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
· On Aug. 18, 2007: A Labrador mix attacked a 70-year-old man, sending him to the hospital in critical condition. Police officers arrived at the scene, and the dog was shot after charging the officers. This incident was reported in one article and only in the local paper.
· On Aug. 19, 2007: A 16-month-old child received fatal head and neck injuries after being attacked by a mixed-breed dog. This attack was reported two times by the local paper.
· On Aug. 20, 2007: A 6-year-old boy was hospitalized after having his ear torn off and receiving severe bites to the head by a medium-sized mixed-breed dog. This attack was reported in one article and only in the local paper.
· On Aug. 21, 2007: A 59-year-old woman was attacked in her home while trying to break up a dog fight involving her neighbor’s Jack Russell terrier and two pit bulls. The pit bulls had broken off their chains and followed her neighbor’s Jack Russell terrier in through her dog door. She was hospitalized with severe injuries. Her dog was not injured. This attack was reported in more than 230 articles in national and international newspapers and on major television news networks, including CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.
Thus, during those four days, four dog attacks made the news—including a fatality involving a mixed-breed dog—but only the incident involving the pit bulls captured national attention.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
Encourage a Community-Policing Approach to Animal Control
Eliminate Chaining Dogs, an Attractive Nuisance
· Between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
· Within 500 feet of school property.
· When the temperature is below 32 degrees.
· When a heat advisory or ozone alert has been issued.
· When a pinch, choke or improperly fitting nylon collar is used.
Restricting chaining between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. can have the added benefit of reducing the number of barking complaints.
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.