Why Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) Does Far More Harm Than Good
The topic of Breed-Specific Legislation, or “BSL” is a recurring topic of discussion in the animal welfare world. When I first dove into the world of animal welfare, I fell in love with pit bull type dogs and advocating for them. I will always advocate for pit bull type dogs and the many other breeds impacted so negatively by BSL. There are a number of reasons why BSL is not only discrimination, but also ineffective.
You may be asking yourself, “What even is BSL?” It is a term that is frequently used and encompasses a range of restrictions. As defined by the ASPCA, “Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.” We know some places that have outright banned the ownership of pit bulls, Denver is commonly known for this. While some counties have strict regulations including requiring specific fences, specific leash lengths and/or specific training classes. Pit bull type dogs are the most frequently targeted by BSL. However there are a number of breeds that are subjected to BSL including, but not limited to: American Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Dalmations, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers. These breeds have been deemed and interpreted as inherently aggressive and dangerous. How did this happen? Unfortunately, negative media attention and the fact that particular breeds are used in dogfighting has given these dogs a bad reputation. BSL does not take into consideration that all dogs are individuals, with their own unique behaviors and personalities. ANY breed of dog can be “bad”, just as any breed of dog can be “good”.
So, why is BSL ineffective? The two main factors come down to the inability to effectively enforce and lack of correlation to improvement of public safety.
1. BSL is virtually impossible to enforce
Why is this? Well, when it comes to “pit bulls”, pit bull is not actually a breed. Pit bull is essentially a slang term used to describe a group of dogs that encompass a set of certain physical characteristics. Often, these dogs are of unknown origin but may possess a large chest, muscular composure, and certain facial structure. The majority population of dogs are mixed breed dogs and it is impossible to 100% identify a breed by visual appearance. Even if “pit bull” was a breed, DNA testing is expensive. If enforced, these expenses would fall on local animal control and/or owners.
2. There is no correlation to improvement of public safety
BSL originally came about in the 90’s as an attempt to ease safety concerns and fear. Many organizations have conducted thorough studies that have shown there is no evidence that BSL makes communities safer for people or animals. One of the most critical studies was a 15-year study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association which identified multiple factors to a fatal dog-bite attack – none of these factors pertaining to breed. Four or more of the factors below accounted for 80.5% of dog bites/attack:
No able-bodied person being present to intervene
The victim having no familiar relationship with the dog
The dog owner failing to neuter/spay the dog
A victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog
The owner keeping dog as resident dog rather than family pet
The owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog
The owner’s abuse or neglect of the dog
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to strongly oppose BSL following a detailed study of human fatalities from dog bites. The CDC states, “Any dog of any breed has the potential to bite.” Many organizations agree with this lack of correlation and oppose BSL including the American Bar Association, American Kennel Club, American Veterinary Association, National Canine Research Council, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
So, what is the answer? How can we improve public safety? Rather than focusing on banning or managing specific breeds, we should instead be focusing on better dog ownership laws for all breeds, as well as accessible education and resources. Ownership laws that can be impactful on public safety and reducing dog bites include licensing, vaccinating, spaying/neutering, anti-tethering, leash law enforcement, and anti-dog fighting. Unfortunately, owners of these regulated or banned breeds attempt to avoid identification of their dog by restricting their dogs’ outdoor activity/socialization, refraining from licensing, microchipping, spay/neuter surgery, and vaccinations. Forgoing these items can negatively impact a dog’s mental and physical health. Instead, we should be setting owners and their dogs up for success. By banning BSL, owners are encouraged to take these actions.
I am proud to stand for these breeds and I hope you will too! If you’re interested in advocating for these breeds and repealing BSL, there are many great resources to get started. The Humane Society of the United State provides a toolkit here: https://www.animalsheltering.org/sites/default/files/documents/repealing-breed-specific-legislation.pdf Excellent local resources to check out are MADACC, Friends of MADACC, and the Wisconsin Humane Society.
By Lauren Dewey, contributor
About Good Hound Company
Good Hound Company was founded in 2017 by Brit Kruesel while she was living in her quaint, one-bedroom apartment above a pub in Shorewood, Wisconsin. Started with pets, their owners and sustainability in mind, many of Good Hound Company’s goods are made from recycled or vintage materials, including our packaging which is made from 100% recycled fabric. Each product purchased contributes directly to supporting a local dog rescue and protection organization. We’re driven by community and often team up with small businesses we love and other-like minded individuals. It is our goal to invest back into the community that has given us so much support.