Breed Specific Legislation – Pride, Prejudice & the Damning of Pit Bulls

by Mary Haight on May 11, 2013

breed specific languageBreed Specific Legislation (BSL) was recently banned in Connecticut, thanks to all members of the House who, having more sense than most, voted down breed bans 142/0. There had been legislation moving through the General Assembly that would allow cities to enact bans. This unanimous vote wiped those attempts off the schedule. Now the Senate must weigh in. We may have good news in Connecticut for these much-maligned dogs. I have to ask, and you’ll see why at the end, how much difference will it make?

On another front there’s Broward Country, Florida, toying with the idea of breed bans, see-sawing for and against, testing how much public support such a bill would get. One day vice-mayor Sharief proposes a prohibition on pit bull ownership, the next wording is changed to ensure people don’t get any more pit bulls, but their current dogs won’t be taken from them. Another Florida town, Hollywood, was going to the State to ask to have the power to enact a ban should they feel it necessary.

BSL and Dog Aggression

This fear-based approach to public policy and scourge on critical thinking was not swayed by the existence of a 2008 study published in a peer-reviewed journal on applied animal behavior science, which abstract begins:

Canine aggression poses serious public health and animal welfare concerns. Most of what is understood
about breed differences in aggression comes from reports based on bite statistics, behavior clinic caseloads,
and experts’ opinions. Information on breed-specific aggressiveness derived from such sources may be
misleading due to biases attributable to a disproportionate risk of injury associated with larger and/or more
physically powerful breeds and the existence of breed stereotypes.” (Duffy, D.L., et al., Breed differences in canine                      aggression, Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. (2008), doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2008.04.006)”

This report goes on to say “some breeds scored higher than average for aggression directed toward both humans and dogs (e.g., Chihuahuas and Dachshunds) while other breeds scored high only for specific targets(e.g., dog-directed aggression among Akitas and Pit Bull Terriers).”

Vice-Mayor Sharif said she did not agree with the science in that report and had conducted her own research (!!) finding pit bulls to be more aggressive than other breeds. Well, what hope can we have with this kind of thinking going on in positions of power?

Breed Specific Legislation Doesn’t Get Results

I don’t know of a major agency, HSUS, Best Friends, ASPCA, without an official stance on BSL as an ineffective, unreliable, expensive policy approach that does nothing to solve the issue of dangerous dogs. Yet a flurry of articles on which town is trying to enact this policy next seems to cycle through on a regular basis. I keep hoping the public discussion will get smarter. Actually, the general public is getting smarter (anecdotal observation), it’s more often the politicians and reporters that are the weak link.

I had the unhappy experience of watching a Huffington Post video discussion recorded in regard to the attack on an 84-year-old woman by two pit bulls who escaped their yard in Jurupa Valley, CA. I am sorry to say  it did nothing to advance this important discussion.

Damning Pit Bulls

It is one thing to do the job Animal Control is, in part, meant to do–guard the public health and safety by keeping stray dogs off the streets, capture and kill dogs who attack people. It’s something else entirely to have dogs so damned by public opinion — shaped by a media unable or unwilling to wait for proper identification of dogs before reporting an attack or incident — filling up the kennels at Animal Control facilities across the US. With a reputation that unfairly precedes them, pit bull type dogs are often not welcomed by landlords or neighbors. You can see what that does to these dogs. They are suddenly not adoptable and are left with no prospects. People move and can’t keep their dog — it becomes a death sentence.

So when someone asks you why, if there is nothing “wrong” with pit bulls, they constitute a good percentage of the population of animal control you have your answer.

Can someone tell me when the breed or look of a dog became a target for eradication? How did we go from the very sane policy of  ‘if a dog attacks a human, he will be destroyed by animal control’  to this folly?


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