Today, someone came into your home to remove your dog. Nothing you said or did allowed you to keep him or her. Depending on where you live, you don’t know the fate of your dog after this removal. You may have been given only a few days to relocate outside of your city or find a new family for your dog. Your dog may be moved outside of the city — again, you have no say. And in the worst case, your dog was killed. Why? Because of what he or she looked like.
This is Breed Specific Legislation.
Rodney Taylor, Associate Director of Prince George’s Animal Management in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, describes the emotional and physical effects of BSL, which is “a law or ordinance that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds.”
The hardest thing we have to do…is go to someone’s house, knock on their door, see their American Pit Bull Terrier lying in the living room watching television with the kids and the family… and tak[e] that dog away. A dog that has done nothing wrong, caused no problems, but just because of his breed he has to be moved.
One of the things not touched on in Mr. Taylor’s quote is the fact that even though BSL is meant to target a specific breed, in actuality, BSL is by far and large based solely on a dog’s appearance. A dog who looks like (but actually isn’t) a Pit Bull is in danger of being subject to BSL.
This is a reckless and inaccurate way to legislate as it has been proven that it can be very difficult to identify a dog’s breed based on looks.
The future of Diggy, a dog who was recently adopted by Dan Tillery, is now in question as the city he lives in — Waterford Township, Michigan — has a ban on Pit Bulls.
According to a recent Facebook post by Detroit Dog Rescue, even though a veterinarian has confirmed that Diggy is in fact not a Pit Bull but rather an American Bulldog, Waterford still wants him removed. According to Diggy’s owners, the city is skeptical of the veterinarian’s finding “because [the city] think[s] any vet would just want Diggy to stay in a good home.” Diggy’s dad has obtained legal representation.
While Diggy’s situation is not yet resolved, the idea of families being torn apart by BSL is not an uncommon anecdote. During the two–year debate to repeal BSL in Newark, Ohio, Steffen Baldwin, founder of Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio and co–founder of Ohioans Against Breed Discrimination, was “struck in particular by one story of a single mother who owned two Pit Bulls.”
She described the dogs as I describe my Pit Bull-type dogs, as my son’s best friend and as her daughter’s best friend. This mom then, with tears in her eyes, began to describe the night the Dog Warden visited her house. Not because her dog was loose, or because it had attacked anyone, simply because he knew she had Pit Bull-type dogs. She described her child crying while her dogs were removed from the house, and her voice shook with emotion when she admitted that she had no idea what happened to them afterwards, since communities with BSL typically have shelters that don’t adopt out Pit Bull-type dogs, either.
The Beginnings Of BSL
As BSL began taking hold in the United States in the late 1970s and 1980s and the media sensationalized dogfighting and dog attacks, it led to an increase in those who wanted Pit Bull–type dogs for the wrong reasons. Mitzi Bolaños, the Executive Director of StubbyDog and who recently gave a TEDx talk on BSL, stated:
[This] just enticed more criminals to want them — to keep them chained up as yard dogs, with no positive human interaction, for ‘protection,’ for gambling (which meant fighting), and the cycle just continued.
It’s this type of environment that can lead to dog bites — not the breed of dog. Deirdre Franklin, founder of Pinups For Pitbulls, shared with BarkPost how responsible dog ownership can help reduce dog bites and attacks.
The focus needs to shift to the basic reasons that dog bites exist: tethered/chained dogs, dogs at–large, unattended children, and focus on spaying and neutering. These are easy areas to target. These are not expensive areas to target. We have overcomplicated a very simple issue.
Because BSL does not aim to promote responsible dog ownership but rather ban dogs simply based on looks, it’s been proven time and time again to be ineffective. In fact, as Bolaños pointed out, Ontario, Canada “has had a ban on Pit Bull-type dogs since 2005 and has…not seen any reduction in dog bites.” Franklin shared:
…[T]he key argument here [is] that there is not a single peer-reviewed study out there proving that BSL has ever worked. Not one! There are 17,000+ articles for BSL and in newspapers regurgitating the same nonsense that is not based in fact, [and there is] not one science–based, fact–based article.
Bolaños echoed Franklin’s findings.
The facts are so clear – BSL does not work. It’s always shocking that people continue to hold on to outdated media–based ‘data’ when we have so much peer–reviewed science to rely on.
Despite the majority of the states in the U.S. not having an explicit ban on BSL, stories like those of Diggy and Quebec, Canada momentarily considering a Pit Bull ban, Bolaños, Baldwin and Franklin all believe that we are moving forward in a positive direction. Baldwin explained:
Each year we see more states completely banning the process altogether, by writing legislation that would prohibit a municipality from enforcing dangerous dog ordinances based on appearance….As science and true data catches up with fear–mongering, the tides are turning.
How To Fight BSL
The scenario at the beginning of this article was meant to place you in the crosshairs of the consequences of BSL. Perhaps you didn’t think it could apply to you because you have a dog who would never be subject to BSL. You may think, “That’s terrible but has nothing to do with me.” Maybe you don’t even have a dog. I’m reminded of a quote by Martin Niemöller where he addresses the consequences of not speaking out about issues because they didn’t affect him.
His last line reads:
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
BSL isn’t just an issue for owners of Pit Bull–type dogs and other breeds who are affected. It’s an issue for everyone as it affects communities at large — families, a city’s budget, local shelters and rescues, the perpetuation of false information and of course, dogs.
Meeting with elected officials, even if it’s in an unofficial manner such as sharing coffee as Baldwin noted, can greatly impact the chances of BSL either being repealed or banned. When doing so, Bolaños believes it’s vital to “[p]resent the facts to [officials] in a clear, objective manner, and provide them with the language for an alternative breed–neutral law.”
Another aspect that may get officials to listen? “[C]ost and community safety,” explained Bolaños. Baldwin also takes the same approach, stating:
The reality is, most elected officials want to see safe communities. Most elected officials don’t want to see vicious dogs roaming their neighborhoods. But if you can show them other models of existing policies that are breed neutral and focus on a dog’s individual actions rather than appearances, and how those models truly do create a safer community, you can get a lot of people to listen to you.
Franklin says that lifting BSL is “more specific to where you live and how it is enforced,” but even so, she has a general rule of thumb.
Be polite and informed.
She also noted that Best Friends Animal Society has a tool that can be used to show the actual costs of BSL to a town and “how those funds could be reallocated into meaningful bite prevention classes and spay and neuter, for example.”
If officials aren’t open to listening or meeting, Bolaños says, “[H]ead out to your community and start gathering support. Have others set up similar meetings.” Baldwin also recommends getting the media involved and creating closed groups on social media so that meeting times and dates can be discussed privately.
It’s also important to know the laws for having legislation repealed in your local municipality. Baldwin shared his tactic stating:
Do you need a majority or a 2/3 vote? If you need a majority, how many individual members do you need to sway? If you have 9 city council members, you only need to convince 5 of them to see things your way to win the battle.
BSL separates families, sometimes temporarily but most often permanently. At its worst, it kills.
By being informed citizens, responsible dog owners and active in the political process, we hold the power to create more fair and safe communities not just for ourselves but for dogs who are, as Bolaños describes them, “everyday family dogs.” Franklin shared:
We are all capable of making this world a better place for people and our companion animals.
To help further the mission of each of the organizations mentioned in this article, please click below.
Featured image of Stella, a Pit Bull–type dog, via Greg Murray/Greg Murray Photography