“Dog bites man” is not news — unless the dog belongs to a breed that has been declared dangerous, in which case the media is all over the story. In turn, the public response has often been to pass laws banning or restricting the breed.
But studies have shown that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is unscientific and ineffective. Worse, breed discriminatory laws serve as a distraction from the main deterrent to dog attacks: Education about responsible dog ownership.
Emily Mc Cobb, DVM, head of Shelter Medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and a board member of the Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, says, “Owners need to learn about dog safety. The hype and the media storm that tend to surround dog bites keep us from getting at the root of the issue. Targeting a specific breed is not going to solve the problem.”
What are these laws — and how widespread are they?
BSL is a blanket term for a hodgepodge of laws relating to specific breeds, or breed categories, of dogs. They range from outright bans of these dogs to restrictions and conditions on ownership such as required registration with local animal control, or mandatory spay/neuter and microchip implants.
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Powerful dog breeds have been demonized throughout history. In the 19th century it was bloodhounds, believed to have been used to hunt down slaves in America and search for Jack the Ripper in London, that were feared and loathed. German shepherds and Doberman pinschers suffered for their association with the Gestapo during World War II, Rottweilers struck terror into moviegoers’ hearts in the 1990s after the debut of a horror film called “Man’s Best Friend…” The list goes on.
These days it’s the pit bull that gets a bad rap, largely because of its association with dog fighting rings. It wasn’t always so. Famous dogs that fall under the aegis of the pit bull label include World War I’s Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in military history, and Petey on the original Little Rascals. RCA and Buster Brown shoes both used the breed in their commercials. Helen Keller and Teddy Roosevelt are among the many famous people who owned dogs identified as pit bulls.
The American Temperament Test Society determined that pit bulls were less aggressive in confrontational situations than many stereotypically friendly breeds, scoring 86% in overall ability to interact appropriately in public — versus the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (83%), the Miniature Poodle (78%) and the Old English Sheepdog (77%).
Owners may be required to purchase liability insurance, typically up to $300,000 for a single incident. In some cases, classes of individuals such as convicted felons are prohibited from owning designated breeds. Read More