Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Trouble with Breed Specific Legislation

Man's best friend.


Usually, our relationships with them are friendly ones.  We provide for their needs, and in exchange, they provide us with companionship, assistance, protection and love. I think that in the vast majority of cases, we humans are getting the better end of the deal.

I have always been a dog person.

My dog Jake, every afternoon,
waiting for his kids to get home.
That relationship isn't always mutually beneficial, however.  Too often, dogs are not cared for as they should be.  They are malnourished. They are kept chained up. They are housed in deplorable conditions. They are not taken to veterinarians. 

Then there are the people who cross the line from neglect to abuse. They train their dogs to fight. They leave them intact, which increases aggression and breeding. They keep them isolated from people, they don't socialize them. They keep them in groups, which can set up pack mentalities with the animals. They don't contain them. They don't leash them.

Sometimes those dogs bite people. Rarely, they kill them.

Any breed of dog can bite. Any breed of dog can and will even turn on their owner under the right set of circumstances. Any breed of dog, when threatened, hungry or desperate, will revert back to their hunting instincts if necessary.

I've been bitten once in my life.

By a chihuahua. A dog that was kept at home, with a neighbor family. One day, I walked over to the neighbor's house for some reason, stepped on to their front grass and didn't realize the dog was out.

He bit me. He bit a lot of people. No one ever reported it because he was a tiny dog, at most 4 pounds. The family didn't think it was a big deal because he wasn't a big dog. His story ended one sunny Saturday morning when the neighbor across the street took it into his own hands and shot the dog, who was out again, in our front yard. (oh, the things I have seen, my friends)

I don't know how many people that dog ever bit, and I wouldn't even venture a guess as to how many times, but the story illustrates my point that any dog can be vicious.

For over 12 years, we had a dog who was part Alaskan malamute, part German shepard. He was a big dog with a bigger bark, but he never hurt a soul. He showed up, literally, on our doorstep one day, abandoned as a puppy in the streets. He was cinnamon colored, the most gorgeous dog, but many people who met him for the first time were afraid of him.  He was afraid of his own shadow.

When I look at the breed specific legislation that exists, both here in the United States, and around the world, I see pit bulls singled out almost uniformly.  German shepards are almost always third on the list of both bites and kills every year behind Pit Bull breeds and Rottweilers, but they are hardly ever banned. This is a piece of the puzzle that makes no logical sense to me. 

The trouble with banning pit bulls, or any breed for that matter, is that the determination of the breed of a dog is often difficult if not impossible without either AKC paperwork or a genetic analysis of the dog.  Just looking at an animal is unreliable.  According to the National Canine Research Council, the biggest problem with singling out pit bulls as the forbidden dogs is that the dogs implicated in attacks are very often misidentified.

An additional problem is that there is no evidence that these breeds are any more aggressive than others.  One study actually found that lhasa apsos, springer spaniels and shih tzus are the most likely to bite.

The breed itself is but a factor in whether a dog will attack.  Far more influential are all the human factors involved: 

whether the dog is socialized
whether the dog is isolated
whether the dog has been taught to distrust humans
whether the dog is abused
whether the dog is altered
whether the dog is trained towards violence
whether the dog is malnourished
whether the dog is subject to being chained up
whether the dog is properly contained
whether the dog is kept with other dogs in the same circumstances
whether the dog is leashed
whether the dog is adequately supervised
whether the dog is around children without supervision

The National Canine Research Council releases a report every year after reviewing all dog bites resulting in death in the United States. The vast majority of breeds are unidentifiable, and the vast majority of attacks result from dogs that are not kept in family environments and/or that are neglected or abused.

Many cities, counties and even nations abroad have enacted legislation banning or restricting the ownership of dogs based only on breed. Arbitrary and expensive to enforce, they are a burden on dog owners as well as animal control officers and police, who often find themselves in the position of taking dogs away for no reason other than how they look.  Those laws have not been shown to reduce dog bites. In fact, the one strategy that does is ticketing irresponsible dog owners when complaints are issued. 

This issue tends to come up in the news again every time there is a dog bite death.  Last month in Georgia, a toddler was mauled to death by seven dogs on the family property.  Inside the house at the time of the attack, at least three adults, all asleep at the time even though the attack occurred at 6pm. A child is dead, the dogs were destroyed, and the adults are the ones truly responsible.

Far more important than just trying to categorize animals as good or evil, is demanding responsible pet ownership.  Deal with the people in these cases, not the animals. 

The humans are almost always to blame.


  1. OMG. I love you. I am the super proud owner of 2 Akitas. We trained them from the moment we got them. Sweetest dogs ever. In fact, our 140 lb male has his canine good citizenship award.

    The animals are never to blame. They are a product of their environment... If only we had less asshats I society.


    Valerie Nunez and the Flying Platypi

  2. I dont know HOW I missed this post... as the happy furmom of PITBULLS, (Technically, American Staffordshire's and American Red nose Pit Bulls)2 at the moment but as many as 3, and even added a foster for a short time, making 4 in my house, and yes, in my bed!
    I have worked with rescues both online and onsite, I have spent many an hour fundraising and networking for the countless homeless plight of our beloved canine companions who deserve SO MUCH MORE than what they often get.
    People always tell me, when they die, they want to come back as one of MY dogs, that's how well they are treated and loved.
    ANYONE who has had a hand (heck even a finger) in rescuing hates BSL and does whatever they find out they can to end it, signing petitions, writing letters, adopting a *high risk* dog.
    I have, in my life, had the privilege of ♦owning♦ a German Shepherd/Coyote mix, a St. Bernard, a Cockapoo, a handful of loveable mutts, a Black Lab and now, Am Staff's and Rednoses! I have always been a dog person.
    I have been bit (badly) by the foster pitbull I mentioned, she was an unknown commodity to me, even after a weeks time - and something happened - it's not something I can discuss at this time, but she was not, is not, a *bad dog* she had been abused, she had faced adversity in her life and these things were not told to me. She was placed as she was needed to be placed, in a home with no other animals, and no small children - there is a home for every dog and there is a dog for every home!
    Spaying and Neutering your dogs does not only take care of what was mentioned above, but it also has the potential of giving the dog a longer and HEALTHIER life.
    This weekend I will be, with my leashed and well behaved *pitbulls* at Central Park, participating in Rock, Walk and Wag!
    Love your Dog today!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it through Blogher. There's no evidence that breed specific legislation does any good and I think there's a case to be made that it does a lot of harm. It's a simple "solution" so people don't have to learn about how they interact with dogs.

    I had a GSD mix for years who people crossed the street to get away from. She was the sweetest, lovingest baby girl you ever want to meet. Now I have a 15lb terrier mix that people are always crowding. He is the sweetest, lovingest baby boy you ever want to meet...until you scare him. We're training and he's much better about taking his cues from me and trusting me to keep him safe from unwanted advances but it's been a long row to hoe. No one would ever ban him but they'd ban his best friend, a pit mix, who is far more chill and accepting of the bounces of life's ball than my Ed. When I walk the 2 of them people carefully choose to pass us on the tiny terrier side and I just want to shout at them "YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW WRONG YOUR CHOICE IS!" but they see the big guy's face and panic.

    I hope we can teach people better.


Some of My Most Popular Posts