Pit Bulls and the Law

by Temma Martin

People’s perceptions of pit bull terriers seem to be changing for the better, if the passage of breed-neutral state and local laws is an indication.

Unfortunately, for many people who have never had real-life contact with pit bull terriers, their perceptions of the breed are based on infrequent media reports about incidents involving pit bulls. The dogs in these incidents are almost always owned by reckless or irresponsible people who fail to have their dogs spayed/neutered or trained and socialized. They also often mistreat their dogs, allow them to run loose, or force them to live on chains—all factors that increase the chances the dog might bite.

An estimated 5-7 million pit bulls live as pets in the United States, and the vast majority are loving, loyal family pets. In fact, statistics developed by the American Temperament Test Society show that 86.8 percent of American Pit Bull Terriers pass temperament evaluations –a better record than Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels and Dachshunds (the average for all breeds is 83 %).

An emerging trend indicates that states are moving away from breed discriminatory restrictions. This year alone, Nevada, Connecticut and Rhode Island have passed laws prohibiting cities and counties from banning or restricting dogs because of their breed. This brings the number of states prohibiting breed discrimination to 16.

“Best Friends is proud that nearly a third of our states have taken steps to prevent breed discrimination,” said Ledy VanKavage, senior legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society. “Every American who follows the right safety rules as a responsible dog owner should be allowed to own whatever breed of dog they choose.”

The movement away from breed bans is based on studies and experience that demonstrate that laws targeting dogs based solely on breed are ineffective in reducing dog bites. Such lawsare also arbitrary, difficult and expensive to enforce, violate basic property rights and ultimately punish responsible dog owners and innocent family pets. That’s why more and more jurisdictions are enacting comprehensive breed-neutral ordinances focusing on the behavior of dogs and owners.

“We all want safe and humane communities,” VanKavage said. “Communities should be protected against any dangerous dog, no matter the breed, and abused or neglected dogs should be protected from bad owners. The simple truth is that breed discrimination doesn’t work.”

A 2010 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association found that serious dog bite injuries are so infrequent that approximately 100,000 dogs of a targeted group would have to be removed from a community in order to prevent one serious bite.Studies done in countries with breed-discriminatory laws, such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, found that these laws didn’t reduce the number of dog bites or improve public safety. Based on these studies and concerns about due process and property rights infringement, the National Animal Control Association, the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, Best Friends Animal Society, the ASPCA, and theHumane Society of the United States don’t support breed discrimination.

According to research by Best Friends, in the first half of 2013 approximately 28 cities, counties or states have enacted breed-neutral laws, (after considering a breed ban), or have repealed an existing breed ban. This is in contrast with only 10 cities that have adopted breed bans this year.Happily, that indicates that new laws based on facts and behavior are outnumbering those based on fear and misconceptions.

Temma Martin is a Public Relations Specialist with Best Friends Animal Society, the only national animal welfare organization focused exclusively on ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters. For further information, go to www.bestfriends.org.

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