Legislation: It’s for the Dogs

Voting day!

Bright and I hope that you all exercise your wonderful right to vote today, and that you cast it not out of fear or obligation, but because you know it’s right.

On that note, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about breed specific legislation today, as it’s an issue that impacts tens of thousands of dogs and their people. This article really just scratches the surface; if it’s something you’re interested in, I encourage you to do some of your own research.

What’s breed specific legislation?

To be totally honest, it’s not an issue I knew a lot about until today. So for those of you who might not know much about it, breed specific legislation is the regulation, such as requiring a muzzle, or banning of specific breeds of animals. In the past, BSL has been directed at Chow-Chows and Shepherds, but most recently, pit bulls have been the focus of many such laws, and there’s quite a lot of controversy over the ethics of it all. Pit bulls have a sad history. If you aren’t familiar, read about it here. Importantly, pit bull isn’t usually meant to refer to one specific breed, but a loose category, even though there is a breed called the American Pit Bull Terrier.

What are the arguments?

The arguments for and against breed specific legislation range from extreme (for: euthanize them all; against: do nothing at all) to more reasonable (for: muzzle certain breeds in public places; against: teach people how to care for their dogs properly, identify aggressive behavior and deal with it, and enforce animal abuse laws more harshly).

My thoughts on the subject were pretty elementary until about an hour ago: “We would never ban an entire family from a town or state, even if 16 out of 20 members had committed horrific crimes. We’d punish the bad ones and leave the rest of them alone, and maybe offer them some counseling. Therefore, this is all insane.”

But then, as we all know, dogs and people are very different. While the genetics of a particular family of humans might tend them toward violent or compulsive behavior, each of them has a conscience, and they make their choices bearing in mind the impact and consequences their actions might have. People can be held responsible for their behavior. Dogs, in their innocence, simply can’t, and that’s the basis for most arguments for BSL regarding pit bulls in many US cities, considering the reported number of their attacks on humans. “They’re dangerous and they need to be eliminated,” is how the argument would end.

The argument against BSL sometimes starts with a very interesting question, though: if you got mauled by a dog on the street, how confident are you that you’d be able to identify it correctly as a pit bull? There are easily two dozen breeds commonly seen in the US that can be mistaken for pit bulls. If that’s happening, the statistics change dramatically, and society’s fear of the breed is based largely on a stereotype.

Page 1736 of an article in Vet Med Today, written by a Dog Bite Task Force, also questions whether these kinds of ordinances fall in line with the constitution. It believes that legislating around a specific breed is ineffective because factors such as neutering and abuse can play huge roles in any dog’s aggression, and that it is more prudent to educate the community on how to own dogs responsibly and choose the right breeds for their families. Additionally, it’s not always possible to determine a breed without knowing the lineage, so such legislation is accused of violating due process because of vagueness.

Complicated issue, right?

This is a big deal. My opinion is that everyone, especially parents, should know basic dog safety in order to avoid dangerous situations with any breed. If the primary concern of supporters of BSL is really safety, as most of them say, then educating the community should be the first priority. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Never approach a dog you don’t know, especially if it’s showing signs of aggression (hackles up, teeth bared, back arched).
  • Never, ever taunt a dog, even if it’s your pet. Dogs react to fear by attempting to protect themselves, which might mean that if he feels threatened, Fido will bite you.
  • Keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date. In the unfortunate circumstance that your pal does bite someone, you need to be able to prove that he or she is disease-free.
  • Keep your dog on a leash in public areas. Always. I’ve heard people say, “Dave the Dog doesn’t like his leash. He enjoys being free to roam!” I’ll tell you what: Dave the Dog would rather be leashed than mauled by another dog or euthanized because he bit a stranger.
  • Do not let babies or small children play with strange dogs. Maybe Sally the Golden Retriever doesn’t mind being sat on, but you never know what Rufus the Beagle, who belongs to the guy down the street might think.

Regardless of your stance on this topic, be safe, and spread the word!

What are your thoughts? Has BSL impacted you or someone you know? 

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One thought on “Legislation: It’s for the Dogs

  1. This is a really wonderful exploration of this issue. For all of the breed-ism that goes on, and breed histories play into those stereotypes, the irrationality of those fears doesn’t really get talked about much. I had no idea that BSL even existed. Thanks for sharing!

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