What is Breed Specific Legislation or BSL?
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 incidents 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, regardless of breed.
- Breed specific laws target breeds that statistics claim are responsible for more bite incidents 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 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 Arguments 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.
BSL is an ethical failure. BSL is a public safety failure.
For further information regarding BSL and why it does not work, please visit the National Canine Research Council.