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February 15, 2019

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BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION (BSL)

For detailed information about breed specific legislation and how you can become an advocate for evidence-based, breed neutral legislation, visit our affiliated site dogbitefacts.org.

If your dog has physical characteristics that remind people of a "pit bull" type dog (or a Rottweiler, or an Akita, or a couple of dozen other breeds), you will probably come face to face with breed specific legislation. This can crop up in housing situations, services, municipal bylaws, and even on provincial or national levels.

Breed specific legislation is a bad idea and we encourage people to speak out about it however they can. It's a complex issue, but here's a quick summary of where BSL fails.

A "pit bull" isn't a thing.

For a long time "pit bull" was simply slang for a specific breed: American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). Unfortunately it evolved to become a slang term for a whole group of dogs. depending on who you ask, the term might include American Staffordshire Terriers, Amerian Bullies, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, and a whole lot of mixed breed dogs with blocky heads. The term is applied to short-haired dogs from 25-125 pounds, and there are many examples of boxers, Labs, mastiffs, bulldogs, vizslas, and other short haired breeds or mixes being targeted by this legislation. You can't legislate what you can't define.

 

Life or death decisions are based on guesswork.

The vast majority of dogs in our community are mixed breed or of unknown/uncertain parentage, so the "pit bull" label is usually applied based on visual identification, and research shows that breed label guesses are usually wrong. DNA breed identification is not an answer, with very low accuracy rates for mixed breeds. Two littermates with the same parents can look very different: how can we endorse a policy that sentences a shorter-haired version of that mix to death while the other one gets to live?

BSL doesn't work.

The research is practically unanimous. Jurisdictions that have implemented BSL do not see a decrease in dog bites. In many cases, bites increase. BSL directs animal control resources to policing a dog's appearance, not its behaviour. It also creates a false sense of security that non-targeted breeds are inherently "safe", so proper training, management, and interventions are not applied to all dogs who show concerning behaviour. Every reputable public health, animal welfare, animal behaviour, animal control, and legal organization opposes BSL. This includes the Canadian and American Kennel Clubs, the BC and Canadian Veterinary Associations, Humane Societies, the Centres for Disease Control, and the Canadian and American Bar Associations. See a full list here.

BSL does not target proven risk factors for dog bites.

Research from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centres for Disease Control, and many other sources identify risk factors for dog bites. Breed is not one of them. Factors that lead to dog attacks include the individual genetics of the dogs, early training and socialization, running at large, pack behaviour, health status, intact reproductive status, and owner responsibility. When animal control officers are mandated to decide which dogs fit the physical profile of a targeted breed, rather than focusing on the behaviour of the dog in front of them, we are missing the opportunity to identify "red flags" that are likely to lead to an aggressive incident in the future.

 
There's a proven alternative.

Promoting responsible ownership and targeting behaviour – not breed – is the only proven way to reduce dog bites and make communities safer. This is known as Dangerous Dog Legislation and it is based on clear, specific bylaws that promote responsible owner behaviour. For those that do not properly manage or care for their dogs, there are clear consequences including fines and in extreme cases, seizure of the animal or criminal charges.

We advocate for a community model of animal control that includes Dangerous Dog Legislation, enforcement, community outreach, prevention, and responsible breeding, shelter, and rescue guidelines.