Whatever your opinion of “pit bulls” no one can deny their image has been tarnished, especially in recent years. From unscrupulous owners, to poorly researched media, the dogs that we call pit bulls have received less than fair treatment. Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) is an attempt to ban specific breeds deemed likely to be dangerous or harmful. However, time and time again it’s been proven to be less than accurate, expensive to enforce and unfair to responsible owners.
When people think of Breed-Specific Legislation they think of pit bulls. However, many BSLs have included American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, American Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and any other mix or dogs who look similar to these breeds. In some instances breed bans have also prohibited dogs of a certain weight or stature.
Although BSL may appear, on the outside, to be protecting public safety, many BSL opponents including: The American Medical Veterinary Association (AVMA), The American Kennel Club, The Westminster Kennel Club, The National Centers for Disease Control, among others, argue that BSL is not effective for many reasons. Below are 6 reasons, backed by research, why Breed Specific Legislation does more harm than good:
1. Accurately identifying breeds is extremely difficult
In case study after case study, people inaccurately identify breeds. In fact, in a recent report from Dr. Victoria Boith in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, showed that adoption agencies 87.5% of the time inaccurately identify breeds who pass through their organization. With statistics like this and the rise of mixed breeds, many professional organizations and researchers have deemed visual identification of dogs as ineffective. They argue that if a person is unable to accurately identify a breed, how are they able to label them as dangerous?
Along with this, the American Veterinary Medical Association has noted that there has been no evidence collected to date which clearly shows that one particular breed is more likely to harm someone than another. It is because of this they argue, that when it comes to identifying dogs which could potentially pose a threat to others, clues should be drawn from the dogs individual behavior as opposed to appearance.
It is also important to note that the term ‘pit-bull’ does not classify a particular breed, but rather a group of dogs that the media or society considers to be a pit bull. This means that it can change from place to place and person to person, making it an ineffective way to categorize potentially dangerous dogs. In fact most kennel clubs around the world do not recognize pit-bulls as a specific breed.
2. Humans are to blame for dangerous dogs
A study by the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 84% of dogs that harmed individuals were the result of negligent ownership. These dogs were mistreated, were tethered or confined, or were allowed to play with children without adult supervision. The report also stated that 78% of the dogs in these instances were trained to guard, fight, make their human handler appear more ‘tough’, or were subjected to inhumane breeding. In this case it is not fair, they argue, to compare these dogs those owned by responsible people. The study found that most dogs which are kept in a loving, residential environment were not likely to be harmful to others. Breed-Specific Legislation in this case punishes even those who have properly trained and take good care of their dogs.
3. Dogs go into hiding to avoid detection
Since loving owners do not want to give away pets that may be identified under the breed-ban, they ‘hide’ them. Although this may seem like an effective method to avoid detection, it often leads to the dogs being subjected to less than ideal circumstances. Some of these harmful consequences include: restricted outdoor exercise, limited veterinarian care and not being properly licensed or microchipped. In this case BSL is deemed as ineffective as the health consequences experienced by these dogs, far outweigh the likelihood that they will be a threat or harmful towards an individual.
4. Rebels will just switch to another non-outlawed breed
People who are committed to owning dogs for dangerous purposes, like dog-fighting and other criminal activities, will work around the breed-ban by just switching to a non-outlawed breed. After all, it’s not the breed, it’s the provided environment and training (or lack thereof) that makes any dog potentially dangerous.
5. Some of these dogs play an important role in the community
Many dogs who fall under the BSL have both throughout history and in current times played an important role in their community. These dogs have acted as therapy dogs, assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs, police dogs, or drug detection dogs. In this case, removing these dogs from their beneficial community roles, poses far more consequences than benefits. Along with this it will also create difficulties for those with disabilities, who want to travel with their ‘breed-banned’ service dog, as since each state has their own regulations, service dog teams may restricted from certain areas all together.
6. BSL creates a shift away from proper enforcement and is extremely costly
Enforcing dog license and leash laws, animal-fighting laws, promoting spaying and neutering and other similar regulations, is important to public safety, regardless of the breed. When BSL is in place, limited resources are used to focus only on banned breeds, as opposed to regulating all pets and animals as a whole. BSL is also extremely costly and requires a large portion of tax payers dollars.
It is clear to see that BSL is not only difficult to implement, but is also ineffective in increasing public safety. Those concerned about the potential threat of dogs to humans, should focus on community education as a way of reducing these concerns. Like we have learned countless times throughout history with humans, appearance should not be used as a prerequisite of determining behavior, but rather be judged on a case to case basis.
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