Does it work?
Why BSL doesn't work
BSL has never been shown to reduce dog bites in a community. When BSL supporters point to a community where bites supposedly decrease, it is generally because other best practices were put in place around the same time. There are many reasons why BSL is a bad idea.
The problem with breed identification: Objectivity & Accuracy
Most dogs in our community are mixed breed, or of unknown parentage. We often guess at their breed because it appeals to our desire for labels and we feel that it might give us insight into their personality. Science tells us that most of the time, our breed guesses are incorrect.
DNA tests have become popular, but for mixed breeds their accuracy is unknown. Despite the popularity of these testing kits, the companies who make them are not eager to share their research on accuracy. They have stated that for purebred dogs, and for some first generation mixes (both parents are purebred) the accuracy rates may be as high as 80-90%. For the rest of dogs, who constitute the majority in our population, the accuracy rate would be much lower.
Breed does not guarantee behaviour
Studies have identified risk for dog aggression. Breed is not one of them.
The genes that make up physical characteristics (pointy nose, long ears) are not associated with the genes for intelligence or temperament. A dog that looks like breed is not guaranteed to act like that breed.
Breed traits do exist, but breeders work very hard to cultivate this consistency across generations. In each litter there are differences between individual puppies, and despite their genetics not all will conform to a breed standard.
With most dogs in our community, it's unlikely that they have generations of consistent breeding in their pedigree. Most likely they are bred by accident, by a casual breeder, or perhaps by a backyard breeder or puppy mill. Whatever they may look like, we can only assume one thing about their personality: they are an individual, and should be evaluated as such.
BSL is expensive
Enforcing laws based on appearance requires extra resources. It means that animal control resources are spent chasing down dogs that look a certain way, rather than owners and dogs that are actually causing trouble in the community.
In jurisdictions with breed bans, dogs are seized, impounded, and subject to court cases to decide their fate - not because they have demonstrated a risk to their community, but because the dog meets a visual identification criteria.
Restricted dogs are more likely to end up in the shelter system because they are discriminated against. Because of the restrictions required to own them, they are slow to be adopted and the City will need to pay for their care.
It doesn't stop "undesirable" owners
BSL if often touted as a way to keep aggressive dogs out of the hands of criminals. There's no evidence that it works this way. Irresponsible owners won't hesitate to get an "illegal" dog and if that one is taken away, there are plenty other large, strong breeds that they can choose from, and the outcome is the same.
Breed specific legislation is not evidence-based and lacks support by reputable academic and professional groups. In fact, it is very difficult to find an organization that works in animal welfare, veterinary medicine, animal behaviour, law, or public health that will support these kinds of laws. The following groups have position statements in favour of breed-neutral legislation.
Who opposes BSL?
American Bar Association, American Dog Breeders Association, American Kennel Club, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control, Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Humane Societies (Calgary Humane Society, Humane Society of the US, Toronto Humane Society), International Association of Canine Professionals, The Pet Professional Guild, SPCAs (ASPCA, BC SPCA, RSPCA Australia), United Kennel Club.
Who supports BSL?
Other than pro-BSL lobby groups, the only organization that supports BSL is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA is an extreme animal activist group that opposes all companion animal ownership. Among their claims are that “pit bull” type dogs are more likely to end up in the hands of abusive owners, and are therefore better off not being part of the population at all.
Opposing breed specific legislation doesn't mean opposing any dog legislation! Progressive communities are moving towards Responsible Owner Legislation.
This legislation targets the known risk factors for dog bites. Bylaws are clear and specific and hold the owner accountable for the behaviour of his/her dog. Infractions are associated with fines that escalate until the owner gets the message and changes their behaviour. If this doesn't happen and there is a concern for community safety, the ultimate consequence is removing the dog from the home.
Bylaws are not effective unless they are enforced. If a community is truly committed to safety, they will need to invest in trained enforcement officers. When animal control officers are seen in the community and are actively issuing tickets for infractions, people are motivated to be responsible. Along with licensing fees, fines and tickets for negligent owners can serve as a revenue source to strengthen an animal control program.
Animal control officers are not just a punitive force. They can provide support to members of the community and intervene early when they spot potential problems.
Bite free education
Successful communities identify those most at risk of getting into an altercation with a dog - for example, children, mail carriers, meter readers, and delivery people. While it is the responsibility of the owner to contain and manage their dog, you can reduce bite risk by teaching people how to read a dog's body language, how to approach them safely, and how to de-escalate a confrontation.
Members of the community must be willing to report dog bites, or problematic behaviour. This is easier when strong and fair bylaws exist, because neighbours know that the owner will be held accountable, and the dog won't necessarily be seized or euthanized.
The community can also support programs like subsidized vet care, spay/neuter clinics, and outreach programs that promote responsible ownership and care.
Good bylaws hold owners responsible for their dog's behaviour. But if a dog attack were to happen, the onus is on the victim to take the owner to civil court and sue for damages. A shelter, rescue, or breeder is also exempt from liability when they have irresponsibly placed a dog in the community. We believe that a wider conversation needs to take place around these liability issues, holding people responsible for preventable injury and damages and ensuring that victims are fairly compensated.