Ledy VanKavage, past chair of the American Bar Association Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section’s Animal Law Committee, said she thinks the trend against breed discriminatory legislation will continue, noting that such laws are ineffective and extremely costly to enforce.
“The best laws respond to behavior of both dog owners and dogs,” she said. “Everyone wants to see our communities protected from dangerous dogs, regardless of breed. City officials should protect people and pets through a culture of safety, personal responsibility and individual accountability.”
Last year, at the urging of TIPS, the ABA Commission on Disability Rights and the San Diego County Bar Association, the ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution against breed-specific legislation. The policy “urges all state, territorial and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.”
The ABA addressing the issue has had a huge effect, VanKavage said, adding that never before have three states outlawed breed-specific ordinances in a single year. With the addition of Rhode Island, Connecticut and Nevada, 16 states now prohibit cities and counties from restricting dogs based on their breed.
Best Friends Animal Society, where VanKavage works as a senior legislative attorney, has also sent the ABA resolution to numerous city attorneys who were drafting dangerous dog ordinances, she said, and the majority of them decided against breed discriminatory legislation.
“It's a matter of justice,” she said. “This is America. Every American who follows the right safety rules as a responsible dog owner should be allowed to own whatever breed of dog they choose — it’s that simple.”
In response to a We the People petition for a federal ban on breed-specific legislation, the White House stated, “We don't support breed-specific legislation — research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.”
Expenses involved in enforcing breed-specific legislation include animal control, kenneling and veterinary care, euthanasia, litigation from citizens contesting the law and DNA testing, among others. VanKavage said Best Friends Animal Society offers an online calculator that helps city officials determine how much it would cost to enact and enforce breed-specific laws.
The Obama administration cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicate calculating bite rates for specific breeds is almost impossible. The CDC found that many other factors may affect a dog’s likelihood of attacking, including reproductive status, heredity, sex, socialization and training. The White House noted that the CDC is also opposed to breed-specific legislation and favors a “community-based approach to prevent dog bites.”
“The simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive,” the White House statement added.
VanKavage said legislation should focus on the behavior of the owner and the dog, not the dog’s physical appearance. The report accompanying the ABA resolution noted that identifying a dog’s breed based on its appearance is very difficult. It cites a study showing that when asked to determine the breed or breeds of an unknown dog, animal adoption agency personnel correctly guessed the heritage only 25 percent of the time.
She applauded provisions that instead focus on reckless pet owners, requiring them to attend pet classes or preventing them from having pets.
“Instead of punishing innocent pets, let’s hold owners accountable and responsible for dogs that are actually dangerous,” VanKavage said.