Sample Article - Pass It On
This article originally appeared in Vol. 18, No. 2 (Winter 2009) of PASS IT ON
|All Bark and Fiscal Bite—Are Breed-Discriminatory Laws Effective? |
by Ledy VanKavage
A dog attacks, and city-council members want the city attorney to react—sometimes by drafting an ordinance that restricts or outlaws a specific breed of dog, most often the maligned pit bull. 1 After such an ordinance is passed, authorities must then ferret out and kill any dog that slightly resembles a pit bull. Prince George’s County Maryland spends approximately $560,000 every two years enforcing its ban. Miami-Dade County impounds and kills around 800 pit bulls a year, despite a ban dating back to the 1980s, resulting in a significant fiscal impact. 2
Given the tremendous costs associated with breed-discriminatory laws, are they a prudent approach to community safety or a costly red herring? With passage of such ordinances comes a host of questions such as: How do you prove in court the identity of a mixed-breed dog? What sort of training do your animal-control or law-enforcement officers have regarding breed identification? If they aren’t trained in breed identification, is a veterinarian employed to determine whether a dog is a certain breed? Now that DNA testing is available, are courts going to require the government to pay for such testing before confiscating and destroying citizens’ property (i.e., their dogs)?
Missing the Mark by Targeting Pit Bulls
Given the hype, it isn’t a surprise that public lawyers may be asked to research and draft ordinances to help stop dog attacks, with the focus frequently on banning pit bulls. However, a smarter approach is to examine the statistics in the community, seek citizen input and weigh the factors involved in the attacks.
According to Delise, now with the National Canine Research Council, the fatal dog attacks that occurred in the United States in 2006 had these commonalities:
· 97 percent of the owners did not neuter or spay their dogs.
· 84 percent of the attacks involved reckless owners—owners who abused or neglected their dogs, failed to contain their dogs or improperly chained their dogs.
· 78 percent of the owners did not maintain their dogs as pets (they were used as guard, breeding or yard dogs).
In lieu of drafting costly breed discriminatory laws, public lawyers must decide if legislation targeting the aforementioned factors would be more effective.
Restrict Reckless Owners from Harboring Dogs
In 2007, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, passed an ordinance targeting reckless dog owners. St. Paul pet owners cited more than once for abusing or neglecting an animal can’t legally own another pet under the ordinance. The law targets pet owners who train their dogs to fight, puppy-mill operators and reckless dog owners. Reckless dog owners can’t register a new animal if their dogs are removed twice in a five-year span. City law requires all dogs more than three months old to have a license that costs $50 a year; the cost is reduced to $10 a year if the animal is spayed or neutered.
Also in 2007, the city of Tacoma, Washington, created an ordinance regulating “problem pet owners.” A person who commits three or more animalcontrol violations in a 24-month period can be declared a problem pet owner and forced to surrender all of their animals.
Encourage a Community-Policing Approach to Animal Control
This is in stark contrast to cities that have enacted breed-discriminatory laws. Studies show that breed-discriminatory laws are ineffective in protecting the public from dog attacks. One study involves the U.K.’s Dangerous Dog Act, which banned pit bulls in 1991. The study concluded that the ban had no effect whatsoever on stopping dog attacks. 3
The most recent study compared dog bites reported to the health department of Aragon, Spain, for five years before and five years after the introduction of its Dangerous Animals Act. As with the earlier study, there was no change in numbers of reported dog bites after the implementation of breed-discriminatory legislation, and the breeds most responsible for bites both before and after the breed-discriminatory legislation were those unrestricted by the legislation: German shepherds and mixed-breed dogs. The restricted breeds—American Staffordshire terriers, pit-bull terriers and Rottweilers—were responsible for less than 4 percent of the reported bites both before and after the law took effect. 4
Eliminate Chaining Dogs, an Attractive Nuisance
Protecting the Public While Preserving Responsible Owners’ Property Rights
|Ledy VanKavage is an attorney with Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. Formerly she was senior director of legislation and legal training, ASPCA. She also is vice-chair of the ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section’s Animal Law Committee, and chair of the Dangerous Dog Subcommittee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
1. “Pit bull” is a term commonly used to refer to several breeds of dogs, including the bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier (also called the American pit bull terrier) and Staffordshire bull terrier.
2. Report of the Vicious Animal Legislation Task Force, Prince George’s County Council (July 2003); conversation at the Florida Animal Control Association Conference, Nov. 21, 2008, with Dr. Sara Pizano, Director of Miami-Dade Animal Care and Control.
3. Klaassen B., Buckley J.R., Esmail A. Does the Dangerous Dogs Act Protect Against Animal Attacks: A Prospective Study of Mammalian Bites in the Accident and Emergency Department. Inj. 27(2), 89-91(1996).
4. Rosado B., Garcia-Belengues, Leon M., Palacio J. Spanish Dangerous Animals Act: Effect of the Epidemiology of Dog Bites. J.of Veterinary Behavior 2, 166-174 (2007).
· Kindness Index. Angel Canyon, UT Best Friends Animal Society, 2006, www.bestfriends.org.
· National Canine Research Council, www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com.