What Is Breed-Specific Legislation?
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is a group of laws targeting specific breeds of dogs deemed “dangerous” or “vicious” based on their appearance. Versions of breed-specific legislation have been around since the late 20th century and are frequently altered or repealed. In areas in which BSL is enacted, it can be illegal to own certain breeds of dogs, and other requirements such as muzzling while in public can be imposed. BSL can require relocation (often out of the county) or result in the euthanasia of any breed targeted by the specific law. Many dogs that find themselves in shelters are euthanized because their appearance makes them subject to BSL without regard to temperament or adoptability.
The most commonly targeted breeds are those that resemble the pit bull, which is a term that describes a well-muscled dog with a large head but is not a true breed.The word pit bull refers to any possible number of different breeds, such as American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Bulldogs, etc. In addition, recent research indicates that even experts cannot accurately identify the primary breed in any mixed-breed dog, and this includes dogs that are often referred to as pit bulls or pit bull mixes. Other breeds such as Rottweilers and Dobermans have also been targeted.
Why These Breeds Are Targeted
Most of the aforementioned breeds are targeted due to a belief that banning certain breeds will reduce the incidence and severity of dog bite injuries. A literature review performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found the breeds of dogs that were overrepresented when it came to bite incidents were the German Shepherd Dog, mixed breeds, pit bull-type, Rottweiler and Jack Russell Terrier.
One cannot deny that when severe injuries or fatalities are evaluated, pit bull-type dogs are overrepresented. This may not be due to breed but instead due to popularity, the owner’s behavior (criminal or otherwise) and prior treatment by humans toward the dog. As a dog breed or type becomes more popular and is found in more households, bite incidents for that particular breed will increase.
Does Breed-Specific Legislation Work?
The simple answer is no. The thought behind BSL is by removing “aggressive breeds” from an environment, the total number of bite incidents and those that are especially severe or fatal will significantly decrease; however, this has not been proven. In fact, most reported dog bite incidents share the common characteristics of being un-neutered, unsupervised and familiar to the victim regardless of breed. The majority of dog bites are preventable with proper owner education, which includes education of children (particularly those under 10 years of age) about dog behavior/interaction.1, 2
An added difficulty is accurately identifying the breed of a dog based on appearance. A study conducted by the University of Florida found that one in two dogs labeled as a pit bull by shelter staff (including veterinarians) lacked any DNA signatures consistent with pit bull-type dogs.3
Many states and municipalities are starting to reverse their legislation regarding breed bans or ordinances due to the inability to enforce such statutes and their lack of results. There are various organizations actively combating BSL on the legislative level, and professional organizations such as the AVMA and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists (AVSAB) have provided statements regarding BSL and its ineffectiveness in decreasing dog bite incidents or severity. Many states, including Texas, have made it illegal for new breed-specific legislation to be enacted; existing laws in some counties and cities were grandfathered in. Texas has a “dangerous dog” law that requires substantial liability insurance and confinement for a dog deemed dangerous regardless of breed.
Breed-specific legislation most commonly targets pit bull-type dogs and can impose restrictions, fines or even an outright ban on certain breeds. Most commonly, dog bites occur with dogs that are poorly socialized/trained, un-neutered and currently reside in the home. Texas currently has a law preventing breed-specific legislation, but some areas were allowed to keep their previously established ordinances.
For more information on BLS, read the following:
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on BSL (https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Breed-Specific-Legislation-download-_8.-18914.pdf)
“Breed-Specific Legislation in the United States” by Linda Weiss (https://www.animallaw.info/article/breed-specific-legislation-united-states)
“Pit Bull Identification in Animal Shelters” by Kimberly R. Olson, et al. (http://maddiesfund/org/incorrect-breed-indentification.htm
Dog Bite Risk and Prevention: The Role of Breed (AVMA) (https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/LiteratureReviews/Pages/The-Role-of-Breed-in-Dog-Bite-Risk-and-Prevention.aspx)
Why Breed-Specific Legislation Is Not the Answer (AVMA) (https://www.avma.org/public/Pages/Why-Breed-Specific-Legislation-is-not-the-Answer.aspx)
Ashley Navarrette, DVM, MS, MS, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Frisco, Texas. Dr. Navarrette works at Denton County Animal ER, where she practices small animal emergency medicine and critical care.