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?


MaryEHaight moderator

Hi and thanks for sharing your point of view. I am not sure what you are driving at when you say citing HSUS and ASPCA is not helpful. It is a fact that these and *all the other major organizations* including the American Veterinary Medical Association, AKC, animal control and dog training associations have an anti-Breed Specific Legislation positions. Trying to minimize that fact to support an opposing view doesn't make a strong or convincing statement, if that is what you are trying to do.


If you are contending, that by opposing BSL we are encouraging breeding pit bulls, I don't see how that follows. Stating that there's something different about a pit bull type attack than an other type of dog attack is an opinion, not a fact. There are degrees of "attack" and you seem to imply that where a Lab might bite, a pit bull will rip your arm off.


Not trying to be difficult, but am trying to find facts in the statements you are making. No dog is like any other dog. They are all individuals, a product of their breeding and upbringing and have varying requirements of exercise, play and mental stimulation to be good canine citizens because of that. If a dog is vicious, it should be put down. There is no argument there.


Characterizing stating the truth of what is happening to these dogs as a result of careless labeling as "whining", if that was your intention, is your opinion and you are free to have it. You may have been making a more general statement. I see cranking up the level of fear in the general public through inaccurate media reporting as a very real problem and an essential point to underscore in this public discussion.


Thanks for stopping by =)


Citing HSUS, ASPCA, etc. is really not helpful.  These organizations and others had serious concerns about pit type dogs and their exploding populations until the no kill movement went crazy and these organization feared for their donor support and turned on a dime to accommodate their bottom lines.


Yes, most pit type dogs are wonderful.  But when someone or some pet is attacked by one it is NOT the same as attacks by other breeds.  A couple of stitches does not compare to losing a limb or a life or permanent disfigurement.


We have a complex social problem.  Too many pit types dogs are being bred, abused, neglected, abandoned and killed.  Too many people and pets are being harmed. Too many neighborhoods are unlivable as people can't even be in their yards or walk their own pets safely.  Just whining that they are great dogs and should be treated "like any other dog" is not solving any of these problems.


Dog people are a small subset of the general public. Pit advocates are an even smaller subset.  At some point the public will get tired of this mess and come up with a solution that you won't like.  If you want to be able to shape the future for these dogs - then come up with one or more solutions to these problems.  The current campaign just encourages more breeding and more people adopting dogs they don't know how to train or care for.  Continuing disaster for all.

Previous post:

Next post: