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Friday, October 16, 2009

Breed Specific Legislation or BS Laws?

I agreed to take in 2 purebred shih tzus from that overwhelmed shelter that I discussed in my previous blog. I don't know how many of the dozens of animals did or didn't get rescued... I keep asking, but no one is telling, so I just figure I do not need to know.  I am just going to concentrate on my 2 newbies when they arrive, and thank god that I could help them.

I made a new friend on my Des Moines Register blog.  He said that he is waiting for me to discuss pit bull bans in my blog.   I did not ask him what side he took on the subject, so I will be curious to see his response to this blog.  I am not an expert in that area by any means.  I do have an opinion I will share.

Pit bull bans fall under what we call Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). While I think that some BSL could be effective, I believe the majority of it is not.

BSL usually targets specific breeds, usually pit bulls, rottweilers, german shepherds, etc.  One of the problems with BSL is that for every dog that is aggressive and is allowed to experience an incident, there are dozens of the same breed that are not aggressive and never have an incident.  I see the good dog sitting at home on the couch next to the good owner, watching tv.  I see this dog as an old dog, that shared it's entire life with this owner, with no incidents of aggression.  I see this dog as a pit bull, or a rottweiler, or a german shepherd with a gray face, arthritis, and age related cataracts. I see this house being located in a community that has just enacted a breed ban within city limits.  This good owner is now forced to either give her best friend to someone not within the limits of this city, to move herself out of city limits, or euthanize her best friend of 8 years despite his good health and friendly demeanor in his senior years.

Is that dog a pit bull?  Being a veterinarian in a town that is surrounded by towns with BSL of some sort, I have had several clients come to the clinic asking me for a letter to be sent to their town officials stating the breed of their dog.  They have had notice put on their property by law enforcement officials, that their dog is considered vicious by definition in the law, not by actions of the dog,  and they must show proof of insurance.  Most of them have been purebred boxers, and boxers are not commonly listed as vicious dogs, despite the fact that they are commonly mistaken for pit bulls.  I am not an expert in breed identification, and I do not yet have confidence in DNA based breed identification, but I do know what a purebred boxer looks like, even if the general public and law enforcement officials do not.  I can remember as a kid, walking with my best friend and her boxer.  People would stop, and take a cautious step back, then inquire, "Is that a pit bull"?  It wasn't.  And when the person was told that it wasn't a pit bull, they would step forward and pet the dog.  The dog did not change in those few seconds, but the person's impression of the dog changed in those few seconds.

What is a pit bull?   There is a lot of ambiguity in the term pit bull. states, "Pit bull is a term commonly used to describe several breeds of dog in the Molosser family. Many breed-specific laws use the term 'pit bull' to refer to the modern American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and dogs with significant mixes of these breeds; however, a few jurisdictions also classify the modern American Bulldog and Bull Terrier as a 'pit bull-type dog.' The term can also refer to dogs that were known as 'bull terriers' prior to the development of the modern Bull Terrier in the early 20th century."  Ambiguity in a term within a law is generally not a good thing. 

I am going to challenge you to take a quiz.  It is located here... .  The quiz is described as, "Only one of the pictures below features the real American Pit Bull Terrier. Take the test to see if you can find it. To find the breed of a dog, click on the image. Note: there are no mixes or rescue dogs of unknown background whose breed could be debated. All dogs have been picked from breeders' websites and should be good representatives of their breed."  I would love if you would write in the comments section below, the number of photographs you go through before you "find the American pit bull terrier".  Perhaps you are better at it than I am, but it took me several tries to find it.  You can see why it would be difficult for anyone to say whether a dog is a pit bull or not.  The game did not include mixed breeds in the array of photos, which presents an even more difficult task to undertake.

Our shelters are overwhelmed with pit bull type dogs, and large black dogs, and neither one adopts out easily.  People don't often choose the black dogs, or the dogs they imagine are pit bulls.  The one scenario where I believe BSL could help is here.  All pit bull type dogs, and large black dogs including black labs and rottweilers should be mandatory spay/neuter.  Not because they are mean, but because they are significantly over represented in our nation's shelters.   If you do not want your dog spayed/neutered, then you must pay for a breeder's license which will be required to be maintained for the reproductive life of the dog.  Actually, I think this should be true for ALL dogs, but that is yet another blog. 

To be successful, BSL must address the behavioral history of a dog that has been involved in an incident.  Repeat offenders, regardless of breed, should be the dogs under scrutiny.  Bet you get lots of chihuahuas as repeat offenders!  I say that jokingly, but many small dogs do bite.  They are often not reported because their bites generally do not cause the amount of damage that a large dog's bite could.  Any law would be difficult to draft because violations could range from almost forgivable offenses to offenses that seem under punished  A situation where a 5 year old girl gets bitten after she falls on her chihuahua and breaks it's leg is much different than a 5 year old girl playing in her yard, and being bitten by two dogs that are running at large due to irresponsible pet ownership.  The same punishment for each dog and it's owner seems unfair in these two situations.

One way to help the pit bull breed would be to stop irresponsible breeding of the dogs, and to strictly enforce the laws regarding dog fighting.  Communities and law enforcement know where and when many of these fighting events take place but they do nothing to stop them. Lack of interest, lack of funds, lack of law enforcement personnel, lack of  facilities to care for the dogs once confiscated...whatever the reason or excuse is for not enforcing dog fighting laws, it is the wa bad  reason.  Martin Luther King once said, "“Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way."

I know the good owner of the good dog is the one that will reluctantly and heartbreakingly obey the BSL law.  I know the dog fighter with 50 pit bull type dogs will not.  And I know that the good dog with his grey face, loyal personality, and loving owner, because of it's breed, will not have a safe place to go.

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Anonymous said...

Hi! I loved the photo quiz. I got it right on the first try....but I may have had an unfair advantage as my husband and I have done Boxer Rescue for many many years....and we have been verbally accosted by very uninformed and vicious people - claiming that we were walking "vicious dogs" in "their" neighborhood! Ha! It was a full grown registered fawn Boxer and a 2 mo.old flashy brindle Boxer baby~ turns out the jerk was a lawyer who thought he knew everything! Ha Ha!!! (And it was block from our it was OUR neighborhood too!) Breed Specific bans are not good for anyone! Esp. the dogs!!! =)

ameow2002 said...

One of our recent adopted dogs was DNA tested as her owner was worried about a proposed pitbull ban in her town. She looks like a pit and we listed her as a pit mix. Turns out she is 25% bulldog, 12% border collie and several other things all less than 12%. Which just goes to show why any kind of BSL based on appearance and not temperament is worthless! Breedism, media sensationalism, public hysteria and lack of education means good dogs and their people will suffer.

hungeryjack said...

Nice post - bull terrier pictures ..Keep Posting

bull terrier pictures

Amada said...

Thank you for this post, My mom was really worried when we told her that our new puppy, rescued from the pound, was a Pit Bull. We have a young son and a baby on the way... But I have to say that he is the only dog that hasn't gotten aggressive with my 18 month old son, allows him to touch his face, go near his food, and generally act like any 18 month old who is curious about a dog.... That being said, with any breed, you need to be careful introducing children, and they must be watched at all times... Just because you have a Lab doesn't mean they won't hurt/kill a young child, as was the case a little over a year ago here in Southern California... but you don't see a Lab specific ban anywhere.

Deborah said...

Thanks for the post. I actually found it on the first try. I have a dog that is most likely fully APBT, but some of her markings make me wonder if she's got a little Boxer in her. She is incredibly gentle and has met children as young as a year old, some who were in a carriage (stroller) and absolutely adored them. I would be curious to see what a DNA test would show on her. My mom was not concerned about the breed, but about Peaches's size. When I got stung by a bee and had to go to the hospital due to an allergic reaction, Peaches remained calm and changed my mom's mind for the most part. Again, thank you for this great post.