When it comes to laws that regulate “dangerous dogs,” there is at least one fact that is hard to dispute: Dogs that run loose unsupervised, dogs that bite or attack people or other animals, and dogs that just plain cause a nuisance are a real and often serious problem in communities across the country. The more vexing and contentious issue arises in figuring our how to best address this problem. While many states, including New York, Colorado and Illinois, favor laws that identify, track and regulate dangerous dogs regardless of breed and prohibit “breed-specific” laws that either regulate or ban a certain breed of dog, some local governments have enacted breed-specific laws.
It seems, though, that the problem of “dangerous dogs” may not be remedied by the “quick fix” of breed-specific laws. Dealing with Dangerous Dogs in Your Community: There is little evidence that breed-specific law – which can be incredibly expensive and difficult to enforce: make communities safer for human families or for the companion animals that are a part of so many households. And it turns out such laws can also have negative and wholly unintended consequences. Moreover, in its study of human fatalities resulting from dog bites, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not support the breed-specific approach, citing, among other things, the inaccuracy of dog-bite data; the difficulty in identifying dog breeds (especially true of mixed breeds); and the probability that as certain breeds are regulated, those who exploit dogs by making them aggressive will merely turn to other, unregulated breeds.
For example, a task force formed in 2003 to study the effectiveness of the Prince George County, Maryland pitbull ban estimated that the county spends more man a quarter-million dollars each year to enforce the ban. Further, in a report to me County Council, the task force noted that “public safety is not improved as a result of (the pitbull ban)” and that “there is no transgression committed by owner or animal that is not covered by another, non-breed specific portion of the Animal Control Code (i.e., vicious animal, nuisance animal, leash laws).” The task force has recommended that Prince George Countyrepeal the pitbull ban. Significantly, the CDC also noted how many other factors beyond breed may affect a dog’s tendency coward aggression things such as heredity, sex, early experience, reproductive status and socialization and training.
These last two concerns seem well-founded given that more than 70 percent of all dog bite cases involve unaltered male dogs, and that an unaltered male dog is 2.6 times more likely to bite than a neutered dog. In addition a chained or tethered dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than a dog that is nor chained or tethered. Breed-specific laws also cause unintended hardship to responsible owners of entirely friendly, properly supervised and well-socialized dogs that happen to fall within the regulated breed category.
Regulated breeds, it is worth noting, have expanded in some localities to include not just pit bulls and Rottweilers but also a variety of other dogs, including Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and any mix of these breeds. Although these dog owners have done nothing to endanger the public, they may be required to comply with other regulations. Sadly, these responsible caretakers can be forced to choose between costly compliance and giving up their beloved companion. Perhaps the most unintended yet harmful consequence of breed-specific laws is their tendency to compromise rather than enhance public safety.
When limited animal control resources are used to regulate or ban a certain breed of dog, without regard to behavior, the focus is shifted away from routine, effective enforcement of laws that have the best chance of making our communities safer: dog license laws, leash laws, animal fighting laws and laws that require all dog owners to control their dogs, regardless of breed.