Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) – Just Say No
We all hear the words Breed Specific Legislation, also known as BSL, and cringe knowing that our precious family pet could be taken away at any given moment. We all wonder how laws can be passed based solely on a dog’s appearance. So, let’s dive into what exactly breed specific legislation is; when it started; where it is; and what the studies have shown about these laws.
Breed specific legislation is defined as a set of laws put in effect to prohibit or place restrictions on certain dog’s breeds, mixed breeds, or dogs presumed to be specific breeds or mixed breeds. The earliest use of BSL occurred in 1980 in the city of Hollywood, FL. Pit bull owners were required to complete special dog registration forms and have $25,000 in liability insurance. In 1984, New Mexico passed legislation that banned the ownership of pit bulls and officers could confiscate the animal and have it euthanized. Several other states followed suit and allowed either the state legislators or city councils to place some sort of ban or restriction on breeds. Over the years, there have been 47 different breeds that cities or states have placed bans/restrictions on. Out of the 47, 23 of those breeds have characteristics of the “bully” breed.
In humans, your DNA can contribute to your eye color, hair color, and even certain diseases to which you are predisposed. It does not, however, determine your personality or how you will behave necessarily. In animals, their DNA has the same abilities but just like humans, it does not determine the animal’s behavior or personality. BSL restrictions are often based on physical characteristics rather than the individual dog’s personality. If you look at Denver CO’s current ban on pit bulls, it states that pit bulls are defined as any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any or more of the pit bull breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing (physical) characteristics, which substantially conform to the standards established by American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club. Denver, like many other cities have established bans/restrictions based on physicality and not personality. The characteristics they look for to be considered a “pit bull” are typically squared heads, exaggerated jaw muscles, wide neck and shoulders, and large build.
Since the idea of BSL was established, an estimated 900 cities or counties have some sort of ban/restrictions. Although Texas as a whole banned the use of BSL in 1991, there are still half a dozen cities that have some form of restriction. These ordinances range from housing requirements for “bully” breeds, disallowing adoption from animal shelters, and outright breed bans. There are several states that are passing laws prohibiting any type of breed specific legislation to be passed. Unfortunately, there are also several states that still have BSL’s in effect and have no laws prohibiting them. Here is the list of states that have BSL and currently allow them to be enforced; Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Kansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Vermont.
The most striking research done by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in 2015 identified multiple and manageable factors for the reasons for dog attacks. The factors were listed as: no able-bodied person present to intervene, victim having no familiar relationship with the dog, dog not being spayed/neutered, victim’s inability to manage their interaction with the dog, owner keeping dogs as watch dogs and not family pets, owner’s prior mismanagement of dog, and owner’s abuse or neglect of the dog. Four or more of these factors were present in over 80% of cases of attack. Note that the breed of the dog had nothing to do with any of them. The CDC stance to prevent dog attacks starts with a multitude of factors such as improved ownership, better understanding of dog behavior, and consistent enforcement of dangerous dogs and reckless owners. The CDC does not believe that breed specific legislation will make any city safer from a dog attack.
Another study done by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2010 examined how many dogs of a certain breed would have to be removed to prevent one serious dog bite. They used a well-known tool from the medical field called NNT (Number Needed to Treat). They took dog bite data from the CDC, State of Colorado, and other small jurisdictions and used the NNT formula to calculate how many needed to be removed. They called the testing NNB (Number Needed to Ban). The authors calculated an astounding 100,000 dogs of a certain breed would have to be removed to prevent one single serious dog bite. The number would be doubled to prevent two serious dog bites. The scientist in this study also believed BSL were ineffective and were used based more from fear than actual science.
While some people won’t understand the science behind BSL ineffectiveness, there is always one aspect that everyone does and that is money. One of the first counties to have a breed specific ban was Prince George County, Maryland. Their ban took effect in 1997 and banned owning or keeping a Pit Bull Terrier with the exception if you owned the dog prior to November 1, 1996. In 2003, a task force examined whether the BSL was effective. What they found was that the BSL was ineffective, had a negative impact on public safety, put strain on animal control and shelter resources, and cost tax payers 560,000 dollars a year in “pit bull” confiscations. When the task force did the math by multiplying 560,000 by 14 years (the number of years the ban has been in place), it totaled 7,840,000 dollars to enforce an ordinance that was shown to be ineffective. The worst part is that total number does not include money needed to cover the expenses for utilities, manpower, and overtime spent for the care of these dogs.
I could continue to talk about studies and research that show how unsuccessful BSL’s are but then you would be reading a text book. Organizations ranging from the American Bar Association, Department of Justice to the AKC (American Kennel Club) and the Humane Society of the United States calls for the prohibition of BSL. Even State Farm Insurance has taken a stand and does not exclude insuring households based on the breed of dog they have. People have started to recognize that what makes a dog dangerous is not the breed but a host of other reasons. Society cannot put policy in place based off fear and media pressure, but rather be made by using the research and studies to be productive.