Dog Specific Legislation

Last year (2010) a city not to far from where I went to college enacted a piece of breed specific legislation.  Specifically that any “pitbull” must be muzzled when leaving the house.  Now I did scan the law itself, but I didn’t read every line, I’m not a lawyer and legaleze gives me a headache, so I’m not going to promise I’m getting every single fact right.

Also, before I go any further, this is one of those “hot button” type issues, SO, if you’re going to comment or enter discussion here on this topic keep it polite.  Flaming, or posts that I decide approach flaming too closely, will be deleted.  If you’re one of those folks who supports your side of the issue so staunchly that you cannot even see someone comment on the other side with out trying to prove them wrong as firmly and loudly as possible because “they’re WRONG!!!” don’t bother to post here.  I’ve yet to see one of you who doesn’t descend into flaming eventually.  I will delete your posts.

If you still want to read further click below.
At some point in the last year Worcester MA decided that they had too big a problem with dog attacks and decided the best way to combat the problem was to require all “pitbulls” to wear a muzzle in public.  Various places promptly went up in flames as comments and discussions on the topic became heated.

During one of those discussions I pointed out that the legislation won’t work if for no other reason than that the average person, including the average police office and animal control officer CAN NOT correctly ID an American Pitbull when one is set amongst a group of similarly built dogs.  Another person, a dog owner, responded that “muzzles weren’t so bad…so what was the harm”  and besides, they’re not going to enforce the law like that, its just so that “they have another fine to throw at the owner” in the case of another problem cause after all its the owners that are the problem.  I stopped posting any further in that discussion at that point because it was very clear that that person, along with a bunch others, were simply never going to get the point.

Because its a proven fact, a HUGE percentage of other breeds/crosses are regularly mistaken as pitbulls.  There was even a case where a pedigreed Lab was mistaken for a pitbull by both witnesses AND animal control (I can’t find the link to the case online right now, it was a few years ago so its probably archived at this point, if someone knows where to find it let me know please).  Which means that first of all a large percentage of those “pitbull” attacks are likely done by other breeds, and 2nd there’s no way to reliably be sure that your dog won’t be “determined to be a pitbull” by the appropriate authority and that the judges won’t side with that authority because, afterall, they “are an officer of the law and therefor know what they’re doing” (seriously, judges do that, they aren’t supposed to, but they’re human).

The 2nd issue I have is that breed specific legislation DOESN’T WORK.  Yes a person attacked, or just plain bitten, by a pitbull, pitbull cross, or rottweiler/cross (or one of several similar breeds) is more likely to sustain serious injury or death.  They are generally very strong dogs.  But if you compare the overall number of attacks by pitbulls to the overall percentage of the breed population, the number of attacks isn’t that much larger than by other breeds.  That other poster was correct about one thing, its the owners that are the real problem.  The reason being that once the problem owners finally decide that owning a pitbull (or other problem breed) isn’t worth the legal hassle (a fact that some of them never learn) they just go get a different breed of dog, treat it the exact same way, and end up with the exact same problems with the new breed of dog.  Many of the cities that have had breed specific legislation in force for a while have NOT have a signifigent drop in dog bites or attacks.  They may have had a drop in attacks by the specific breed, but not overall, and in some cases the overall number of bites/attacks has actually gone UP.

If you really want to solve your dog bite/attack problem by changing your laws do something intelligent.

First of all enforce (or create and then enforce) your leash laws.  Create actual penalties that mean something for when dogs that are caught off leash off the owner’s property or in otherwise non-off leash areas.  Many cities that are creating breed specific legislation already have leash laws that they don’t enforce until its to late for the dog’s victim (or the dog themselves when they get hit by a car).

Second change (or create) the dog leash and BITE laws to be specific to the owner not the dog.  Yes a dog that attacks other dogs or people needs to be retrained at the very least.  I have no problem with that and think it ought to be required after-all maybe the owner just hasn’t a clue how to train their dog and needs help.  But what about the owner who owns a string of dogs that have bitten or attacked other animals or people?  Keep track of THAT record and by the 3rd or 4th offense by the OWNER (regardless of how many dogs are actually involved) there should be serious penalties (beyond being told no more dogs, cause seriously? They don’t care if the law says they can’t have another dog any more than they care that the law says they aren’t supposed to have a pitbull in some cities), penalties beyond a monetary fine, something approaching mandatory jail time.  And then enforce it. 

Ok, I guess I did rant afterall!