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ANIMAL WELFARE | ANIMAL ADVOCACY | EDUCATION

Breed Specific Legislation

What is it? Why is learning about it important? What can be done to affect positive change?

Photo by Nancy Guth from Pexels

For all animal lovers out there, and more specifically, especially any dog guardians, if you haven’t heard about Breed Specific Legislation, here is a quick guide to what it is and how it is affecting our beloved friends.

What is BSL?

Breed-specific legislation (BSL), also referred to as breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL), is a law or ordinance that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds, and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of one or more of those breeds. -National Canine Research Council

These laws target breeds such as Chow Chows, American Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, English Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and many more.

Essentially, the power of BSL can:

  • Place conditions on ownership such as mandatory muzzling
  • Place a complete ban on owning a certain breed in a state
  • Impose liability insurance requirements
  • Restrictions to certain public places
  • Training or licensing requirements
  • Mandatory spay and neuter

And in my opinion, one of BSL’s most powerful effects is creating a presumption that these dogs are dangerous.

Why we need to know about this and why it’s so important

The main argument supporters of BSL likely make is that these laws are created to keep our communities safer by reducing dog bites/attacks.

While the sentiment and idea of keeping our communities safe are great, the plans implemented are nonsensical and discriminatory.

“There is no evidence from the controlled study of dog bites that one kind of dog is more likely to bite a human being than another kind of dog. An AVMA Animal Welfare Division survey covering 40+ years concluded that no group of dogs should be considered disproportionately dangerous.”-American Vetinary Medical Association

Additionally, in a multifactorial study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association “on the exceptionally rare events of dog bite-related fatalities, the researchers identified a striking co-occurrence of multiple, controllable factors in these cases. Breed was not identified as a factor.” -National Canine Research Council

  • BSL has not reduced dog-bite-related injuries. In fact, there is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or animals.
  • BSL hurts responsible owners. Whether through housing limitations, relinquishment of the animal due to local breed bans, or fees. A complete statewide ban on a particular breed can ensure that these breeds are killed in shelters because it makes it impossible for owners to adopt these types of animals.
  • BSL hurts dogs. Some owners resort to hiding their dogs in an effort to not give them up, and this can lead to reducing the dog’s exercise, prevent the dog from going to the doctor for annual checkups, and avoid socializing, to name a few. All of this can affect the physical and mental health of the dogs.
  • BSL hurts the community. When local animal control agents and police are spending their efforts eradicating certain breeds of dogs, the areas of community safety that could truly benefit from resources are ignored: Animal fighting laws, leash laws, anti-tethering laws, laws facilitating spay and neuter, and license laws for breeders. Instead of focusing on those aspects that truly could make a difference in our community, time and resources are used to regulate or ban specific breeds.
  • It is very costly to implement and enforce BSL.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more than 700 U.S. cities have enacted breed-specific laws. That means even though many states have adopted provisions against dog breed restrictions, we still have a long way to go to educating and changing the rest of the country for our communities and the love of animals.

Dogs are not meant to be chained, tethered, or confined; they need exercise, socialization, and love just like we do. A study of fatal dog attacks in 2006 revealed that 84% of the attacks involved reckless owners-owners who abused or neglected their dogs. Of that same study, 97% of owners did not spay or neuter their dogs, and 78% did not maintain their dogs as pets (meaning they used their dogs for breeding, yard dogs, or guard dogs). What does that tell you about dog bite incidents?

This reveals many things, but most importantly, that dog bite incidents are not based on or caused by certain breeds. They are caused by irresponsible dog owners not taking good care of their pets — whether through neglect and abuse, poor socialization, or just improperly caring for their animals' physical, mental, and emotional health.

All dogs have the potential to bite. Every dog, from a Chihuahua to a Great Dane, if provoked, if abused, if trained to fight, if scared, if threatened, can bite.

Could we reduce dog bite incidents by implementing low-cost spay and neuter? By imposing harsher punishment/fines for reckless owners who abuse or neglect their dogs so they cannot be repeat offenders? By creating community ordinances that respect responsible owners but restrict reckless ones? By imposing restrictions on breeding and puppy mills? By prohibiting chaining, tethering, and unreasonable confinement? I believe we can!

The best way you can help

Be informed and spread the word about what BSL is and why as constituents, we should try to eradicate it.

Work to improve your own understanding of canine behavior and ownership so you can know the facts and be confident in sharing the truth. This includes:

  • Being a responsible dog guardian by taking good care of your animals through their health.
  • Practicing safety out in public.
  • Practicing safety in your yard at home.
  • Actively training for general well-being (like potty training, boredom, and walking out in public) but also for behavioral concerns (separation anxiety, resource guarding, fears of loud noises or other dogs, etc.).
  • Acting humanely.
  • Being responsible about educating children about safety around dogs.
  • Always asking other guardians and their pets for permission to approach their dog.

Send your local legislator a letter, email, or phone them! If you aren’t sure how to do this, the Humane Society of the United States and Best Friends Animal Society has many resources to help make it easy for you to make a difference even from sitting at home.

  • Best Friends Animal Society: Visit their website to more about BSL, or sign up to be part of the Best Friends Action Team, or sign up to get legislative alerts about ordinances or laws that may affect the town where you live.
  • Humane Society of the United States: On their website, you can type in your address and find out who your local legislators are to contact them about important issues to you and your community.
  • And further resources that may be helpful to share and read about this issue:

Closing Thoughts

BSL is just one of the many issues animals are facing today, but an important one that I wanted to share for those that may not know much about it.

I think the most valuable way to share with people who may be afraid of dogs in general or afraid of certain breeds is to listen to their story with an open mind and heart (maybe they were attacked as a kid by a dog, or maybe they’ve heard stories from someone else).

Listening first is a great way to understand where they are coming from, their history, and why they believe what they do about dogs.

Share with them the facts and research about dog bites and why we need to focus our attention on restricting reckless owners and protecting responsible ones.

We could truly make a difference in protecting people and animals if we turn our attention and focus on the issues at hand, not on what the media focuses on.

As with any movement in history, it all starts with one person, and that person can be you today.

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