children make up the majority of dog bite victims. This points to a clear need for education of both children and parents about how to behave around dogs and how to avoid being bitten by dogs. Children should learn dog safety in school, much as they learn fire safety and stranger safety. Dog safety can also be taught throughout the community. Classes may be held in pet stores, booths may be set up at community events, the local government may issue tips and information in their regular publications, and so forth. Local governments and animal control departments may fund part of this education effort, rather than committing their money to enforce Breed Specific Legislation, a law that has proved it does not work. Education and awareness will lead to a safer community.
- Spay and Neuter: Unaltered male dogs are overwhelmingly implicated in dog bites, both fatal and nonfatal. In fact, this single factor is more strongly correlated to fatal attacks than the dog’s breed or the manner of containment. Considering the strong correlation between intact dogs and dog bites, it seems wise as a preventative measure to encourage spay/neuter. There are, of course, health benefits for the animal. Spay/neuter also reduces the number of accidental litters. This helps a community control the pet population. It is a win-win situation. Spay/neuter also provides an opportunity to educate dog owners about their responsibilities, to discourage the use of dogs for guarding or protection, and to provide additional resources for dog owners who are dealing with a dog’s behavior problems. It has been suggested, as well, that when an individual is encouraged to spay/neuter their pet, this helps to re-frame the animal as a valuable object requiring an investment of money and time, rather than a cheap disposable toy.
- Irresponsible Owner Regulation: The Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation commonly uses the phrase “Pit Bulls are not the problem, bad owners are the problem.” This phrase couldn’t be more accurate. Irresponsible pet ownership is a societal plague that has been ongoing for generations. When we take an animal into our home we are taking on a responsibility. Unfortunately for millions of animals, too many people choose to ignore that responsibility either due to ignorance or laziness. It is common to see irresponsible owners letting their pets roam free off leash and even around their neighborhoods. This can be hazardous for a number of reasons. Pets can come into contact with other animals and a fight can break out, possibly even leading to death for one of the animals. Without an owner’s supervision, an animal can easily be involved in a dog attack or dog bite involving other adults or children. A responsible owner would never allow this risk to take place. Dogs left to roam free are susceptible to a much shortened life when met with speeding vehicles, poison left on other properties, property owners with firearms, potentially diseased wild animals and of course being picked up by animal control and taken to the shelter. Furthermore, lack of containment can lead to animal reproduction, specifically for those pets who are unaltered. It is for this reason that both owner supervision and spay/neuter programs are so important to the success of the pet population. People like to cast the kill shelters in a negative light, but in reality it is the population at large who is responsible. The shelter does not want to kill any animal, but they simply do not have enough room or enough people willing to adopt. Impulsive decisions are probably the number one cause of abandoned pets in the United States. It is so tempting to see the adorable kitten or puppy and want to take it home. A responsible individual evaluates their options before taking the first step to pet ownership and makes a full commitment once a decision is finally made. We choose to take on the responsibility of caring for an animal for its entire life when we adopt. To do otherwise is cruel. Pets can enrich our lives in so many ways. It is only fair we do the best we can by them.
BSL will soon be a thing of the past: BSL defenders have a powerful ally and motivator on their side: fear. It’s their only ally, but it works. To fight the spread of BSL, vigilance and intelligent action are necessary. Laws are being proposed every day that are intended to take away our rights to own particular dogs for no reason other than their breed – the way they look, the hype that surrounds them. BSL is the politician’s inadequate and uneducated band-aid solution to address the gushing “wound” of irresponsible ownership and lack of personal accountability. The fight against BSL will take unwavering commitment and unconditional dedication. Here are some steps on how to take action against Breed Specific Legislation:
Monitor Legislation: Usually, the earliest hint of BSL comes from a newspaper article about a serious dog attack or dog-related death, especially if a commonly-targeted breed or type of dog is involved. This is typically followed by Letters to the Editor or editorial columns proposing a breed ban. From there, BSL discussions are put on the city council agenda. Occasionally, BSL is introduced at the start of a state legislative session. This may or may not make the news. To watch for potential BSL, you can monitor:
- your local newspapers
- your city council agendas—these are usually posted several days before the council meeting, and all but the smallest towns now post their agendas online
- your state legislature’s introduced bills—go online to your legislature’s website and see if they have a bill tracking service; for instance, you can enter keyword “dog” and it will e-mail you whenever a bill with that keyword is introduced.
Contact Your Lawmakers: This depends on who is proposing BSL. If your city council is proposing BSL, then you would contact your city council members. If a state legislator is proposing BSL, then you would contact your state representatives (in your state’s House and Senate). Most towns, cities, and counties have websites that list the local lawmakers’ contact information. You may be asking yourself “Should I contact all of the officials in the legislature, or just my elected officials?” At the state level, most officials are so swamped with their own constituents’ correspondence that they are not likely to listen to anyone outside of their district. Definitely contact your elected officials. If the bill is being considered by a committee (this usually occurs after a bill has just been proposed), you can contact the officials who are on the committee to encourage/discourage them from approving it. It is only after the bill is approved by a committee that it makes its way to the House or Senate floor for a vote. It is important to contact the lawmakers who will serve a role in the decision of enacting BSL or not. Be sure to communicate your concerns and voice your opinion when communicating with these political officials.
Write Letters. In order to create change, you must first influence change. Writing letters to political officials is the first step to fighting BSL. The key is to be brief and to the point. The first sentence in your letter or speech should tell the elected officials what you would like for them to do (or not do). State your position. The rest is up to you, but you probably should not exceed one page of text (for a speech, follow the time limit set by forum rules). Please do not use form letters and do not copy model letters. Officials absolutely hate it when they get a bunch of letters that sound the same. They may attribute form letters to radical groups and lobbyists, not to concerned individuals. The key is quality, not quantity. Use your own words and your own arguments, even if you think you aren’t a very good writer. As long as you manage to hit on a couple of important points, you’ve done more good by writing a personal letter than by sending a form letter.Always remain polite, calm, and informative. Do not threaten or insult. Remember that you are a direct representation of all the other individuals against BSL, including the dogs that are targeted by this law. Click here for some helpful tips on writing your letter.
Remember: If we do not stand UNITED, we will inevitably FALL.
Stand up AGAINST Breed Specific Legislation. End the HATE today.
Additional Resources on BSL
Find out if BSL is affecting your city or state: BSL Listings
Try to identify the Pit Bull by playing the “Find the Pit Bull” game: Find the Pit Bull
Read about the cost of implementing BSL: Expense of BSL
Find out how BSL targets and kills innocent dogs: Punishment of the Innocent
Facts, statistics and resources from StopBSL.com
Help support the fight against Breed Specific Legislation: Stand United – For Dogs Worldwide
Bull Breed Coalition Registry: BBCR Fight Against BS