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Legislative Updates: An Overview of BSL in the U.S. and Abroad

On Monday, June 3, 2013, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed House Bill 6311, “an act prohibiting municipalities from adopting breed-specific dog legislation,” into law.

Effective October 1, 2013, local communities may take steps to prevent dogs from running “at large” in the streets and public places, may prevent cruelty to animals and all inhumane sports, but they may not adopt any laws that target specific dog breeds. The Connecticut Dog Federation and local dog owners made a concentrated effort to contact legislators in the state, urging them to adopt HB 6311.

In mid-May a new committee appointed by the city of South Bend, Ind., met to review the city’s codes regarding animal care and control. According to WSBT TV, breed-specific laws are currently on the books and will be examined, along with a wide range of other topics, by the committee.

Numerous U.S. states have laws that prohibit breed-specific legislation from being adopted by local communities, including Texas (Health and Safety Code Title 10, Chapter 822, Subchapter D, Sec. 822.047), Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Minnesota (347.51, Subd. 8) and Virginia (3.2-6540.C). An increased awareness by the general public and lawmakers worldwide regarding the pitfalls of BSL may be influencing this trend. Both sides of the issue are starkly outlined by the story of a protracted legal dispute between an aggrieved owner and the city council in the community of Monash, in Melbourne, Australia.

In December last year city officials seized a dog after he “broke into a neighbouring backyard.” The dog, named Kerser, was found to belong to Jade Applebee and was discovered to be unregistered with the city.

Changes to the state of Victoria’s Domestic Animals Act that were adopted in 2011 included the addition of a section identifying specific breeds as “restricted” and limiting citizens’ ability to own those breeds. The restricted breeds identified are American Pit Bull Terrier (or Pit Bull Terrier), Perro de Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, Japanese Tosa and Fila Brasileiro. The Victorian Approved Standard for Restricted Breed Dogs is a detailed written description of the sizes, weights, head shapes and other physical characteristics that would supposedly allow “authorised officers” to identify a dog as being one of these breeds.

According to the revised code, anyone who owns a dog of one of these breeds is allowed to keep the dog if it was in Victoria prior to September 1, 2010, and if it was registered with the local council prior to September 30, 2011. If an unregistered dog of the identified breeds is found to be in the state after the law passed, the statute specifically states that the council will not be able to authorize registration of the dog and that it will have to be “destroyed.”

Very detailed accommodations are made for dogs that are determined to be American Staffordshire Terriers. An owner can prove his dog is an Am Staff, and thus safe from the law, by producing a pedigree from one of numerous organizations or by getting a signed certificate from a Victoria Government Gazette veterinarian.

Fast forward to December 2012 when Kerser was picked up. According to the Monash Weekly, Applebee maintains that her dog is an Am Staff cross and thus not a restricted breed. She moved to her home in Mount Waverley, in the neighborhood where Kerser was picked up, just three days before he was seized. The dog, according to a February 25, 2013, Monash Weekly report, had been “staying with a friend,” and his owner planned to register him the following day. She conceded that she should have registered him, but said that when she bought him she was told that he was an American Staffordshire Terrier cross.

Over the past several months, numerous people who are considered experts, including an “international all-breeds dog judge,” Monash animal management officers and officials from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, have examined Kerser and given their opinions as to his breed. The judge, Lynne Harwood, said that the dog is not a pit bull. Others have said the opposite, and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, following a two-day hearing and examination of the dog, upheld the determination that he is a pit bull.

Applebee filed an appeal with the state’s supreme court in March. In late May the announcement came that the supreme court rejected the appeal, according to the Monash Weekly. In a last ditch attempt, an online petition to save Kerser, who has never been accused of anything other than being in the wrong yard and of the wrong breed, received more than 23,000 signatures. The petition was labeled, “Save Kerser from being euthanized!”

Whether it was the petition, the appearance of some 50 protesters who gathered at the RSPCA on Monday last week with signs pleading with officials not to kill Kerser, or a combination of factors, on Tuesday officials announced that the euthanization has been “put on hold” for 14 days. The Monash Weekly reported that it is “unclear” why putting the dog down has been postponed.

An earlier case brought before the supreme court “resulted in a $100,000 legal bill after the council lost the case,” according to another Monash Weekly report.

This case seems to highlight the conflict between citizens who want “dangerous dogs” removed from communities and those who believe that dogs must be judged based on their behavior rather than their breed. In a 2009 paper by Dana M. Campbell, an attorney whose practice focuses on animal law and employment rights and who teaches animal law at Cornell Law School, confirmed that while various locales continue to implement breed-specific legislation, at the same time an increasing number of U.S. states are passing laws that prohibit the passage of BSL by local governments. Campbell notes that court cases challenging BSL have been difficult to win because, in spite of charges that they are vague, overly-inclusive (meaning that BSL “bans all dogs of a breed when only certain individuals within the breed have proven to be vicious) or under-inclusive (“because many types of dogs have injured people and the BSL fails to include those other breeds”), courts have had no trouble finding that breed-specific legislation is “rationally related” to the “legitimate government goal…of protecting the public from allegedly dangerous breeds.”

However, several studies have shown that breed specific legislation has been ineffective where it’s been implemented. In addition, studies show that the majority of dog bite incidents cannot be attributed to specific breeds of dog. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in cooperation with other organizations, and published in the September 15, 2000, issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, concluded that at least 25 breeds of dog were involved in 238 human dog bite-related fatalities during the 20 years studied, and that “although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem, other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates.” The study showed that of the 238 fatalities only 66 were caused by “pit bull type” dogs, 39 by Rottweilers and the rest by other purebreds or mixed breeds.

Worldwide several countries have repealed legislation that banned or restricted ownership of certain breeds, and, as in the U.S., studies examining data from other countries have determined that BSL has not been effective. In an upcoming article on Best In Show Daily, we will examine those circumstances.

Best In Show Daily reports biweekly on legislative actions around the country that will or may impact dog ownership. The American Kennel Club government relations office also maintains a list of Legislative Alerts on its website, where fanciers can stay up-to-date on current issues in dog-related legislation around the United States and find contact information when legislation is pending in their area.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
Comments
  • Joan June 12, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    When people can’t even decide on what the dog is, in the case of Kerser or Lennox and the dog is safe how could that possibly make anyone safer? That one question alone is why breed specific/discriminatory legislation is wrong. People just have stopped using their brains and really should start using them again and question laws that are in place. That’s how you make the world a better place. You don’t just accept things the way they are if they are fundamentally wrong.

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