Dangerous Dog Laws Keep Dogs & People Safe?

by Mary Haight on April 28, 2010

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Omaha City Council passed an ordinance that has garnered considerable national attention:

If you own a pit bull or other bully breed or mix…you will be required to properly leash and muzzle your dog whenever he is outside, unless he is in a securely fenced yard… 

 Some dogs are strong.

The AKC states that the American Staffordshire Terrier, a breed often associated with the designation “Pit Bull” “should give the impression of great strength for his size, [be] a well put-together dog, muscular…”

All dogs are good.

Dogs do not make moral decisions.  Even dogs who bite have not thought through the consequences of their actions, nor have they planned them with malicious intent.

Dogs do not care about this ordinance.

Dogs do not mind properly fitted muzzles.  Owners may have their dogs complete a behavior class and thereafter wear a “Breed Ambassador” vest instead of a muzzle.  Dogs also do not mind vests.

Will owners have to do extra work?  Yes.  Will owners be self-conscious about having a muzzled dog?  Maybe.  Will Omaha judge Pit Bulls and their owners as we walk our scrawny, unmuzzled dogs next to their buff, muzzled dogs?  Do you think Pit Bulls and their owners are not already judged in our community?  This is an opportunity for owners of dogs who fall under the ordinance to speak up for their pets. 

Yes, good owners will most likely follow the law, and bad owners will not.  The ordinance empowers the city to do something about the unfit owners before their dog ends up on the news, or in trouble for acts of aggression, or most importantly, before another person is harmed.  People on both sides of the issue seem to ignore this last point, which to me is obscene.

We can continue to argue with each other about the unfairness of  Breed Specific Legislation or the evils of Pit Bulls.  Meanwhile, good but powerful dogs are coming outside of the control of owners and hurting other dogs and people.  Some of the dogs are covered in the ordinance.  Some are not.  The ordinance is not perfect.  It is meant to cover most STRONG dogs, not most BAD dogs, because, as I have mentioned, dogs are not bad.  But they can be dangerous.

If success is measured by the number of dog bites that occur in a community before and after an ordinance is passed, most Breed Specific Legislation, including that of Omaha, has failed. 

However, success ought to be measured more inclusively.  Have there been fewer bites resulting in serious injuries or fatalities?  Do the laws adequately address the people involved?  Have dogs been taken out of unfit situations and placed into ideal homes?  Have we cracked down on crimes linked to unfit owners, including dog fighting and drug crimes? 

Let us track dog bites, but let us also measure as best we can the well-being of the people and pets in our community, and adjust our legislation accordingly.

Shawn Finch, DVM practices at Banfield Pet Hospital, Papillion (Omaha), NE, and writes for Omaha.net and RileyandJames

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18 comments
MaryHaight
MaryHaight

(using next box to continue response from Me to Russ)...even when harsh words fly, having an exchange with people who have dismissed something out of hand is an opportunity to do what Shawn was--I think--trying to do the first place, move the discussion to a place that no one is really talking about: What to do once this law is a fact? That's what I thought was smart, that's what I saw as leadership, however she broad brushed what I personally consider to be a damaging approach to public policy. I think I said as much in some of my responses. I had hoped to hear more from people who are working against BSL in their towns--this is a terrible uphill battle in places like Denver where some 2500 pit bulls have been killed just because--no bite records, literally dragged from their owner's homes by police. How do they even begin to crack an unjustified, decades long ordinance that has proven to be not only ineffectual and cruel, but was based on misinformation, misuse of statistics, and fear. We all realize how very difficult it is to upend laws once they are in place. I see no disrespect for Shawn in any of this, and I hope after this exchange, you will not either.

EmilyS
EmilyS

shame on a vet for supporting a law that determines "dangerous" by appearance rather than actual behavior. That's a vet I would certainly never take my dog to... not that I will ever live, visit or spend money in Omaha now that it is discriminating against MY dogs (who have multiple obedience, temperament and agility titles) solely on their appearance. I formerly DID visit and compete at dogshows there... no more. Oh, and guess what: Omaha's law has NOT made the city safer from dogbites: http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2010/03/om...

greta
greta

I agree with Mary you should do a research before getting a specific breed of dog for your home. And it's also true that one should be tested before getting certain breeds too. I know a couple of pitbull owners that are definitely not suitable for the task. They are aggressive in their behaviour and I think they choose a bitbull because of the "dangerous" aura around this breed. I guess it makes them feel powerful. So there are many sides to this discussion and it's difficult to say what is the best solution for the community and for the dogs as well!

Jim
Jim

What is the definition of strng anyway? Wouldn't most dogs over 50 or 60 pounds be considered strong, strong enough to cause serious damage if they were to bite? How many breeds are there that are over 50lbs in adulthood? Like gun control (even though by the sounds of things that doesn't work too well either), there needs to be laws governing ownership of a dog, although I don't know how that could be enforced, but I think dog bites/aggression is more of an ownership issue than a dog issue. I always have Zeus on leash, but VERY often, other owners that we encounter on our walks have their dogs off-leash. I'm not talking about at an off-leash dog park, I'm talking about on the streets around where we live. This is a problem because some dogs just do not get along, and if an off-leash dog attacks or provokes my on-leash pit bull guess who gets the blame. And what if I have my 50lb pit bull is muzzled, and the 100lb off-leash Akita isn't? So, responsible dog ownership, which includes plenty of socialization, is what should be looked at, not killing, banning, or muzzling a dog because it is "strong", in my opinion.

Shawn Finch
Shawn Finch

Thanks guys. You have some good points. All of Nebraska Humane Society (NHS) was not in favor of the breed-specific portions of the legislation, but they work with Animal Control and the City, and everyone had to be on the same page. It was the people of NHS who had the "Breed Ambassador Program" added, and 53 dogs have passed so far. I talked with Pam Wiese of NHS who said, "2009 Pitbull bites were way down--they are back behind lab bites again-- we don't know if it was the ordinances themselves (Muzzles preventing bites) or if pitbull owners are taking more responsibility and really being diligent." I have, in the past, learned alot from all of you, and I am still learning. I will join you and NHS in tracking effectiveness, and see how all this goes in Omaha. If it is any comfort as trial and error is played out and we try to figure out the best way to keep everyone safe...NHS rehomes Pit Bulls that come through the shelter-they are not euthanized. And new homes are screened well. I think they are doing a great job with complex issues, and we, from the outside (though I live in Omaha, I don't deal directly with all of this, except as an animal lover and vet I suppose) get to watch and see how they do. As I hear new stats or anything, I will be sure to let you know.

egoebelbecker
egoebelbecker

The underlying theme here is that "Pit Bulls" are somehow more dangerous and that they deserve to wear muzzle because of how they look. This is always going to be wrong. Great Danes are big and strong. So are St. Bernards. Many Goldens are too, and they actually lead the stats in bites from time to time....but muzzling them would be silly, right? Actually looking at bite statistics is a good idea. How has Denver fared with it's breed ban? Bites have gone up. Omaha? Stayed the same. The United Kingdom? They've gone up severely. Ontario? You get the idea, even if the people backing these laws don't..... I will continue to argue against Breed Legislation, but not only because it's unfair but because it doesn't work either, and if you really do want to protect people effectiveness ought to matter, not just the appearance of doing something for the sake of doing it.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

The question of how to keep the public safe will never be answered by banning breeds, muzzling breeds (didn't a small dog recently kill a baby?). I think the dangerous dog law, if written without naming breeds at all, and if written as good public policy should be, is a good idea given that no test of responsibility is required to get a dog. It is a human problem, and unless and until that is the focus of the taxpayer funds currently wasted being wasted and dogs are taken from repeat offenders and, as Dr. Finch suggests, placed in homes that will help the dog be a happy member of the family and the community, you've got a mess. Brent Toellner, a journalist, over at KC Dog Blog has done a lot of reporting on Omaha. He brings up a real concern about lack of transparency on euthanasia numbers as this job is being carried out by the Nebraska Humane Society, not a government entity, and they are not required to reveal their kill rate, the re-homing rate (if there is one) of dogs confiscated, or any other metric that use of government funds should demand. Don't know if Dr. Finch has any update on that. (She will be answered these comments after work.) It's after the fact for Omaha now, and I think that was one of Dr Finch's points, but she can answer that. The law is in, and proponents of pit bulls are in the minority. Meanwhile, people like Dr Finch are looking ahead trying to figure out how to best serve the needs of the public and the dogs. Working with laws like these when you know you can't get them overturned is where some towns are at now and it's worth looking at what's being revised, what results arise...if you can get your hands on the data.

Mary
Mary

I think with the ordinance, it should (I would hope) make people research the breed they are considering come into their home, whether it be a "pit bull", poodle, lab whatever. All different breeds needs something special, may it be grooming, extensive training, exercise, etc. I don't really think you need to be breed specific, or class mixed breeds into one class for banning. Instead of tagging pitbulls as malicious, let's look at the people who want to own the pets first. Are they interested in the breed for it's brains, member of the family? Or is the dog a status symbol? Prior to owning a gun, you need to fill out an extensive application, maybe something like that should be done? I realize almost impossible with all of the back yard breeders, but people need to be responsible for thier actions, and decisions. Own a dog for the right reasons.....companionship, family member. What I am getting at......do your research before getting a pet, any pet.

heather
heather

Not only do I disagree with banning a breed but pulling other breeds that supposedly have some of the same characteristics? We have a 14 year old halfsie boxer/pit and a 3 year old American Bulldog. We are very responsible owners and I feel like we are definitely being picked on! There is no way I want to put muzzles on my dogs when going on walks..people see a muzzle on a dog and think to themselves..this dog is going to bite me, when they could be the sweetest animal. What about the chows, dalmations, rotties, other big breeds that I know have been aggressive dogs! It's a case by case basis. All of these classes and special clothing our dogs are supposed to wear cost money...money going into the pockets of whom? We are not allowed to socialize our dogs now which is the first step in owning a "bully" breed....this all just makes me really mad.

Rod@GoPetFriendly
Rod@GoPetFriendly

Sounds like the pit bull owners of Omaha were not as successful as those in Elgin in keeping this ordinance from passing. Thus, those owners have to work with what they got - as Edie points out.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Guess it's controversy week - suggested HSUS share limelight in their fundraising commercials and now our guest pokes at the for and against crowd out here re BSL. But this is why the Dangerous Dog Act was created in Britain, too, to attempt to rectify the BSL law that was killing dogs because they looked like a pit bull. But it didn't work either - handle on the criminal element not so great I guess and the damage that the fear of the breed incited by BSL took hold...I don't know. But I hope we have a good debate on this - there are many topics that need to come to the forefront.

Hilary Lane
Hilary Lane

Thank you for covering a somewhat divisive and very controversial topic. Some people are all or nothing, without realizing the consequences. All dogs are capable of biting and harming. It's up to us to assess that and manage it in our dogs. I don't particularly like BSL, but I'm not sure what the alternatives are. I like the muzzle or vest idea. I wish dog owners would have to pass a course of some sort...

russlmnop
russlmnop

Shawn is my wife. She is the most caring, compassionate, and excellent vet in Omaha and has many clients that have dogs affected by this ordinance. Emily, how dare you attack someone on a personal level because you disagree. Mary, comments like Emily's do nothing to further the discussion set out in the article. This kind of garbage should be moderated out, not posted and agreed with. I expected more respect for Shawn from you when she gave you this article.

russlmnop
russlmnop

Shaming someone who you do not know is ignorant. That you think her post is blind support of the law shows that you barely read it before blowing up. That you think it is about appearance and not behavior shows you do not even understand Omaha's law. Dr. Finch approached a touchy subject with perspective and reason whereas the majority of people from both sides tend to make emotional rants and sweeping generalizations. Do that if you wish, but please don't stoop to shaming someone for making an intelligent and researched point just because you think you disagree. It makes you sound foolish.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Thanks for the link Emily, I always appreciate Brent's work, and referred to it in a comment above but was remiss in providing a link *sigh*. Omaha is another case of opinions winning over facts. Who cares if that's what Animal Control "wanted". Why would that be the guiding force against the piles of evidence that exists against this type of legislation? ApparentIy there was little if any counter to what Animal Conrol wanted at the City Council level. I don't know - I don't live there. I understand your pov. What I want to know is, when towns and suburbs are ensnared with BSL, how do they take it apart in pieces when you're faced with a council full of people driven by fear or (irrational) hate? There has to be a real push back from the people. That requires a leader. If we can't help the local vets dig a little deeper and see why this is a despicable law, who will help lead towns away from this ignorant ordinance that doesn't work and costs a fortune to boot? If people are open to learning, that's important where the law is a done deal.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hmmm, most shelters in the Chicago area are pretty careful who they adopt pits out to, although I know this is not standard practice everywhere - a shame, really. These dogs are wonderful, like any dog, in the right hands. And I think that is where the argument arises. Dangerous dog laws are fine if they have nothing to do with breed because a dangerous dog is a dog that is unstable mentally or emotionally and that is no particular breeds' genetic trait. Dogs can be taught to be horrible creatures. We had a Black Lab at the family business, picked up at the pound, who had been trained by a burglar to kill the house dog. He hated dogs whom he felt challenged him, and got loose one day and took the ear off a Shepherd/Akita from down the street who dared to pee on his territory.Brought it back with him as a souvenier. No kidding! I was attacked by an Afghan Hound...ripped through my face (all better now, but frightening!) - he was badly bred and just crazy, unpredictable. Any dog can be potentially dangerous. My wonderful Springer Spaniel (rip) nearly attacked a friend's son because he was acting like a fool, doing robotic sounds and movements - normal for a 10 year old, but freaked my dog out. I caught him before he lunged as I read his body language, luckily in time. Babies have been killed by small breed dogs. Dogs do not magically "fit in" to family life, children are never to be left alone with them...they are not baby sitters. And they need to be trained and kept safe behind a fence.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

I don't refuse to print comments on my blog unless they are unintelligible or filled with hate/swear words. I have people disagree with me and not in a kind way, and of course I would not think of censoring it. Civility in blogging, as in daily life, is not always part of the deal. I simply have to be prepared to defend my position. Taking on heated topics often results in passionate responses. I did ask Shawn, twice, if she wanted to add anything and forewarned her she could be in for a rough response. When we DM'd back and forth, Shawn left the publishing of it up to me, and I told her I saw no need to censor her view. People of opposing views need to communicate; how else to take the air out of anger, and come to a place where the other side of the argument can be heard? Because I understand a point of view does not mean I agree with it. I know Shawn through many discussions and comments, and I know she likes pit bulls. I would not hesitate to use her as my Vet. If you read the next paragraph you can see that...

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by WillMyDogHateMe: Important post by @finch93 on @dancingdogblog RT Dangerous Dog Laws Keep Dogs & People Safe? – http://b2l.me/rswb2

  3. [...] Breed Specific Legislation doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked in Denver, Ontario or England. Some jurisdictions like the town of Elgin, Illinois are relaxing their stance on Pit Bulls, while other other cities like Omaha Nebraska, as reported by DancingDogBlog.com have instituted new laws requiring all pit bull and other “bully breed” owners to have their dogs leashed and muzzled when outside. [...]

  4. [...] April 2010:  Dangerous Dog Laws Keep Dogs and People Safe? [...]

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