In my last Legislative Updates article, I looked at a couple of locations where breed-specific legislation has been outlawed, and promised to cover studies that have shown the ineffectiveness of BSL, as well as foreign countries that have repealed legislation banning or restricting ownership of certain breeds.
First, a quick word regarding the story from two weeks ago about the dog, Kerser, whose euthanization was put on hold in a community in Victoria, Australia, where his owner failed to license him as required by law regarding “restricted breeds.” As of June 14 Kerser’s owner and defense attorneys are still waiting to hear if the supreme court will hear the case again.
Although restrictions on owning certain breeds remain in Victoria and in other locations around the world, two countries, along with numerous communities in the United States, have over the past decade repealed breed-specific laws. The National Canine Research Council, based in the U.S., published a report outlining the “world-wide failure of breed-specific legislation,” detailing action taken in locations around the globe.
In the Netherlands in 2008, for example, Agriculture Minister Gerda Verburg announced that “a ban on owning and breeding pit bull terriers and related breeds” would be reversed because it had not “led to a reduction in the number of biting incidents” during the 15 years it was in effect. She was determined to instead introduce legislation under which dogs would be “judged by their behavior rather than breed.”
Prior to April 2009, Italian law restricted the ownership of 17 breeds, including Rottweilers, pit bulls and Bullmastiffs, requiring that these breeds be muzzled in public and that owners “ensure that they pose no danger to others.” Failure to do so could result in the dog being put to sleep. According to Health Undersecretary Francesca Martini, officials determined that the law had “no scientific foundation,” and that monitoring dogs based on behavior, rather than breed, would “increase the level of guarantees for citizens.”
In 2007 the results of a study conducted in Spain regarding its Dangerous Animals Act was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. The study compared dog-bite statistics during a period of time prior to the passage of the Dangerous Animals Act to the same statistics during the four years when the law was in effect. The study showed that although population density influenced the incidence of dog bites, “the legislation in force did not. (D)ogs in the dangerous breeds list…were involved in a small proportion of the incidents both before and after the introduction of legislation.” The results suggested “that the implementation of the Spanish legislation exerted little impact on the epidemiology of dog bites.”
However, in spite of evidence showing that breed-specific legislation does not reduce problems between dangerous dogs and humans, many communities around the world have yet to repeal these laws.
According to the National Canine Research Council, Great Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) conducted a survey in 2010 in which 88 percent of respondents stated that, in regard to dog control law, “current legislation is not effective in protecting the public,” and 71 percent called for the repeal of the country’s Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which banned specific breeds of dog.
Further, the act was the subject of a 2010 review by a committee, appropriately dubbed the Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group, composed of veterinarians, government officials and animal welfare organization representatives. In July that year, the group released a statement calling for an end to breed-specific legislation, noting that “research now overwhelmingly supports the principle of ‘deed not breed,’ and proves that genetics (breed) play only a limited part in the temperament of an individual dog.” The report further stated that dog bite incidents had increased in the five years prior by 79 percent in London and 43 percent nationally. The report revealed that £10 million had been “spent by the Metropolitan Police alone in the past three years to implement Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, relating to the seizure, kenneling and euthanasia of banned breeds.” The committee brought forward a bill that would place more emphasis on responsible dog ownership and focus on “prevention rather than cure.”
In November 2010. the British Veterinary Association posted an article reiterating findings by the DDASG, and supporting the repeal of the 1991 legislation and adoption of the Dog Control Bill brought forth by the committee. According to the Kennel Club, the 1991 act “led to thousands of dogs every year being kept in kennels for many years or [euthanized] simply because of their breed or type.”
Despite overwhelming public opinion, the support of veterinarians and other animals experts, studies showing that breed-specific legislation is ineffective and extremely costly, and passage of the new Dog Control Act by the House of Lords, a nationwide ban remains in force in the U.K. that outlaws ownership of the pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. Police or dog wardens can take a dog away “even if it isn’t acting dangerously” and “there hasn’t been a complaint,” with the possibility that the dog may be destroyed. A tragic incident in March this year, in which a teenage girl was fatally attacked by four dogs, has prompted the Kennel Club to once again call on the government to review the current law. Spokesperson Caroline Kisko said that the Kennel Club questions “how many more tragedies must take place before the Government admits that the breed-specific legislation in the Act is fatally flawed, wasting limited police resources on seizing dogs of a particular breed rather than focusing on dogs of any breed who are out of control.”
On October 28, 2005, the Dog Owners’ Liability Act went into effect in Ontario, Canada, restricting ownership of “pit bulls,” which includes Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers and any dog that “has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar” to those breeds. In 2010, according to the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Humane Society surveyed local municipalities to find out if dog bite cases had decreased after the law was passed in 2005. The survey showed that the year prior to the ban, there was a 10 percent drop in cases, with a “slight drop” again in 2006, followed by an increase back “to about” the 2005 number by 2009.
Despite that report, the restrictions are still in place. As reported by Toronto’s Star newspaper last year, the recognition that approximately 1,000 dogs have been destroyed because of the ban continues to drive a group of citizens to seek repeal of the law. Bill 16, created in November 2011, was moved forward several times in 2012, but languished without approval, and the ban currently stands. A similar ban, adopted in 1990, remains in effect in Winnipeg, and numerous other communities across Canada ban pit bulls and, in some cases, other breeds.
On the bright side, Calgary, Alberta, enacted a “breed-neutral” Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw in 2006 that deals with dogs based on behavior rather than breed, and emphasizes the importance of licensing and responsible ownership. According to the National Canine Resource Council, based on correspondence with Director of Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services Bill Bruce, in 2009 “this city of over one million people had reports of only 159 dog bites, of which 101 did not even break the skin. No community in Europe or North America can boast such a record of safety around dogs.”
Even the American Bar Association supports breed-neutral laws and calls for laws that instead focus on behavior of the dog owners and their pets. As noted in a 2012 article in the ABA Journal, “laws that target ‘pit bulls’ are inconsistent with due process because it’s difficult to determine which dogs fit in the category. And even when laws are more specific in their definitions, it’s difficult to judge a dog from its appearance.”