It’s heartbreaking when someone is seriously injured or killed by a dog, and it’s natural to want to do something to make sure it never happens again.
To address this problem, many legislators have turned to “breed-specific legislation,” a proposal or regulation that prohibits or imposes severe restrictions on owners of a particular breed of dog or dogs with certain physical characteristics.
Unfortunately, evidence repeatedly shows that breed-specific legislation is ineffective and even compounds the problem by glossing over issues associated with irresponsible ownership while creating a false sense of security for the community.
The reality is that any race, placed in a threatening situation, is capable of biting. By profiling dogs solely based on their breed or appearance, breed-specific legislation unfairly penalizes dog owners responsible for well-behaved dogs without holding owners of truly dangerous dogs accountable.
There are many problems inherent in breed-specific legislation. On the one hand, it is extremely difficult to apply. Banning or restricting dogs based solely on their appearance or breed punishes responsible dog owners, sometimes even including those who own well-trained service and working animals. This forces responsibly owned pets into local shelters from where they cannot be adopted and results in unnecessary euthanasia. Meanwhile, irresponsible dog owners are free to simply choose another dog and continue to put the community at risk.
In many cases, breed-specific legislation requires animal control officers to become breed identification experts to determine if a specific dog is on the list of regulated breeds. Some communities have attempted to define a dangerous dog as any dog with certain specific physical characteristics. Both approaches ultimately emphasize appearance over demeanor – and unsurprisingly, both usually result in vague or inaccurate identification.
In November 2020, Denver residents voted to overturn their city’s 30-year-old breed ban. Previously, it was estimated that animal control officers conducted up to six breed identification assessments per week – time that could have been spent on real animal control issues.
Breed-specific laws also result in increased costs to the community if owners abandon pets at local shelters because they are no longer allowed to own them or able to comply with strict new regulations. In many cases, the owner is forced to choose between moving to another city or giving up a pet. As a result, many dogs end up in municipal shelters where they must be housed and/or euthanized at taxpayer expense rather than remaining in loving homes. Denver’s race-specific laws cost the city $6 million a year to implement.
In Wyandotte County, Kansas, Kansas City Animal Services spent 25% of its $1 million annual budget enforcing a breed ban. Also, the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City was forced to spend extra money on pit bulls at their shelter because they could only adopt those dogs to people outside of the county, which required these dogs to spend more time in the shelter than other dogs. .
When Wyandotte County repealed its ban in 2019, the cost savings provided the county’s animal services with a boon they used to improve animal housing, hire additional staff and microchipped every unchipped shelter animal. before relocating it.
The bottom line is that breed-specific legislation simply doesn’t address the real issues of irresponsible dog ownership and community safety. The best approach is the simplest: Consider the act, not the race.
All dog owners, no matter what their dog looks like, should be held accountable for the behavior of their pets. Comprehensive, breed-independent and dangerous dog laws provide animal control and law enforcement with clear, measurable guidelines and appropriate penalties for any irresponsible owner or owner of a dangerous animal.
Race-specific laws may seem like an easy fix, but actually cause more harm to the community. Comprehensive dangerous and breed-neutral dog laws are more complex, but pay off exponentially when it comes to protecting responsible dog owners and communities.
Jennifer Clark is Director of Legislative Outreach for the American Kennel Club (akc.org), headquartered in New York City.