In Massachusetts, it is illegal to make breed-specific laws or to label a dog as dangerous solely based on its breed. But throughout the rest of the country, many other states and cities have laws banning certain breeds of dogs. Typically, these laws target pit bulls, rottweilers, bull mastiffs, akitas, Doberman pinschers, and other large dogs — but are these laws helpful? Do they reduce dog attacks? According to many legal experts and animal advocates, the short answer is “no”, but others (including animal advocates) claim that these laws work. What’s the truth? Well, the truth may be in the middle of these extremes. Here is a closer look at the details.
The Experts on Breed-Specific Legislation
Nearly every animal advocacy group and the American Bar Association are against breed-specific laws. These groups claim that communities should focus on identifying reckless owners and dangerous dog behaviors. They also note that breed-specific laws put too much pressure on law enforcement to identify dogs by their breed. Beyond that, it’s not always possible to identify a dog’s breed just by looking at it.
The groups against breed-specific laws include the following:
- The American Kennel Club
- The American Veterinary Medical Association
- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
- National Animal Control Association
- National Canine Research Council
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
On the other side of the coin, many people are for breed specific legislation in general and pitbull bans in particular. That includes the City of Denver, Miami-Dade County, and several other local governments throughout the United States. It also includes PETA president Ingrid Newkirk who has encouraged all animal shelters to euthanize pit bulls and all dogs who look like pit bulls.
The Risk of Dog Bites
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.5 million people get bitten by dogs annually in the United States, and less than a million seek medical treatment. Additionally, only about 18 people are killed every year by dogs. To get a sense of how shocking those statistics are, compare them to other tragedies in this country.
- You are more likely to get bitten by a dog than die in a car accident. Only 1.3 million people die in road accidents every year.
- Even though falls are one of the biggest causes of death among seniors, you are more likely to get bit by a dog than die falling. That only affects about 33,000 people every year.
- You’re also about 128 times more likely to get bitten by a dog than you are to be murdered with a gun.
When you take into account the fact that dogs like pit bulls are responsible for an inordinate number of attacks and murders, these comparisons become even more dramatic.
Targeting Large Dogs
According to the people against this type of legislation, breed-specific dog bans aren’t based on science. On paper, large dogs are responsible for more attacks. However, the reality is that small dogs also attack, but the effects simply aren’t as brutal. As a result, attacks from small dogs are less likely to be reported. In both cases, however, the true culprits tend to be irresponsible owners, and these owners need to be held liable for their dogs.
How Breed-Specific Laws Work
To get a sense of whether or not these laws work, you may want to look at places that have experimented with this type of legislation. Ireland, for example, banned 11 breeds of dogs in 1998. But over the next 17 years, dog bites increased by 51%. Even when you adjust for population increases, that’s still a 21% jump in dog bites.
Similarly, when the province of Ontario banned pit bulls, the number of bites stayed the same. Although pit bulls were no longer the culprit, other dogs took on the role. In 2010, the Toronto Humane Society looked at dog attack rates in 36 Canadian towns, and they found no difference between the towns with breed-specific legislation and those without it.
Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive studies on the effectiveness of breed-specific laws in the United States, but cases in Denver underscore the trouble cities can get into for misclassifying dogs. Owners in this city have had their pets labeled as pitbulls, and they have been instructed to get rid of them or take other actions. However, professional analysis has proven that these dogs are not pitbulls. If a city required an owner to take action based on the breed of the dog, and then, the owner came forward with proof that the dog was not that breed, the city could face legal damages.
Useful Alternatives to Breed-Specific Legislation
Rather than banning certain breeds of dogs, communities may want to take another approach. In particular, they may want to implement strong licensing laws. When dogs have to be licensed, that requires their owners to be more responsible for them, and if a dog is ever out, it’s easy to identify its owner. Additionally, communities need to be strict about enforcing safety rules. For instance, if a town has a leash law, it should be enforced.
When Calgary tried these tactics, the province saw a huge reduction in dog bites. Over a 20-year period, the rate of dog attacks dropped by 80% from 10 of every 1,000 people to two. In addition to taking the above actions, the province also initiated several dog safety public education campaigns.
A Victim’s Perspective
It’s important to note that all the ideas above are put forth by law makers and analysts. These individuals often don’t have the experience or the understanding of what it’s like to face an attack. When you’re subjected to an attack, that can really change your perspective.
Case in point, PETA president and founder Ingrid Newkirk worked closely with stray dogs for years. She was attacked by a pitbull and still has the scars to prove it. This personal experience informs her opinion. Although she formed an organization that is resolutely against animal cruelty and even against eating meat, she doesn’t hold pitbulls in high regard. In fact, she goes much further than advocating for pitbull bans. She claims that all pitbulls should be destroyed.
If you’ve been attacked by a dog, regardless of their breed, you may be entitled to compensation. For a free case evaluation, contact us at Mazow | McCullough, P.C.. Call us at (978) 744-8000, email us, or fill out our online contact form.