U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, & U.S. Air Force bans on pit bulls, Rottweilers, & wolf hybrids stand, at least until uniform military policy is adopted
WASHINGTON D.C.––The first U.S. Senate action of the New Year, on the morning of January 1, 2021, quietly affirmed for at least 90 days and perhaps indefinitely the existing breed-specific dangerous dog policies of the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force.
In so doing, the U.S. Senate reversed significant portions of language that Republican Senators influenced by pit bull advocates had bootlegged into the National Defense Authorization Act, a “must-pass” bill allocating $741 to the U.S. armed services to fund routine operations during fiscal 2021.
The language would have rescinded the existing U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force prohibitions on keeping pit bulls, Rottweilers, and wolf hybrids in base housing.
The version of the National Defense Authorization Act approved by House of Representatives, however, omitted any discussion of dangerous dog rules.
Reconciled law language may allow breed prohibitions
The U.S. Senate language was then amended in the bill reconciliation process to leave the existing Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force dangerous dog regulations in effect pending the adoption of a uniform policy governing dogs in military housing.
This uniform policy may include the current breed-specific prohibitions if the veterinary branches of the armed services agree they are appropriate.
Soon-to-be-former U.S. President Donald Trump on December 23, 2020 vetoed the final reconciled version of the National Defense Authorization Act for a variety of stated reasons, including that it includes funding for renaming military bases which have been named after Confederate officers who waged war against the United States.
The House of Representatives on December 28, 2020 voted 322-87 to override the presidential veto. The U.S. Senate waited until New Year’s Day to override the veto, 81-13.
What was changed
Pit bull enthusiast Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump, the second son and third child of Donald Trump, is believed to have personally lobbied for dismantling the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force breed-specific base housing dog policies.
Section 1050 of the original U.S. Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act would have mandated that “Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense, through the Veterinary Service Activity of the Department of Defense, shall establish a standardized policy applicable across all military communities for the regulation of dangerous dogs that is (1) breed-neutral; and (2) consistent with advice from professional veterinary and animal behavior experts in regard to effective regulation of dangerous dogs.”
The proposed Section 1050 language would also have required “Enforcement of comprehensive, non-breed-specific regulations relating to dangerous dogs, with emphasis on identification of dangerous dog behavior and chronically irresponsible owners.”
What was enacted
That language was replaced in reconciliation by Section 2884 of the National Defense Authorization Act as enacted into law.
Section 2884 eliminates the “breed-neutral” and “non-breed specific” specifications.
Otherwise almost identical in wording to the former Section 1050, Section 2884 retains potentially problematic requirements that the uniform military base housing dangerous dog policy “shall be developed in consultation with professional veterinary and animal behavior experts in regard to effective regulation of dangerous dogs,” and that the new policy should emphasize “identification of dangerous dog behavior and chronically irresponsible pet owners.”
Medical, surgical, & genetic advice still excluded
Excluded from specific mention is advice from medical, surgical, and genetic researchers, whose perspectives in dozens of recent studies have converged around recognition that pit bulls in particular are extraordinarily dangerous because of a combination of inbred physical and behavioral traits.
In addition, the language of Section 2884 could in effect replace the present military emphasis on preventing dog bites and in particular fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, with a “one bite rule.”
Like the former Section 1050, Section 1084 defines a “dangerous dog” as a dog who already “has attacked a person or another animal without justification, causing injury or death to the person or animal; or exhibits behavior that reasonably suggests the likely risk of such an attack.”
However, Section 1084 leaves room for recognizing breed-specific behavior as reasonably suggesting “the likely risk” that a dog may attack.
Current military policies followed six fatalities in five years
After at least six dog attack fatalities in five years and one near-fatal mauling either occurred in military housing or involved personnel who lived in military housing, U.S. Army commanders at more than 40 bases around the world were on January 5, 2009 ordered to implement a new Pet Policy for Privatized Housing.
Issued under the Army’s Residential Communities Initiative Privatization Program, the new pet policy prohibited pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, chows, and wolf hybrids; limited personnel living in base housing to keeping no more than two dogs or cats; forbade keeping exotic pets and farm animals; required all pets to be microchipped for identification; and forbade keeping pets “tied or staked outside the home or any building.”
Residents of U.S. Marine Corps base housing worldwide were on August 11, 2009 prohibited from acquiring pit bulls, Rottweilers, or wolf hybrids.
Marine Corps continued to allow Dobermans and chows
The U.S. Marine Corps continued to permit keeping Dobermans and chows in base housing.
While these dog breeds are about four times more likely than the average dog to kill or disfigure someone, in about the same risk bracket as a German shepherd or husky, they are magnitudes of order less likely to kill or disfigure humans than any of the prohibited breeds.
The U.S. Air Force Standardized Pet Policy, substantially identical to those of the Army and Marine Corps, took effect on March 28, 2011.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard continued to leave housing restrictions on dogs up to base commanders. Pets of any sort are, however, prohibited on shipboard.
The U.S. Space Force, created by order of Donald Trump on December 20, 2019, as yet has no base housing or base housing policies.
Schofield Barracks death shows need
The need for strictly enforced military base housing dog policies excluding all dogs of dangerous propensities, either acquired or inherent in breeding to fight, was demonstrated during the run-up to passage of the National Defense Authorization Act when a four-month-old baby girl died from canine head bites on October 14, 2020 at Schofield Barracks, a U.S. Army housing complex in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The baby girl, never identified to media, was attacked while strapped into her car seat. The owner and breed of dog who attacked the baby were also not identified.
The January 2009 order excluding pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, chows, and wolf hybrids from U.S. Army base housing appears to have been badly enforced at Schofield Barracks, if enforced at all.
ANIMALS 24-7 researcher Beth Clifton within minutes found 29 photos of pit bulls posted by Schofield Barracks residents to their Facebook pages, often clearly identified as pit bulls by the owners.
“Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program”
Also included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 was a provision, Section 745, establishing a “Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program,” to provide dogs to veterans injured while doing military service.
The dogs are to be “specifically trained to perform physical tasks to mitigate the effects of a covered disability,” meaning blindness or visual impairment; loss of use of a limb, paralysis, or other significant mobility issues; hearing loss; traumatic brain injury; post-traumatic stress disorder; and “Any other disability that the Secretary of Defense considers appropriate.”
Section 745 stipulates that the “service dog” definition “does not include a dog specifically trained for comfort or personal defense.”
Section 745 includes no breed-specific language and no language specifying what the sources of service dogs shall be.
Airlines now must carry pit bull “service dogs”
Elaine Lan Chao, wife of U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Secretary of Transportation throughout the Donald Trump presidential administration, on November 30, 2020 introduced a revised Air Carrier Access Act regulation on the transportation of service animals by air which obliges airlines to accept pit bulls as service dogs until and unless a specific pit bull actually demonstrate dangerous behavior.
In practical terms, this means the pit bull must actively menace or even bite someone before the pit bull can be removed from a flight.
However, the revised Air Carrier Access Act regulation states that the U.S. Department of Transportation “no longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal,” removing the umbrella under which most pit bulls and other dogs of dangerous breeds transported in airline passenger cabins have been allowed to travel.
Transportation Secretary Chao resigned on January 6, 2021, after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building.
Alaska Airlines bans “emotional support” dogs
Alaska Airlines, the first major passenger carrier to announce a new dog policy, on January 2, 2021 announced that as of January 11, 2021, passengers may only bring into the passenger cabin of aircraft “service dogs” who are “specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability,” as defined by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
Passengers wishing to fly with service dogs in Alaska Airlines passenger cabins must now fill out a form on the airline website affirming that the dog in question is trained, vaccinated and well-behaved.
Alaska Airlines said it will continue to accept emotional support animals under its current policy for reservations booked prior to January 11, 2021, for flights to be completed on or before February 28, 2021.
After February 28, “No emotional support animals will be accepted for travel,” Alaska Airlines said.
American Airlines adopted essentially the same policy one day later.