Side-stepping BSL has not worked yet, but the right approach might
Can non-breed-specific legislation be drafted that genuinely protects the public and other animals from pit bull attack?
Pit bull advocates, including the people promoting legislative policy at the Humane Society of the U.S., the Best Friends Animal Society, the American SPCA, and the American Veterinary Medical Association, have long insisted that non-breed-specific legislation can be effective, but have favored one-free-bite or multiple-free-bite laws that do not prevent first attacks, and over the past several decades have yet to produce even one example of a non-breed specific community ordinance or state law which has verifiably and demonstrably prevented fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks.
The “first bite” must be prevented
The reason for this should be fairly simple and obvious to anyone who really looks at the relevant data: fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks are typically the first known dangerous incident involving the dog or dogs. Typically fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks occur without warning or provocation, about half of them within the home in which the attacking pit bull resides.
Fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks usually occur at lightning speed, catching both the victims and the pit bull owners unawares, because pit bulls have been bred for centuries to have hair-trigger reactivity, going from apparent repose to all-out attack without pausing to give warning signals. In the fighting pit the dog who hesitates is not just lost but dismembered alive, never to pass along his/her genes.
Why we favor BSL
ANIMALS 24-7, make no bones about it, editorially favors strong breed-specific legislation, and not only to prevent fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on both humans and animals, of which pit bulls account for the overwhelming majority.
ANIMALS 24-7 also editorially favors strong breed-specific legislation to slow the influx of pit bulls into animal shelters, who throughout the present decade have made up more than a third of shelter dog intake and two-thirds of animal shelter dog euthanasia.
ANIMALS 24-7 further editorially favors strong breed-specific legislation to stop dogfighting. Dogfighting thrives on the abundance of easily obtained free-to-good-home pit bulls, who are equally casually disposed of when killed or badly injured.
Despite the mythology surrounding the prices purportedly paid for breeding opportunities with “grand champions,” meaning pit bulls who have survived three fights, the typical fighting pit bull is a more anonymous grunt than the Unknown Soldier, whose “tomb” at the average age of about 18 months is most often a ditch, a dumpster, or a burn barrel.
But the right non-BSL could work
But some non-breed specific legislation could nonetheless be effective, if enforced, to curtail pit bull attacks and proliferation, especially among people who obtain pit bulls and pit mixes unawares, misled by the frequent tendency of both breeders and animal shelters to pretend that a pit bull is something else, in hopes of either fetching a higher sale price or simply finding a home for a pit who has most often failed in at least three homes before even coming to a shelter.
People selling, rehoming, giving away, or transferring a dog by any other means could be required to provide a written disclosure to persons obtaining the dogs of the dogs’ actual or suspected ancestry.
This disclosure need not be nearly as precise and complicated as providing a pedigree, as all reputable breeders of American Kennel Club-registered dogs must. Neither should the disclosure require a DNA test, since dog DNA tests are notoriously unable to distinguish most breed types with any precision at all.
Easily recognized categories
The disclosure statement should only require the seller or rehomer of a dog to stipulate whether the dog exhibits either dominant or secondary traits of dogs in several easily recognized broad categories, including herding dogs, retrievers, sight hounds, scent hounds, lap dogs, terriers, northern breeds, and pit bulls, in the most generic sense of the term.
The difficulty for the seller or rehomer of accurately indicating in writing the type of dog offered would be no greater than the difficulty for vendors of dogs for research of meeting the paperwork requirements of the federal Animal Welfare Act, introduced in 1966, reinforced in 1970, and amended into present form in 1991.
If generations of Class B dealers have been able to identify random source dogs by point of origin, dog breeders, dealers, animal shelters, and rescuers certainly should be able to identify dogs by primary and secondary working group characteristics.
Disclosure of temperament test results
Further, effective non-breed specific legislation to reduce fatal and disfiguring dog attacks could require mandatory written disclosure by rehomers to prospective adopters of all temperament testing data, including of any failed temperament tests.
An animal shelter, rescuer, or adoption agency could avoid having to disclose failed temperament tests by not doing temperament testing in the first place and acknowledging as much. This would put the person acquiring a dog on alert that the dog might be behaviorally an unknown quantity, whereas assuring an adopter that a dog has passed temperament testing tends to instill a misleading sense of false confidence that the dog will always be “safe.”
Disclosure of bite history & training
In addition, effective non-breed specific legislation should require mandatory written disclosure at time of exchange of any dog of any known bite history, including any history of killing/injuring other animals.
If a dog is known to have been used or trained for fighting, competitions of any sort, including weight pulling, or any type of legal, licensed hunting, guarding, herding, police work, or rodent control, this should also be disclosed.
Such requirements of non-breed specific legislation to prevent dog attacks must include stiff penalties for failure to disclose the essential information that would take effect in event of an attack. Misdemeanor penalties might apply to non-disclosure of the essentials in event that the dog goes on to grievously injure a person or animal; felony penalties in event that the dog goes on to kill someone.
In addition, non-breed specific legislation to prevent dog attacks must include a stringent insurance requirement. The insurance requirement should apply equally to both sellers and rehomers, and people acquiring dogs who have either known bite history or history of killing/injuring other animals, or have history of having been used or trained for competitions such as fighting, weight-pulling and Schutzhund which might accentuate either the tendency to attack or the damage the dog might do in event of attack.
Since most homeowners’ liability insurance policies these days are written for $1 million, most dog owners and prospective adopters who have insurance policies will already be covered. The insurance requirement of this proposed legislation would significantly affect only those who are not already appropriately insured.
The humane community, in particular, should have no trouble meeting any of the requirements of this type of non-breed specific legislation––if humane societies and other rehomers are serious about wanting to prevent fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
From the first documented U.S. shelter dog adoptions in 1858 until 1988, millions of shelter dogs were rehomed without any former shelter dogs having been known to kill anyone. Then, after two fatalities were inflicted by newly rehomed wolf hybrids in 1988-1989, the humane community again paid serious attention to safety and adopted out nearly 50 million dogs before the next fatal attack by a shelter dog occurred in 2000.
Since 2007, however, animal shelters and rescuers working in partnership with shelters have rehomed at least 50 dogs who have gone on to kill people, about 70% of them pit bulls.
Hiding the evidence
Despite this history, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Best Friends Animal Society, the American SPCA, and the American Veterinary Medical Association, among others who ought to be setting a better example, have continued to encourage shelters to pretend that pit bulls and other dogs of recent fighting lineage are safe to rehome as pets; have argued on the one hand that whether a dog is dangerous is “all in how you raise them,” and on the other, encouraged the public to adopt dogs of both fighting lineage and unknown history; and worse, have denied or obfuscated breed types, so that adopters cannot even make informed choices about what sorts of dogs they might take home.
The Humane Society of the U.S., the Best Friends Animal Society, the American SPCA, and the American Veterinary Medical Association, et al, insist that they favor non-breed specific legislation to deal with the ever-escalating numbers of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
The place to start
ANIMALS 24-7 continues to believe that the most effective response to a mostly breed-specific problem will be breed-specific, like either the legislation in effect in Denver and Miami since 1989, in Ontario since 2006, and now in Montreal, which prohibits pit bulls outright, or the legislation in effect in San Francisco, also since 2006, which requires pit bulls to be sterilized––if the legislation, of either type, is strictly enforced, with no waffling exceptions for pit bulls under other names, such as “American bully” or “Staffordshire.”
But if only non-breed specific legislation is acceptable to the humane community, passing non-breed specific legislation which requires all dogs to be accurately identified by type and by history at time of transfer is the place to start.