Animal Rights

The Case Against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

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Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL, is a set of public policy laws designed to reduce the amount of dog bite-related injury and death. Lawmakers attempt to confront this problem by examining the statistics surrounding dog bites and legislating against certain breeds. By far, the most common breeds focused upon are the 'pit bull' type breeds.

BSL relies on the premise that all dogs of a certain breed-- or groups of breeds-- are vicious by their very nature. As a research paper by James H. Bandow of the National Center for Biotechnology Information points out, "Breed-specific legislation has three weaknesses: vagueness, over-inclusiveness and under-inclusiveness."

In the past, BSL has targeted Chow-Chows, German Shepherds, or Rottweilers. Now, the focus is on the vague moniker: "pit bulls". Pit bull-- like pointer, gundog, herding dog and retriever-- is not a breed, but a loose collection of breeds. The breeds include, but are not limited to: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, "any dog whose owner registers, defines, admits or otherwise identifies the dog as being of a banned breed," any mixed-breed dog which contains a specified amount of any of the aforementioned breeds, or any dog that looks similar to one of these breeds or mixes.

Some descriptions of the breed group include different specific breeds, like the Cane Corso recently reported as being a pit bull in media reports. This vagueness is part of the problem because laws which are vague are usually found unconstitutional because a reasonable person should be able to fully understand what is required of them so that person can strive to not run afoul of the law. The problem is that none of these laws require a mathematical certainty to determine the breed, or the amount of a banned breed in a mixed-breed dog. All that is needed is that an Animal Control Officer identify the dog as a member of the regulated breed. Seeing as how a recent court case-- namely Cardelle v. Miami-Dade County Code Enforcement-- found Animal Control Officers, by virtue of their title, are not "experts" when it comes to identifying 'pit bulls'. Thus, vague public policy is the antithesis of constitutional public policy.

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Another identified problem with BSL is that is casts too wide a net. While nobody ignores the fact that there are, in fact, vicious and/or deadly individual dogs presenting a public safety risk to our communities, it is unsound policy to assume that every individual dog of any breed presents such a risk simply on account of that dog's breed. If that were the case, every "pit bull" type dog would bite, maim, and/or kill other dogs and/people. This is obviously not the case. Over-inclusiveness causes Animal Control Agencies to waste precious resources rounding up, housing, and destroying friendly dogs simply because they fall into a man-made category or happen to look like a dog which fits into that category.

The third problem identified was under-inclusiveness. On the subject of vicious dogs of breeds other than 'pit bull', Mr. Bandow continues, "under-inclusiveness has to do with the fact that all dogs can and occasionally do bite, and that dogs referred to as 'pit bulls' are not the only breeds that have the fighting instinct. All dogs, no matter what their breed, are a product of their environment. A dog's personality is derived from a combination of genetics, treatment, training and socialization." Focusing on all local dogs of a certain breed or group of breeds-- regardless of the individual dog's temperament-- insufficient resources are left for dealing with actual vicious individual dogs of other breeds and the local animal control agency's resources are strained to the breaking point.

If the National Center for Biotechnology Information stood alone in their findings, then perhaps it could be argued that their study was simply an outlier. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The Center for Disease Control also disagrees with BSL as shown here:

"Many practical alternatives to breed-specific policies exist and hold promise for preventing dog bites. For prevention ideas and model policies for control of dangerous dogs, please see the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions: A community approach to dog bite prevention."

Furthermore, many other groups of professionals and experts in the field hold BSL, as a public safety policy, in contempt. For very good reasons.

These groups are (in alphabetic order): American Dog Owners Association (ADOA); American Humane; American Kennel Club (AKC); American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA); American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA); Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT); Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP); National Animal Control Association (NACA); National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) and; National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI).

Breed Specific Legislation is, plainly, unsound public policy.