Making a case against breed-specific legislation

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Not too long ago, I did a post about Sir Patrick Stewart and his pit bull, Ginger. As you may recall, Stewart and his wife are fostering the dog, but can’t adopt her because breed specific laws in the U.K. are preventing them from taking her there.

Their story, which is heartbreaking and heartwarming, made me think about breed specific laws here. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the harshest of these rules and regulations — while well-intentioned — are worthless.

What is breed-specific legislation?

Take me home! A dog up for adoption and an Adopt-a-Dog volunteer. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at the annual Puttin’ on the Dog show in Greenwich last September. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

According to the National Canine Research Council, breed-specific legislation (BSL) or breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL) is “a law or ordinance that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds, and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of one or more of those breeds.”

These rules and regulations include but are not limited to:

  • Complete bans
  • Mandatory spay/neuter
  • Muzzling
  • Liability insurance requirements
  • Mandatory micro-chipping and/or tattoos
  • Age requirements for those who own or walk certain types of dogs
  • Exclusion from some public places
  • Training requirements
  • Submission of photograph(s) and additional identifying information to the relevant authority/authorities.

Taking aim at ‘dangerous dogs’

Some of these laws are reasonable — and unfortunately, some are necessary. Those that promote responsible pet ownership, public education and awareness, can actually be effective.

But sadly, most of the harshest breed-specific laws are knee-jerk reactions to tragic incidents involving alleged dog “attacks.”

Because the victims are often children, the incidents resulting in permanent injuries or — in the most horrible circumstances — death, grab national headlines and there is a rush to judgment before all of the facts are known. Bowing to public pressure, ignorant but well-meaning lawmakers create sweeping laws that are designed to “protect” the public.

The reality is that these laws target entire groups of dogs based on the actions of a few. according to an article on onegreenplanet.org, the “dangerous dog” breeds often targeted by breed-specific laws are:

  • Pit bulls (not an actual breed)
  • American bulldogs
  • Mastiffs
  • Dalmatians
  • Chow Chows
  • German Shepherds
  • Doberman Pinscher

Other breeds also make the list, according to the article. In fact, the author maintains, some of these laws can even affect Chihuahuas. Personally, I find it sad, but not surprising. It seems these laws are designed any type of dog that has a tendency to bite.

That being stated, I’ve never been bitten by a Chihuahua. But I did get bitten by my ex-husband’s yellow Lab-cross.  And I still have the scar to prove it…

Collateral damage

The saddest part of this whole situation is that a lot of these laws have drastic, if unintended consequences.

Prospective adopters had lots of dogs to choose from at the annual Puttin on the Dog show in Greenwich last fall. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
Pick me! An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at Puttin’ on the Dog in Greenwich. September 2015. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

Breed-specific laws create a huge burden for animal welfare and rescue groups in two significant ways. They force people to surrender or “dump” their dogs, and make those dogs harder to place. Trust me, I know. I volunteered with a rescue group for years (and still do, on a limited basis).

Worse yet, these laws result in needless, senseless, pointless deaths. Whole groups of dogs are slaughtered. Because they “look” dangerous. Because they belong to a breed prone to “aggressive tendencies.” Or for no reason, whatsoever.

Now here’s where I get really angry, and the post gets controversial.

What if we did this to people. What if we decided that a whole group of people was “dangerous” based on the actions of a few? And what if we decided to restrict where this entire “dangerous” race lived or made them wear identifying clothing, or worse yet, decided to wipe them off the face of the earth?

Oh, wait… humans have done something like that from time to time, haven’t we? Why not all that long ago, the President of the United States tried to prohibit entire groups of people from certain countries from coming here just because a few Muslim extremists from that part of the world have engaged in terrorism.

Look at the outrage that created.

I rest my case.

Patrick Stewart story puts renewed emphasis on pit bull plight

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Many years ago, I saw Patrick Stewart star in a one-man theater production of A Christmas Carol. It was phenomenal. He was phenomenal. In fact, the performance moved me to tears…

And while that performance left no doubt that he is a fantastic actor, a recent news article left me with no doubt that he is much more. He is a fantastic human being.

Speaking as someone whose interactions with professional athletes made me cynical extremely cynical about celebrities, that’s saying a lot.

A man and his dog

The story to which I’m referring is the one about Stewart and Ginger. Ginger is a dog that Stewart and his wife are fostering. But she’s not just any dog. She’s a pit bull. And she’s clearly wormed her way into the actor’s heart.

As he tells the media: “I find that my relationship to the world and to the news every day in the papers and on the television has been changed by Ginger, because she has brought such a quality of patience and tolerance and fun into our lives, that it has, in a very short space of time, shifted my sense of where our world might be going. I literally find myself more optimistic than I was, and there is only Ginger to account for this. It is the impact of sharing my life for only seven or eight days with Ginger.”

Sadly, Stewart and his wife can’t adopt Ginger because U.K. laws make it all but impossible to bring her back there when they go home.

But what’s even more unsettling is the public reaction to the story.

Mixed reviews

There are few animals on the planet more polarizing than pit bulls. A lot of people love them, — no matter what. And a lot of people hate them — no matter what.

The story about Stewart and Ginger generated plenty of comments from people in both camps. The pro-pit bull people said Stewart’s relationship with Ginger just goes to show that these dogs are loyal, loving, and misunderstood. The anti-pit bull people said it doesn’t matter. As far as they’re concerned, all pit bulls are unpredictable, dangerous, killers.

Take me home! A dog up for adoption and an Adopt-a-Dog volunteer. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at the annual Puttin’ on the Dog show in Greenwich last September. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

Personally I love pit bulls. For the most part, I think they’re great dogs. But they’re also big, strong, dogs. So I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable having one in a household with small children or the elderly. I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable having one in a household with an inexperienced owner, either. In my opinion, these aren’t necessarily the best dogs for beginners.

All of that being stated, I’m not a big fan of so-called breed legislation. I think it’s overkill.

All we really need to do to help pit bulls is to actively promote responsible pet ownership and forums for honest, open dialogue without fear of recrimination, without name-calling and without hateful rhetoric.

It’s not asking a lot — but sadly it seems it’s asking too much.