In the summer of 2007, animal control officers in Kansas City, Kansas, seized a dog named “Niko” from a family for violating the city’s ban against “harboring pit bulls.” Niko remained in the custody of animal control authorities and lived in a kennel, losing weight and developing health problems for the duration of an eight-month legal battle. In the end, a DNA test confirmed what the family had said all along: that Niko was a Boxer mix.
This tragic story demonstrates one of many problems with laws which either ban or restrict ownership of certain types of dogs based on perceived breed: mistaken identity. Breed Specific Legislation (BSL for short), is formal legislation or some informal policy which singles out particular breeds of dogs (most often pit-bull-type dogs) and which bans them, restricts ownership of them, or excludes them from being available for adoption from municipal or nonprofit animal shelters.
Breed bans are over-inclusive because they penalize responsible dog owners. Dogs can be the subject of BSL even when they are beloved family pets and have never been involved in any type of behavior which would warrant them being the subject of a policy. Breed bans are also under-inclusive because they do not target specific dogs that present a danger to the public. Banning and restricting certain breeds can lead people to believe that only certain breeds of dogs can be aggressive when, in fact, a number of types of breeds and mixed breeds engage in aggressive behavior. In the vast majority of cases, aggressive behavior is directly linked to the function of the dog (such as use as a guard dog), owner management and control (such as chained dogs, dogs roaming loose, failure to supervise interaction between children and dogs), and the reproductive status of the dog. There is not one major animal or health organization that supports breed discrimination and many breed bans in the U.S. have either been repealed or are being legally challenged as unconstitutional and unenforceable.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced regulations demonstrating disapproval of regulating dogs based on breed through bans and restrictions. The regulations discuss that local laws which prohibit or restrict dogs based solely on their breed or appearance should not be used against individuals with disabilities who employ the use of service dogs. The ruling is effective March 15, 2011.
Well written dangerous dog laws which deal with individual incidents of dog aggression on a case-by-case basis have proven to be much more effective at keeping the public safe. Although many people have come to believe that BSL only affects pit-bull-type dogs, some of the other banned breeds include the American Bulldog, Bull Terrier, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Rottweiler and Siberian Husky. Your dog may be banned in some regions of the country and you might not even know it. The vast majority of areas where breed bans are in place do not use DNA testing to enforce the ban. Individuals in law enforcement and animal control capacities make what they believe to be an educated guess as to the breed of dogs even though they have been shown to be wrong approximately 75 percent of the time. You may find out if your area has enacted BSL by consulting with local municipal authorities and elected officials.