Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL)
What is BSL?
“Breed-specific” legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain breeds completely in the hopes of reducing dog attacks. Some city/municipal governments have enacted breed-specific laws (view the comprehensive BSL map). However, the problem of dangerous dogs will not be remedied by the “quick fix” of breed-specific laws—or, as they should truly be called, breed-discriminatory laws.1
It is worth noting that in some areas, regulated breeds include a whole range of breeds:
- American Pit Bull Terriers
- American Staffordshire Terriers
- Staffordshire Bull Terriers
- English Bull Terriers
- American Bulldogs
- Dogo Argentino
- Canary Dog (Canary Island Dog, Presa Canario, Perro De Presa Canario)
- Presa Mallorquin (Perro de Presa Mallorquin, Ca De Bou)
- Tosa Inu (Tosa Fighting Dog, Japanese Fighting Dog, Japanese Mastiff)
- Cane Corso (Cane Di Macellaio, Sicilian Branchiero)
- Fila Brasileiro
- Chow Chows
- German Shepherds
- Doberman Pinschers
- Any mix of these breeds—and dogs who simply resemble these breeds
You read that right: Those who simply resemble these breeds. So if your dog looks like one, you should be worried. If you look at the list of countries, breeds and various legislation recorded in Wikipedia: Breed-Specific Legislation, it’ll make your head spin.
On the bright side, many states (including New York, Texas and Illinois) favor laws that identify, track and regulate dangerous dogs individually, regardless of breed, and prohibit BSL.
What’s Wrong with Breed-Specific Laws?
BSL targets dogs of a certain appearance and does not take into account how the owner has trained or managed the dog. It does not take into account the dog’s actual behavior.
There are two forms of BSL: bans and restrictions. From Stop BSL:
A breed ban usually requires that all dogs of a certain appearance (“targeted breed”) be removed from the municipality wherein the ban has been implemented. After the effective date of the ban, dogs in the municipality that are identified as targeted breeds are usually subject to being killed by animal control, though in some cases, such dogs may be saved if relocation is an option. Breed bans may have grandfather clauses that allow dogs of targeted breeds to stay in the ban area (provided they are registered with the municipality by a certain date, and likely subject to various breed-specific restrictions).
Breed-specific restrictions may require an owner of a targeted breed do any of the following or more, depending on how the law is written:
- Muzzle the dog in public
- Spay or neuter the dog
- Contain the dog in a kennel with specific requirements (6′ chain link walls, lid, concrete floors, etc.)
- Keep the dog on a leash of specific length or material
- Purchase liability insurance of a certain amount
- Place “vicious dog” signs on the outside of the residence where the dog lives
- Make the dog wear a “vicious dog” tag or other identifying marker
BSL carries a host of negative and wholly unintended consequences:1
- Dogs go into hiding
Rather than give up their beloved pets, owners of highly regulated or banned breeds often attempt to avoid detection of their “outlaw” dogs by restricting outdoor exercise and socialization and forgoing licensing, microchipping and proper veterinary care, including spay/neuter surgery and essential vaccinations. Such actions have implications both for public safety and the health of these dogs.
- Good owners and dogs are punished
BSL also causes hardship to responsible owners of entirely friendly, properly supervised and well-socialized dogs who happen to fall within the regulated breed. Although these dog owners have done nothing to endanger the public, they are required to comply with local breed bans and regulations unless they are able to mount successful (and often costly) legal challenges.
- They impart a false sense of security
Breed-specific laws have a tendency to compromise rather than enhance public safety. When limited animal control resources are used to regulate or ban a certain breed of dog, without regard to behavior, the focus is shifted away from routine, effective enforcement of laws that have the best chance of making our communities safer: dog license laws, leash laws, animal fighting laws, anti-tethering laws, laws facilitating spaying and neutering and laws that require all owners to control their dogs, regardless of breed.
- They may actually encourage ownership by irresponsible people
If you outlaw a breed, then outlaws are attracted to that breed. Unfortunately some people take advantage of the “outlaw” status of their breed of choice to bolster their own self image as living outside of the rules of mainstream society. Ironically, the rise of Pit Bull ownership among gang members and others in the late 1980’s coincided with the first round of breed-specific legislation.
BSL will not only exhaust the limited resources of the already underfunded animal control programs by flooding them with potentially “unadoptable” dogs; it could cost individual communities millions of dollars while providing questionable results fulfilling its purpose of preventing dog related injuries and fatalities as. The costs of enforcing BSL include but are not limited to:2
- Animal control and enforcement costs,
- Expenses for kenneling and veterinary care,
- Expenses related to euthanasia and carcass disposal,
- Litigation costs from residents appealing or contesting the law, and;
- Possible DNA testing costs.
Additional costs depending on current resources available to a specific community’s animal control program may include:
- Additional shelter veterinarians,
- Increased enforcement staffing, and;
- Capital costs associated with increased shelter space needed.
To calculate what BSL will cost you if one is enacted in your city, state
On August 6, 2012, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates approved Resolution 100, urging “all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies [. . .] to repeal breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.” A comprehensive recommendation is accompanied by an extensive report detailing the legion of problems associated with breed specific regulation, including:3
- significant questions of due process;
- waste of government resources;
- documented failure to produce safer communities;
- enforcement issues connected with identifying the dogs to be regulated or seized;
- and infringement of property rights.
Bottomline: there is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals.
Following a thorough study of human fatalities resulting from dog bites, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decided not to support BSL. The CDC cited, among other problems, the inaccuracy of dog bite data4 and the difficulty in identifying dog breeds (especially true of mixed-breed dogs). The CDC also noted the likelihood that as certain breeds are regulated, those who exploit dogs by making them aggressive will replace them with other, unregulated breeds.
And we’ll be back at square one, with probably worse outcome.
1ASPCA – Breed Specific Legislation
2Best Friends Animal Society, “The Fiscal Impact of Breed Discriminatory Legislation in the United States” (PDF) – April 2012
3American Bar Association’s Resolution 100 (PDF) – August 2012
4Dog bite data varies greatly; not all bites are reported, and those reported aren’t always documented into databases.
5Best Friends Animal Society: Breed-Discriminatory Legislation: An Ineffective Response to Negligent or Reckless Owners
What’s the Alternative?
In the aforementioned study, the CDC noted that many other factors beyond breed may affect a dog’s tendency toward aggression—things such as heredity, sex, early experience, reproductive status, socialization and training. These last two concerns are well-founded, given that:
- More than 70 percent of all dog bite cases involve unneutered male dogs (an unneutered male dog is 2.6 times more likely to bite than is a neutered dog)
- 97 percent of dogs involved in fatal dog attacks in 2006 were not spayed/neutered
- A chained or tethered dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than a dog who is not chained or tethered
- 78 percent were maintained not as pets, but rather for guarding, image enhancement, fighting or breeding
- 84 percent were maintained by reckless owners—these dogs were abused or neglected, not humanely controlled or contained, or allowed to interact with children unsupervised
Recognizing that the problem of dangerous dogs requires serious attention, the ASPCA seeks effective enforcement of breed-neutral laws that hold dog owners accountable for the actions of their animals.
Here are some suggested alternatives from America Against BSL:
- Put a stop to leash law violations. Strengthening (or enacting) leash laws is an excellent place to start when addressing the issue of dog attacks. Many dog attacks reported in the news are committed by loose dogs running off their property. Without leash laws, ACOs can’t catch loose dogs until they hurt someone. Impose higher penalties for owners who violate the leash law and increase funding for animal control agencies to properly enforce them. Remember, it’s not the dog’s fault it’s loose — it’s the owner’s fault. Owners are responsible for containing their dogs.
- Strengthen and enforce penalties for dangerous owners and their dogs. In many municipalities, consequences for an owner of a dangerous dog are too light. National animal organizations like HSUS, the ASPCA and the AVMA enthusiastically support the strengthening and enforcement of non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws that prosecute owners for their animal’s actions and their lack of responsibility.
- Crack down on dog fighting. Indiscriminate breeders and vicious individuals have inhumanely transformed many of these dogs into unsocialized, aggressive animals. Cracking down on dog fighting requires a lot of money, time and manpower. Additionally many local laws allow dog fighters to get off the hook with light sentences and minimal fines.
- Strengthen animal abuse laws. Dogs can become aggressive as a result of cruelty/abuse, neglect, improper care, chaining or lack of socialization. Communities need strong anti-abuse laws to put a stop to the owner-imposed neglect and pain that prompts some dogs to bite/attack humans.
- Prevent criminals from owning dogs. Drug dealers, human or animal abusers, anyone convicted of a violent offense (e.g. assault, rape, robbery) and gang members should not be allowed to own dogs. They have proven themselves unconcerned with the well-being of others and cannot be trusted to raise a dog with a concern for public safety.
- Regulate breeders. Backyard breeders and puppy mills produce mass quantities of puppies for money, without concern for good temperament or public safety. Often, their treatment of their breeding dogs and puppies borders on inhumane. Additionally, pet overpopulation puts a financial strain on animal control agencies and shelters.
- Nuisance ordinances. Protect the rights of all citizens with nuisance ordinances such as anti-barking, anti-tether and pooper scooper regulations.
For help in drafting animal control laws, contact the ASPCA’s Government Relations department at email@example.com.
- Fund public spay/neuter initiatives. Unaltered dogs are far more likely to attack a human. Unneutered male dogs also tend to escape and wander more than neutered males. Low-cost spay/neuter programs reach out to citizens who may be unable to afford the regular cost of these surgeries.
- Educate about dog behavior. A breakdown in communications between dog and human can have serious consequences for both parties. In particular, young children should be taught in school how to avoid dog bites. Almost half of all dog bite victims in the U.S. are young children.
- Encourage responsible dog ownership. Dogs need proper socialization and training to ensure that they will become a good canine citizen. They also need exercise and mental stimulation, which can be provided through complex dog sports like agility, or even just a simple game of “fetch”. Supporting dog events in your area also shows owners that dogs are valuable family members.
Responsible dog ownership and public education must be a primary focus of any dog bite prevention policy. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) published a position paper in September 2014 that supports the use of appropriate legislation regarding dangerous dogs as long as it is education-based and not breed-specific. Share the AVSAB’s Position Statement on Breed-specific Legislation (PDF) to discount common fallacies of “easy fixes” that are often based on myths, and instead promote awareness that will reduce the prevalence of aggression toward people and promote better care, understanding, and welfare of our canine companions.
In conclusion, BSL is an ineffective response to negligent or reckless owners. Everyone benefits from safe communities — both people and pets. And we have a responsibility to keep our communities protected from any dangerous dogs and their negligent or reckless owners. But breed-discriminatory legislation is ineffective, because it focuses on the wrong thing. Rather than pass laws that punish innocent pets for being born a certain breed and their responsible owners, our communities should have breed-neutral comprehensive dog laws that hold negligent or reckless owners accountable for their dogs and situations that are actually dangerous.5