Breed-specific legislation (BSL) encompasses any law that focuses on particular dog breeds, making ownership within certain areas illegal or require special actions to keep the dog. The laws usually encompass military bases and entire cities; in fact more than 500 cities in the United States have BSL in place. The laws are enacted in an effort to alleviate dog attacks and dog fighting problems. Owners who ignore or are unaware of BSL where they live can face extreme fines and confiscation of the dog. Animal control facilities are more likely to euthanize any dogs taken in that match a breed listed under BSL. Dogs in BSL areas that do not outright “ban” the breed will have regulations that include the size of the property fence, the type of leash and collar used, and liability insurance that covers dog-related injuries.
“Breed” may be misleading. Many laws and regulations name breeds such as Dalmatians and Rottweilers, while others use umbrella terms like “pit bulls” and “shepherds.” With dogs, it is difficult to distinguish a dog’s breed without DNA testing and uses a variety of different features to try to determine a dog’s breed, usually varying from city to city. Many BSL laws have a clause or stipulation that includes dogs resembling listed breeds by feature or even behavior. In other words, any dog can fall under a BSL law or regulation without DNA proof to the contrary. It is certainly not a case of “innocent until proven guilty.”
How effective are BSL laws? Research shows that there is no scientific backing to dog attacks being more common among particular breeds. BSL laws are also time consuming and expensive to enforce, and many people are able to get around the laws to keep their beloved, well-behaved pets. It also doesn’t encourage pet parents to properly train their pets. If a Labrador gets out of hand, the dog will be less likely to get into legal trouble because it isn’t a “problem” breed. Even well-behaved and well-trained Dobermans are at risk of being taken from their owners and euthanized by local law enforcement. This punishes law-abiding citizens and innocent animals without changing the amount of dog-related incidents.
Dogs are not only unjustly killed and punished for something they cannot control (their breed or physical features), but the societal implications are also extremely damaging. Media in the form of newspapers and television news reports are more likely to report dog bites carried out by “bully breeds.” Mix breeds are also more likely to be descried as “pit bull mixes,” using the signifier of a “dangerous” breed. Many people are afraid of specific breeds and do not want them in their neighborhoods. Instead of taking action against untrained dogs or unleashed dogs, people put the blame on a breed. Yes, any dog is capable of snapping. Like any kind of group, it is unfair to blame an entire group based on individuals or a perceived threat. Instead of singling out an entire breed or dogs that have certain physical characteristics, cities can enact stricter anti-cruelty laws, incentives for training, and promote local animal shelters and animal control facilities to encourage proper treatment for dogs in their care.
Do you want to end BSL? Please visit the websites below for more information. Research the BSL regulations and laws in your local area, and contact your representatives to find out how you can reverse the stigma.