This post is going to be a bit different then the topics that I have previously tackled. I want to cover the facts and statistics regarding Breed-Specific Legislation. As a warning: this post is long, and the information provided herein will primarily be targeted to Price George’s County, Maryland.
Breed-Specific Legislation is something that has been in dispute for the past 20 or so years. It is believed that by implanting Breed-Specific Legislation, it will create a safer community for people to live in where they will not have to worry about aggressive dogs. However, this is not the case, there are many reason why Breed-Specific Legislation does not work the way legislatures plan for it to work. In reality, it actually brings up more problems and complications then it does good.
Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) is considered to be a blanket term that covers all laws that either regulate or ban a type of breed in for the sole purpose and hopes of reducing dog attacks from that breed. In some States, including the state of Maryland, the government has implemented BSL laws. There have also been cases where the United States Army as well as the Marine Corps have taken administrative action against bully breads as well. BSL legislation as stated above can range from the outright banning of possession of a certain breed to regulating the conditions of ownership of these dogs. BSL laws can often result in a legal presumption that these types of dogs are deemed legally “dangerous” or even “vicious”
It is to be noted that while BSL laws most commonly are applied to Pit Bulls or the whole “bully” family in general, there are many other breeds of dogs that suffer from these laws. Some of these breeds include: American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, English Bull Terriers and Rottweilers. In the past these laws have also discriminated against: American Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers. BSL laws not only effect these breads, but also any combination of the breed, for example a American Pit Bull/Terrier Mix.
There have been many court cases over the years arguing BSL. Quite possibly one of the biggest cases in Maryland in regards to pit bulls, is the case of Anthony K. Solesky vs. Dorothy M. Tracy. This case was a big controversy in regards to what is known as the “one free bite rule” where victims of dog bites have a right to receive compensation for their injuries. Since the first ruling in the case, Maryland State Legislature has now changed the law to say:
“When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.” It applies not only to the dogs’ owners, but to any person who “had the right to control the pit bull’s presence”—i.e., the land lord.”
On April 28th 2007 an American Pit Bull Terrier (more commonly known as Pitt Bull) escaped from his pen that was located in the owner’s back yard on a privately owned residential property located in Towson, Maryland. It was reported that across from the back yard where the dog had escaped from, was an ally. It was in this ally that the dog seriously injured ten-year-old Dominic Solesky and two other boys. Dominic was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, he was suffering from sever bites to his whole body from the dog. Dominic was rushed to the operating room, and was later put into critical care.
The property from which the dog had escaped was owned by Dorothy M. Tracey. She had been renting the property to Thomas C. O’Halloran and Erin Cesky, who were the owners of the pit bull that attacked the Dominic Solesky. On March 24th 2008, the parents of the child Anthony and Irene Solesky filed a complaint against the dog’s owner as well as against Dorothy M. Tracey the landlord. The Solesky’s were seeking money damages in the circuit court of Baltimore County. The claims against the owners of the dog were settled. However, the claims against the landlord included counts alleging negligence and strict liability. During the discovery period of the trial, the Solesky’s also moved for sanctions against Tracey for being unable to attend a deposition because of poor health, and for spoliation of evidence in the case. However, the circuit court denied both these motions and the case proceeded to trial. At the closing of the case, Tracey had moved for judgment, which the circuit court granted in her favor. The ruling was that there was insufficient evidence that the landlord was notified of the “vicious” nature of the dog, or that Tracey retained control over the tenants use of the leased property.
As a result of this case, Maryland State Legislature ruled that in order to make a claim, the plaintiff does not have to prove that the owner of the dog nor the landlord who had allowed the dog, knew it had a dangerous history. It was then determined that both American Pit bull Terriers and Pit bull mixes are inherently dangerous. However, On August 21st 2012, the court reconsidered the ruling that it had made previously and wrote a new opinion that the ruling should only apply to pure-bred Pit bulls.
Because of the change in legislature, this could make it so that there are profound implications for not only landlords, but also animal shelters, rescues, animal hospitals, veterinarians and volunteers who try to save the lives of these dogs.
Are Breed Specific Laws Effective?
Breed Specific Laws are not only extremely costly, but they are also very difficult to enforce. Currently, there is no evidence to support that BSL laws make communities any safer for humans or their companion animals. One example of this statement is located in Maryland in Prince George’s County. Prince Georges County alone spends an estimated $250,000 a year in order to enforce its ban on Pit bulls. Studies conducted by the county in 2003 on the ban’s effectiveness show that public safety has not improved as a result of the ban. Also the study showed that:
“there is no transgression committed by owner or animal that is not covered by another, non-breed specific portion of the Animal Control Code (i.e., vicious animal, nuisance animal, leash laws).”
The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decided that they were not going to support BSL laws. The CDC had cited two major problems among other problems that the inaccuracy of dog bite data combined with the difficulty in identifying dog breeds (which is more so true with mix breeds) makes them against BSL laws and legislation. The CDC also noted that as certain breeds are regulated and controlled, the few people who do exploit dogs for fighting making them aggressive, will just replace them with other unregulated breeds. Thus the problem of public safety will still exist.
What’s Wrong With Breed-Specific Legislation?
- Dogs are hidden – No pet owner wants to give up his or her beloved pet. In most cases, the dog becomes more then just a family pet, but rather a part of the family. So instead of giving up part of their family, owners of highly regulated or banned breeds are more likely to hide their dog by restricting outdoor exercise, socialization. Owners are also more likely to forgo micro chipping as well as proper vet care such as spay/neutering their pet, or getting up to date shots. These actions not only have implications to public safety, but also to the health and safety of the animal.
- Good owners and dogs are punished – Breed-Specific legislation also causes financial and emotional hardship on the responsible owners of dogs who fall into these breeds, but are friendly and well socialized. Even though these dog owners have done nothing to endanger the public, they are required to comply with local laws and regulations of their breed. Owners are however allowed to keep their dog, and do not have to comply with the regulations if they are able to mount a successful costly legal challenges.
- They impact a false sense of security – Breed-specific laws often have the tendency to compromise rather then to enhance public safety. When there is limited animal control, resources are used to regulate the ban of certain breeds of dogs without any regards to the temperament and behavior of the dog. Also, the focus is shifted away from routine, and more towards the effective enforcement of laws that have the best possible chance of making our communities safer. This includes laws on dog license laws, leash laws, animal fighting laws, anti-tethering laws, laws facilitating spaying and neutering and laws that require all owners to control their dogs, regardless of breed.
- They may encourage ownership by irresponsible people – If a breed of dog is outlawed, then it is likely that outlaws are going to be more attracted to that breed. Unfortunately there are some people who will take advantage of the outlaw status that a breed has in order to bolster their own self-image where they are living outside of the mainstream of society by breaking the law. Ironically, it was in the late 1980’s that the rise of pit bull ownership among gangs members rose in correlation with the first round of breed-specific legislation.
Alternatives to Breed-Specific Legislation:
Legislation that targets specific breeds simply just does not work based on multiple factors. There have been many studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association and The National Canine Research Council, as well as independent researchers. All of these studies agree that BSL is not productive, however they all identify 4 key points to reduce the number of dog attacks.
- Education – Statistically, children are at the most risk for being bitten by a dog. Unsupervised newborn babies alone were approximately 370 times more likely then an adult to be killed by a dog. It has also been reported that children 15 years of age and younger, accounted for 82% of dog bites treated in emergency room across the United States. Adult supervision plays a huge role in the prevention of dog bites. Children who understand how to act around dogs, properly play with dogs, when to leave a dog alone, and understand how to properly meet a dog, are less likely to get bitten. In order to meet these needs, American Humane has created a program called American Humane KIDS: Kids interacting with dogs safely. This is a dog-bite prevention program aimed at children age 4-7 years old. By educating children at home and in school, we are more able to drastically control the number of dog bites per year.
- Enforcement – It is possible for a community to drastically reduce the number of dog bites per year by enforcing and enacting on stronger animal control laws. Examples of such laws include, but are not limited to: leash laws, mandatory spay/neuter laws in shelters, targeting of chronically irresponsible owners, and prohibiting chaining or tethering for excessive periods of time. When an owner chains a dog for a long period of time, it results in the dog being anxious, lonely, bored, under-socialized, under stimulated, untrained and fearful which then results in the dog being more likely to bite someone.
Enacting and enforcing more laws is not the only answers to this problem. The animal control facilities are already understaffed and underfunded as it is. By increasing funding to humane societies and animal control, they are more able to enforce the laws listed above. It is important to give these facilities the recognition they deserve so that they are more able to provide the help these animals need.
Good dangerous-dog laws involve a hearing after a dog has bitten or threatened a person or another animal. After the hearing, if the dog is found to be dangerous, it is possible that the dog’s owner an be required to meet a certain set of criteria. Some requirements include: getting the dog neutered, muzzled when off the owner’s property, always on a leash, or confined to a yard. It is in this way that the American humane society supports dog laws based off of the dogs temperament rather then based off the breed alone.
- Spay/Neuter – Spaying or neutering a dog can greatly decrease the chance of them biting a human being. For example, unneutered male dogs are more than 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs. On the other hand, female dogs who are in heat or nursing a litter of puppies are much more dangerous then a spayed female. Overall, the behavior of an intact animal regardless of species can be very unpredictable. Be sure to contact your veterinarian to schedule an appointment. Or if for some reason one cannot afford going to a vet, there are lots of options though the humane society for low cost spay/neuter operations.
- Better bite reporting – Researchers have agreed that better statistics on reports of dog bite incidents could immensely improve our ability to identify the factors that would be the primary focus for improving public safety. To date, research has been primarily based on incomplete hospital and police records, as well as articles from newspapers. What makes the data incomplete is that it includes failure to record the location of bites, age and sex of the dog, age and sex of the victim, circumstances surrounding the bites and accurate breed identification.
In conclusion, Breed-Specific Legislation is not needed in Maryland (or any other state). People are more likely to hide their pets every time new laws against their beloved family members are passed. Many Maryland state residents have been forced with difficult decisions that no family should ever have to make to keep their pet. As more BSL laws are passed, more and more dogs walk though shelter doors and as soon as they walk in they do not have a chance because of these laws. These dogs are taken out of loving homes and are being put down; they are being given less then 72 hours to live. The reason BSL laws even first came about, was to increase public safety. However, to do this, it is more important that other laws such as leash laws, mandatory spay/neuter laws, and stricter penalties for dog fighting are focused on. By focusing on these, the over all goal of public safety will be achieved more effectively. It is also important that more funding is given to organizations like the humane society so they are more able to handle the enforcement of such laws. However, the most important thing to be done, is to educate children and adults alike on how to treat dogs, by doing this, there is more likelihood of being able to control how many dog bites happen per year. These dogs are being discriminated against, and Breed-Specific Legislation is not going to help the over arching problem, rather it will hinder us from getting to our number one goal: public safety.