Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a misguided attempt by legislators to reduce dog bites by banning specific breeds and types of dogs. The idea is to ban specific breeds to reduce serious dog bites/attacks.
This is typically implemented as a knee-jerk reaction by politicians after a serious and highly publicized dog attack - they feel that they need to be seen doing something to protect public safety, and then propaganda supporting it ensues. In some cases, the politicians genuinely believe that there is something different and dangerous about a certain breed or two, but in most cases the targeting of specific breeds/types of dogs is to appease a grossly misinformed and rightfully frightened public, without having to put in time, effort and resources into actually solving the problem of dog bites by all breeds.
BSL can range from something as mild as a higher licensing fee for specific breeds to an all-out ban of ownership, including mandatory destruction (euthanasia) of any prohibited dog found within the boundaries of the legislating jurisdiction.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
What breed(s) are impacted by BSL?
The majority of BSL seems to target what people assume to be a "pit bull" - typically most of the dogs targeted are various different types of bull breed mixes, but the actual bans tend to include the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), American Staffordshire Terrier (AST), and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT). There is lots of language stating "Pit Bull Breeds" which obviously causes issues as well as there is so much misinformation out there about what an APBT really is (newsflash - the registered APBT is the only pit bull!)
Though the APBT, AST & SBT tend to be the most commonly targeted breeds for BSL there are plenty of other breeds that have felt the wrath of BSL.
For example, breeds that are currently being targeted by BSL in Canada include(1) :
Perro de Presa Canario
Does BSL work?
BSL has actually never been shown to reduce dog bites in a community.
Most dogs in our community are mixed breed or unregistered so do not have any way to prove parentage/pedigree. We often guess their breed based on coat colour/type and size because people like to think they know what their dog is, and the "reasons" why they behave the way they do ("Oh he doesn't have good off leash skills because of the Husky in him, and the German Shepherd in him makes him bark at strangers too!").
Studies have identified risk for dog aggression - breed is NOT one of them. The genes that make up physical characteristics (short coat, muscular build, etc) are not associated with the genes for intelligence or temperament. A dog that looks like a breed is not guaranteed to act like that breed.
Breed traits to exist, but breeders work very hard to cultivate this consistency across generations by selectively breeding dogs that conform to the breed standard they are striving towards. Even with an amazing responsible breeder working with the best dogs for their breed, each litter will create puppies with differences both physically and mentally - though they should have more consistency than a mutt, there will still be variation between littermates.
Who Supports BSL?
Other than a few pro-BSL lobby groups, the only organization that actually supports BSL is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA is an extreme animal activist group that opposes all companion animal ownership. Some of their claims are that "pit bull" type dogs are more likely to end up in the hands of abusive owners, and are therefore better off not being part of the population at all.
PETA's "Position on Pit Bulls"
What are some BSL Alternatives?
As per Justice for Bullies:
Opposing breed specific legislation doesn't mean opposing any dog legislation! Progressive communities are moving towards what we call Responsible Owner Legislation. An effective animal control strategy would integrate the following:
Robust legislation targets known risk factors for dog bites. Bylaws are clear and specific and hold the owner accountable for the behavior of his/her dog. Infractions are associated with fines that escalate until the owner gets the message and changes their behavior. If this doesn't happen and there is a concern for community safety, the ultimate consequence is removing the dog from the home.
Bylaws are not effective unless they are enforced. If a community is truly committed to safety, they will need to invest in trained enforcement officers. When animal control officers are seen in the community and are actively issuing tickets for infractions, people are motivated to be responsible. Along with licensing fees, fines and tickets for negligent owners can serve as a revenue source to strengthen an animal control program.
Animal control officers are not just a punitive force. They can provide support to members of the community and intervene early when they spot potential problems.
Bite Free Education
Successful communities identify those most at risk of getting into an altercation with a dog - for example, children, mail carriers, meter readers, and delivery people. While it is the responsibility of the owner to contain and manage their dog, you can reduce bite risk by teaching people how to read a dog's body language, how to approach them safely, and how to de-escalate a confrontation.
Members of the community must be willing to report dog bites, or problematic behavior. This is easier when strong and fair bylaws exist, because neighbors know that the owner will be held accountable, and the dog won't necessarily be seized or euthanized.
The community can also support programs like subsidized vet care, spay/neuter clinics, and outreach programs that promote responsible ownership and care.
Good bylaws hold owners responsible for their dog's behavior. But if a dog attack were to happen, the onus is on the victim to take the owner to civil court and sue for damages. A shelter, rescue, or breeder is also exempt from liability when they have irresponsibly placed a dog in the community. We believe that a wider conversation needs to take place around these liability issues, holding people responsible for preventable injury and damages and ensuring that victims are fairly compensated.
Who Opposes BSL?
BSL is not evidence-based and lacks support by reputable academic and professional groups. In face, it is very difficult to find an organization in animal welfare, veterinary medicine, law, or public health that will support these kinds of laws. (1)
The following groups have position statements in favor of breed-neutral legislation:
American Dog Breeders Association, American Kennel Club, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Association of Professional Dog Handlers, British Veterinary Association, Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers, Canadian Kennel Club, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control, Certification Council for Professional Dog Handlers, Calgary Humane Society, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States, Toronto Humane Society, Ottawa Humane Society, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, International Association of Canine Professionals, The Pet Professional Guild, ASPCA, BC SPCA, RSPCA, United Kennel Club, etc.
1: Justice for Bullies - A Canadian Non-Profit Organization dedicated to fighting BSL.
We used a lot of information from their website to help build this to assist in educating our followers. Please head over to their website as they have a TON of other info there and support them by buying a cute bandana or sweater for your pooch!