BSL - WHAT IS IT?
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is designed to place restrictions on ownership of certain breeds of dogs. Typically, the restricted breeds include pit bull-type dogs (usually vaguely defined), followed by Rottweilers. Other breeds may include German Shepherds, Chow Chows, Presa Canarios, Dobermans, Cane Corsos, Huskies, Boxers, and mixes of these.
Breed-specific legislation creates a number of restrictions or regulations on any one breed. Owners of certain breeds of dogs may be required to: Keep the dog muzzled in public, Purchase insurance for the dog, Keep the dog on its owner's property at all times (no trips to the park, the store, etc.) Keep the dog in a specific enclosure at all times.
The most common kind of breed-specific legislation completely bans all dogs of a certain breed or breed type. This means that all dogs of the banned breed must be removed from the area or euthanized. This often includes family pets that have been owned for years without incident.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH BSL?
The biggest problem is that breed-specific legislation, true to its name, requires every dog to be classified as a certain breed. This is virtually impossible!
Almost all BSL restricts "pit bulls". What are "pit bulls"? American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are usually thrown into that category. What about American Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Boxers, or English Bulldogs? To aggravate breed identification conundrums, most legislation adds "and mixes" to the wording. In what I can only assume is an attempt to patch up this mess, the law may helpfully describe the appearance of dogs that fall under the category of "pit bull". Needless to say, a lot of dogs fall under the description of "wide head, broad chest, and short fur". Suddenly you're up to your neck in "pit bulls"!
To further the injustice, in many cases the dog's owner is responsible for proving that their dog is not a member of the proscribed breed, a task that is usually as difficult as proving it is a certain breed. This is a clear cut case of "guilty before proven innocent" - a very unAmerican philosophy. Breed misidentification leads to expensive, time-consuming lawsuits against the government, something that costs taxpayers a lot of money. The animal control departments I spoke to recently identified these lawsuits as one of the worst consequences of BSL - their precious time and money wasted defending laws that almost nobody in the animal control industry likes.
ALIENATING RESPONSIBLE DOG OWNERS
Responsible dog owners are turned off by BSL. Who wants to put up a fence, pay an extra license fee, purchase extra insurance, etc. just to own a dog that everyone discriminates against? Responsible owners are driven away from the breeds that need them the most. Rescue organizations and shelters are overburdened with perfectly good dogs that no one wants. For good owners with lower incomes, caring for a restricted-breed dog is too expensive considering the cost of extra insurance, special licensing fees, and so forth.
On the other hand, irresponsible owners and criminals could care less about BSL. They really don't care about the laws anyway. They already fail to license and vaccinate their dogs. They don't follow leash laws. Their dogs are unsocialized, untrained, and neglected. How can BSL change the way these owners act?
BSL treats all owners exactly the same, whether they are good, responsible owners or neglectful, irresponsible owners. What, then, would inspire a good owner to train their dog and teach it to be a good canine citizen? If the dog has to wear a muzzle on the streets and you have to buy extra insurance to keep it, there's no incentive to spend $100 plus "one hour per week for six weeks" at an obedience class (assuming the dog is even allowed in public).
BSL IS INEFFECTIVE
The presumed goal of BSL is to reduce dog bites and dog attacks. In reality, BSL rarely achieves that goal.
Dog bite and attack statistics indicate that dog bites are committed by more than just the so-called "dangerous" breeds. Until 2002, the Texas Department of Health Zoonosis Division put out annual "Severe Animal Attack and Bite Surveillance Summary" reports that summarize the breeds responsible for the most serious attacks. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Chow Chows (in no particular order) were consistently on the list. But most interesting of all are the other breeds found on the list, so-called "family dogs". During the studies provided (1996 - 2002), these other breeds included Labrador Retrievers and mixes, Blue Heelers, and Collies. Additional breeds seen occasionally on the list included Chihuahuas and Dachshunds. Remember, this report deals with severe bites and attacks, so that should put to rest the myth that bites from little dogs are not serious.
However, these statistics can not establish which breeds are "more dangerous" than others. As the TDH Survey states, "the number of animals in various dog breeds in the overall canine population is unknown; therefore, no conclusions can be drawn concerning whether dogs of these... breeds [in the study] are prone to bite more often than other breeds or if these are merely the more popular breeds." Taking this into consideration, it's natural that a ban on certain breeds of dogs only means that another breed will become popular in the area - and new breeds will take the top spots on the Severe Bite list.
Copyright 2005-2007 by Jennifer Thomas.