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Breed Specific Legislation Position Statement: BSL is Ineffective


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At the Animal Behavior Symposium on July 25, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) announced a new position statement on breed-specific legislation (BSL). This is when communities, ironically including Denver, where the Symposium was held, ban specific dog breeds. Pit bull-type dogs are always at the top of the list – sometimes the only dogs on the list.

The paper begins, “AVSAB is concerned about the propensity of various communities reliance on BSL as a tool to decrease the risk of dog bites to humans…AVSAB’s position is that such legislation is ineffective. “

When a serious dog bite occurs, or worse someone is killed as a result of a dog bite – it’s a tragedy. But are there really an epidemic of dog bites in America as some popular press pieces maintain?

According to the 2013-2014 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, there are 83.3 million dogs in America, and according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) about 4.5 million dog bites a year.

Looking at those numbers more carefully, most dog bites occur within families (and mostly to children), and experts agree with adult supervision and appropriate socialization of dogs to children, most bites could have been prevented. Just over two percent of all bites require a hospital stay,

What’s most relevant is that there is absolutely no evidence that banning breeds has any impact on dog bite numbers.

While between 1999 and 2006, an average of 27 people (in the U.S.) died as a result of a dog attack – a number which ideally would be lower, of course.

Still, it turns out that people are far more dangerous to people than dogs are to people.  Over 1,500 children died of child abuse and/or neglect within their own families in 2010 (according to the Administration for Children and Families), and there were over 16,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2010 (according to the CDC). Sadly, in some major U.S. cities more than 27 people can die of homicides in a month.

A common refrain is, “everyone knows that when dogs do attack, it’s a pit bull responsible.” Actually, the CDC stopped tracking alleged breeds responsible for serious dog attacks many years ago for two reasons: The CDC felt what’s most important was what led individual dogs to attack in the first place. But no matter, breeds were likely being misidentified.

It turns out cutting edge genetic testing has proved that the CDC was right. Various studies utilizing modern genetic testing confirm that dogs with a “pit bull look” are mostly merely mixed breed dogs, often with no real pit bull in them.

How a dog looks (phenotype) doesn’t necessarily match up with what a dog is genetically (genotype).

So where BSL exists, dogs who happened to match a profile consistent with what official believe looks like a pit bull can be removed from a family, and even euthanized, though that dog has done nothing wrong.

And that’s another issue – the reality is that there are whole lot of dogs in America with a profile that matches that of what many would call a pit bull. Arguably, dogs with this general profile might be described as the All-American dog. The overwhelming majority are great family pets, who have no history of dog bites.

Besides, BSL doesn’t improve community safety. In 2008, the Dutch government repealed a 15-year nationwide pit bull ban after a government study demonstrated that the ban was ineffective. A year later, Italy repealed their ban, with both countries instead focusing on supporting responsible ownership.

Closer to home, Denver enacted their ban in 1989. Since then, the rate of hospitalizations in Denver due to dog bite related injuries are higher than nearby breed neutral Boulder, CO.

In 2013, a national study in Canada found that BSL wasn’t an effective tool to lower dog attacks. However, public education, and dog owners willing to take responsibility – proved extremely effective.

For example, in Calgary proactive public education programs resulted in a 50 percent disease in reports of dog aggression. An important focus of these programs is humane education in schools.

Often dangerous dogs are intertwined with socio-economic issues. However, it’s those issues which public officials need to focus, not a dog breed.

The position statement is free to download HERE.

(Full disclosure and background: I co-authored the AVSAB position statement on breed-specific legislation with veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sagi Denenberg, who is in Ontario, Canada. I am in Chicago, IL. This document took many months to write as citations were carefully scrutinized to insure that though there is a strong position regarding the issue, it is all based on credible scientific documentation.)

Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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