To address this issue, many legislators have turned to âbreed specific legislationâ, a proposal or regulation that prohibits or places severe restrictions on owners of a particular breed of dog or dogs with certain physical characteristics.
Unfortunately, evidence shows time and time again that racial laws are ineffective and even make the problem worse by glossing over issues related to irresponsible property while creating a false sense of security for the community.
The reality is that any breed placed in a threatening situation is capable of biting. By profiling dogs only by breed or appearance, breed-specific legislation unfairly punishes responsible dog owners of well behaved dogs without holding owners of genuinely dangerous dogs accountable.
There are many inherent problems with breed specific legislation. For one thing, it’s extremely difficult to enforce. Banning or restricting dogs based on appearance or breed alone penalizes responsible dog owners, sometimes even those who have well-trained service and work animals. It forces responsible pets into local animal shelters from which they cannot be adopted and leads to unnecessary euthanasia. In the meantime, irresponsible dog owners are free to simply choose another dog and keep putting the community at risk.
In many cases, breed-specific legislation forces animal control officers to become experts in breed identification to determine if a particular dog is on the regulated breeds list. Some communities have tried to define a dangerous dog as any dog ââthat exhibits certain specific physical characteristics. Both approaches ultimately focus on appearance over behavior – and unsurprisingly, both often result in vague or imprecise identification.
In November 2020, Denver residents voted to lift their city’s 30-year-old race ban. Previously it was estimated that animal control officers conduct up to six breed identification assessments per week – time that could have been spent focusing on real animal control issues.
Breed-specific laws also add increased community costs when owners drop pets at local animal shelters because they are no longer allowed to own them or because they can meet tough new regulations. In many cases, the owner is forced to choose between moving to another city or not having a pet. As a result, many dogs end up in urban animal shelters, where they must be housed and / or euthanized at taxpayers’ expense, rather than staying in loving homes. Denver’s breed-specific laws are costing the city $ 6 million a year to implement.
In Wyandotte County, Kansas, Kansas City Animal Services spent 25% of their $ 1 million annual budget trying to enforce a breed ban. Additionally, the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City was forced to spend extra money on pit bulls at their shelter because they could only adopt these dogs to people outside of the county, resulting in these dogs spending more time at the shelter spent than other dogs.
When Wyandotte County lifted its ban in 2019, the cost savings gave the county’s animal services a godsend that allowed them to upgrade livestock facilities, hire additional staff, and microchip any unchipped animal in the shelter before it was re-housed.
The bottom line is that breed specific legislation just doesn’t address the real issues of irresponsible dog ownership and community safety. The best approach remains the simplest: look at the act, not the race.
All dog owners – regardless of their dog’s appearance – must be held responsible for the behavior of their pets. Comprehensive, breed-neutral dangerous dog laws provide animal control and law enforcement with clear, measurable guidelines and appropriate penalties for any owner who is irresponsible or owns a dangerous animal.
Breed laws may seem like a simple solution, but they actually do further harm to the community. Comprehensive race-neutral, dangerous dog laws are more complex, but they pay off exponentially when it comes to protecting responsible dog owners and communities.
Jennifer Clark is the director of legislative outreach for the American Kennel Club (akc.org) based in New York City.