Promoting responsible dog ownership
in Canada since 1972

Breed Specific Legislation

April 08, 2003 − by Leslie − in Breed Specific Legislation − No Comments

Of a fiction which maybe what your tomorrow will be made of…

Welcome to our town!!! Young couples finally buying their first house, retirees with a lifetime of wandering the neighborhood streets, you will not be spared. Yours truly, your friendly animal control agent, will knock at your door, today or tomorrow, on the whim of your elected officials, and drag your faithful and loving companion to be put down without trial. You now live in a place where you pay your taxes but where your dog is not welcomed anymore. We don’t care if it has earned multiple titles, if it saved your life at some point, if it served the community as a search and rescue volunteer or, most importantly, if you consider it a member of your family. We give you the trouble of explaining to your kids why Buster must die.

Buster’s crime to begin with was simply being born the wrong breed, and on one of the long and increasing lists of working dogs which have been stamped, due to media frenzy, as dangerous. If you thought that only pit bulls were concerned, the following list should shatter your illusions: American Staffordshire Terrier, Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, Neapolitan Mastiff, Spanish Mastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Roman Fighting Dog, Chinese Fighting Dog, Bandog, Tosa Inu, Akbash, Briard, Beauceron, Bullmastiff, Chow Chows, Dalmations, Doberman, Komondor, Kuvasz, Maremma, Great Pyrenees, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Tibetan Mastiff.

Sound far-fetched? That is already the fate of countless dog owners who had the choice of parting with their companion or witness it being killed. I confirmed that, indeed, you read the word killed, not destroyed, euthanized, put to sleep, but killed. Because, no tentative of objectification can alter the pain of those has to part with their dogs. Euphemisms serve only the when in need of a bleached conscience to do a dirty business. Breed ban is the living reality in many countries and countless communities with more to come if we, as dog owners, do not act as a cohesive unit against the senseless discrimination against certain breeds of dogs. All breed bans are illogical, ineffective and downright unconstitutional. Would those of you who have done little or nothing to help in the fight against breed specific legislation finally speak up and be heard?

From Individual Tragedy to Collective Action

I have owned dogs for the past 20 or more years. Though I have owned many breeds, my heart forever belongs to the Rottweiler. Why the rottie? As they say in French about love: le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas (heart has a logic which logic can’t understand). I lost both of my Rottweilers, Max and Dakota this February of 2003 to cancer. I thought this would be the end of their story. But the God of faithful and beloved dogs had in mind something more than urns containing their ashes for a legacy of our years together.

In my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, there has never been a Rottweiler bite fatality. Yet in March of this year, breed ban almost became my worst nightmare when St. John’s Mayor, Andy Wells, stirred up public controversy by proposing a city ban on many breeds, including, but not limited, to the Rottweiler. The thought that I would never again share my home and love with such a magnificent friend, shook me out of my lethargy.

We won in our fight as well as in three more townships in Canada by working together with local breed clubs and rescue organizations. We fought as a collective group of dog fanciers.

I dearly hope it doesn’t take such a devastating loss to move you into action, you, the reader. If all dog owners do not make a stand together against breed bans and breed specific legislation, it will simply be a matter of time before no dog will be spared I will continue to my very last breath and penny (whichever comes first) to defend not only my breed of preference but all breeds under threat of banning or restriction.

Surprise Mister Legislator!!!

Breed bans are not supported by any authoritative canine organization, they are not supported by accurate statistical analysis, and they are not supported by agencies created to protect society. Below I will discuss briefly the facts surrounding dog related injuries and deaths, and attempt to dispel the myths behind the breed ban.

So what exactly is a breed ban? A breed ban is a ban on the ownership of, purchasing of, importing/exporting breeding of a proscribed breed (the breed(s) legislated for banning). Breed specific legislation can include many restrictions on the ownership of a proscribed breed. These measures may include such things as muzzles while in public places, short leashes, fenced yards, extra insurance premiums (average of 2 million dollars liability) and kennel/breeding licensing.

Authoritative organizations such as the Canadian Kennel club (CKC), American Kennel Club (AKC), The Canadian Safety Council, American and Canadian Veterinarian Medical Associations, Center for Disease Control, have clearly stated in their conclusions to their bite studies, that breed bans simply do nothing to prevent dog bites or fatalities. According to the American Veterinarian Medical Association: “Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite.”

A study done in England and published in the International Journal of the Care of the Injured (1996) found that the banning of three breeds (APBT, Rottweilers, and Doberman) did not decrease the number of fatal attacks or the degree of severity of the bites reported. What occurred was relatively the same number of dog bites but the breeds responsible were not of the proscribed breeds. Invariably, the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals that could bite. Dogs from small breeds also bite and are capable of causing severe injury.

There are several reasons why it is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds. First, the breed of the biting dog may not be accurately recorded, and mix breed dogs are commonly described as if they were purebreds. Secondly, the actual number of bites that occur in a community is not known, because it is rare for all dogs in a community to be licensed and existing licensing data is then incomplete.

Among the few serious data available is that of 2002 Report of Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program. The fatalities could be attributed to the following breeds in order of decreasing incidence: Labradors, Staffordshire bull terrier, German Shepherds, Bull terriers, Rottweiler, pit bull. What!!??? Mister nice guy himself, the Labrador, is on the top of the list. It totally makes sense as Labrador figures as number one family dog. Now, if we look at dog bites in accordance to prevalence of occurrence: German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, Rottweiler and Golden Retriever. Again, popular family dog such as cocker spaniel and golden retriever makes the top five.

What we must observe is that dog bites and fatalities is more a reflection of the breed popularity than its propensity to bite. According to another report published in 1989 in the Journal of American Medical Association, over 66% of all dog related deaths are attributed to more media friendly type dogs such as the Labrador and cocker spaniel, while the other 1/3 are the pit bull, pit bull mixes, Rottweilers and Shepherd, the group more commonly portrayed in the media as “dangerous dogs” and most often banned.

In fact, as stated by the Center for Disease Control: “American and Canadian Veterinarian Medical Associations, Humane Societies all presently studying the problem of dog bites, acknowledges that no breed has a propensity to bite humans more so than others, that in almost all instances of bites, it is the owner at fault be it by neglect, purposeful training towards aggression, breeding to supply the demand for bigger macho dogs with attitudes by back yard breeders, inexperienced dog owners. ” All of the present data can be manipulated to support a desired point of view.

The fact is that no breed has been identified scientifically to be more predisposed to being dangerous than any other. According to Dr. Porter, “At this point in time, to the best of my knowledge, there is no scientific proof that any breed of dog is inherently more aggressive or vicious than any other breed. I believe that socialization and training are the most important factors in producing the final temperament of an individual dog”

In fact, according to behavior testing performed by the American Temperament Testing Association, the Rottweiler and the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier scored as high or higher than the dogs the public consider to be family oriented, “safe” dogs.

The Alternative to Breed Bans

The answer to dangerous dogs should be found in generic Dangerous Dog Laws. Addressing the underlying cause of most dog-related deaths and injuries, which is the irresponsible dog ownership. Any dog can bite; any dog can be made aggressive and be trained to attack. (You are skeptical? There is at least one bite fatality attributed to a Yorkshire Terrier). Good Dangerous Dog laws place the owner in the position of ensuring that their dog(s) comply with all state and local requirements. Fines for violations can vary, but the leading principle is that dog ownership should be more costly to the irresponsible individual.

Experience has taught us that most bite incidents are examples of irresponsible ownership, not the specific dog breed involved. In other words, we need stricter regulations on dog ownership, no matter what the breed. After all dog ownership should not be an inherent right; it should be carefully regulated and properly enforced. Recognized factors that increase risks of bites include: Unaltered dog or bitches, male dogs, unsocialized, negative early experiences, poor health, neglected, abused, more than one dog, lack of training, poor breeding, previous aggression, pregnant and/or lactating bitches. An example of regulations would be higher licensing cost for unaltered dog.

The National Companion Animal Coalition (NCAC) members consist of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association, the Pet Industry Advisory Council and us the Canadian Kennel Club. Each member of NCAC support the intent contained within those sample by-laws: “Dangerous Dog By Laws are non-breed specific and address the underlying cause of most dog-related deaths and injuries, which is the irresponsible dog owner.”

Non-breed specific legislation is cost effective in comparison to the outright breed ban and is more readily accepted for the most part. More importantly, a well-thought non-breed specific legislation addresses the root cause of most if not all dog related injuries and deaths, which is the irresponsible canine owner.

Consequence and Speculation on the Impacts of Breed Bans

The Implementation and enforcement of breed bans is costly and difficult. In Cincinnati, Ohio, during a ten-year period, the police department spent over $160,000 per year trying to enforce their Pit Bull ban. Among the many seized dogs were Boxers and Golden Retrievers. Many Animal Control officials cannot accurately identify the 800+ dog breeds in the world, let alone the 157 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. There is no legally proven method of distinguishing a dog with recent wolf ancestry from another type of dog so how does a community ascertain one breed from another that is proscribed?

Banning a breed will include the mixes thereof, who is going to be able to determine what a particular mix dog has in its genetic makeup? In cases where there are disputes as to a mixed dog parentage, expert testimony will be necessary. Courts place the burden of proving that a dog is of the proscribed breed on the enforcing agency. In the meantime, said dog will have to be housed, fed and treated in a humane manner for a period no less that it takes for the courts to process the challenge on the animal seized.

Bans do not stop the bad owners from taking any breed and make it aggressive. All dogs can and will bite, they all will protect their home and owners. Any dog can be taught to attack.

Local shelters and rescues will be deluged with surrendered animals; the irresponsible owner will simply turn his animal loose for others to deal with. As proof, look at the appalling number of pit bulls ending their life in shelters and pounds all over North America, despite the fact the American Temperament Testing Association established once and for all that the breed displays no more aggression toward humans than the golden retriever of the beagle.

The very people one wishes to live within their area will be gone… Those owners that participate in search and rescue, pet therapy programs, and are law-abiding citizens, the breeders who carefully and ethically breed for stable wonderful canines will leave when faced with losing their loved companions. In Germany, where breed bans have been legislated in some regions, dogs have been allowed under a grandfather clause. The proscribed dogs have been the victims of beatings, stabbing and even death while helpless owners attempted to simply walk their friends in public according to the law. Is this where you want to live?

The irresponsible dog owner will likely let their dogs lose rather than pay to have them placed under special licenses or make modifications to their properties to comply with new regulations as with breed specific legislation i.e. higher fences, increased insurance coverage.

As all the above mentioned authoritative organizations that have studied the data available on dog related injuries state in their conclusions, through education of the public as to dog safety and responsible ownership the rates of injuries will decrease. Non breed specific legislation utilizing the term “Dangerous dog” should be based on a particular dog’s behavior and not its breed. The American Kennel Club as well as The Canadian Kennel Club have excellent examples of this type of legislation and are more than ready to assist any township requesting assistance with animal control issues.

Conclusions

Breed specific legislation is based on faulty statistics, media hysteria and politicians looking for a quick answer to the increasing number of people being injured or killed by dogs in North America and abroad. It is often stated that deaths from dog bites are about one per 10 million of the population. Any death is not acceptable but let us be practical, reaching zero risk is not only improbable, it is simply impossible. More children die from accidents in the playground, skate boards and bicycle riding each and every year. Have you heard of banning either activity? Of course not, but sensible regulations and parents whom teach their children responsible behaviors and provide them guidelines as to their use hopefully will lower the numbers each year. Breed ban are an illogical answer which may makes certain individual safer, but will not do a thing to reduce bite accidents.

It is the same approach we, as concerned and responsible dog owners, ask that the public accept and that government officials implement through legislation. This is what we mean by the slogan Punish the deed, not the Breed. When it comes to dogs, responsible ownership fosters the same results, a considerable increase of the public safety, regardless of the breed.

Submitted by: LeeAnn O’Reilly, O’Reilly O’Rotties

Copyright LeeAnn O’Reilly – 2003

BSL Website: www.rott-n-chatter.com

Reach Lee Ann at: rottn@nf.sympatico.ca





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