by Amy Leichter
With October being Pit Bull Awareness month, Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is an extremely important topic to discuss. So what exactly is BSL? Often used as an attempted to solution for dog bites and attacks, Breed Specific Legislation is the banning or restriction of certain breeds of dogs that have been deemed as “dangerous”. Throughout history, many breeds of dogs have been deemed as dangerous. Government officials think that by banning these specific breeds, that dog-related attacks will decrease.
The enforcement of BSL is a major reason why these types of bans don’t work. First off, most animal control agencies, if there is even a budget for a town or city to have an animal control agency, find themselves overwhelmed with the amount of animals in need as they often rely on public donations for supplies that their budgets can’t cover. When BSL occurs, most often agencies don’t have it in their budget to hire specific officers to enforce these bans and as a result the work of these officers multiply.
To enforce these bans, animal control and police officers are given a list of characteristics to look for in dogs that have been deemed dangerous. For example, enforcers often look for squared heads and stocky bodies. We’ve already discussed the different pure breeds that are often mistaken for Pit Bulls, but as a result of BSL, even mixed breed dogs are being called in. When an officer does in fact find an example of these physical traits in a dog, the dogs are then boarded and kenneled, which can be costly, but also interferes with the amount of space that these shelters have. Also, the trials of these animals can be timely and extremely costly.
Typically, BSL occurs in major cities where dog fighting is extremely prevalent. After banning Pit Bulls, many of these cities have reported that public safety has not increased. In fact, those active in dog-fighting have gone to great lengths to keep fighting secretive, which includes trunking, where dogs are locked in a trunk and forced to fight.
Luckily in Connecticut, State Representatives have spoke out against such bans regarding them as “uneducated and unnecessary”. In fact, Connecticut went as far as proposing a bill that would ban BSLs. However, cities as close as Boston are active in banning Pit Bulls. So if Breed Specific Legislation doesn’t directly affect Connecticut residents, why should we care?
The ban of these dogs does not target dogs with a history of violence or attack, but all pit bulls. Seems a little unfair. Netflix has an incredible documentary called “Behind the Myth”, that discusses not only the myths regarding Pit Bulls, but also how BSL has affected lovers of the breed. In this documentary, a veteran soldier discusses the ordeal he went through in attempting to prove that his Pit Bull was a registered service dog. While this particular person prevailed against this stereotypical ban, not all are so lucky. As I sought out research for this blog post via Google, I simply searched “Pit Bull ban in Denver”, which is a city that is extremely active in their ban. Sadly, my search resulted in these horrific piles of hundreds of dogs that had been destroyed just because of their breed. While some of these dogs may have had a history of aggression, many were euthanized because of the lack of room in Denver public shelters.
There are so many alternatives to banning Pit Bulls. First and foremost, education is crucial. Before you adopt any pet, you should do your research. You should try and understand your individual dog’s own history as well as behaviors and quirks typical of the breed. When adopting a pet into a home with children, one must really think whether this pet would thrive in a home with children. For example, Pit Bulls are strong by nature and often misjudge their own strength. With that said, if you have a toddler and a Pit Bull and the door bell rings, what do you think could happen? When experts say that Pit Bulls don’t belong in homes with small children, it’s not always that the dogs are aggressive, but that small children could easily get knocked down by a Pit Bull’s strong and excitable nature.
Education should also be given to children. If you’re adopting a dog into a home with children, they need to be taught the proper way to play with a dog. To me, it’s really upsetting when people will surrender their dog as a result of it biting a child who was mishandling the dog in the first place. While dogs can be big and cuddly, we can’t teach children to lie on top of them and snuggle them like we would a teddy bear. While some dogs may like that, it’s ignorant to assume all dogs are going to enjoy physical affection in the same way.
Another major part of education is supervision. Child-related dog attacks are more likely to occur when the child isn’t supervised when playing with a dog. When providing supervision, one should not only watch how the dog interacts with the child, but also how the child interacts with the dog and moderate the behavior when necessary.
Spaying and neutering your dog, regardless of breed, drastically changes the likelihood of aggression as they don’t have the extra hormones coursing through their body. Many opponents of neutering dogs believe that to do so would significantly alter their dogs personality. This is simply not true. While neutering and spaying dogs may alter potential aggression, it will not alter any other behaviors of your dog aside from the willingness to mate.
Another major alternative, is to not chain your dog up outside. Regardless of breed, dogs that are confined to a small space or even restricted by a tether to a specific area can be extremely stressed out. As a result, these dogs are much more excitable by any sort of stimulus nearby, whether that’s a squirrel, a driving car, or people walking by. It’s understandable that not everyone has a spacious backyard for their dog to run in, but dog runs should allow dogs to run! This will allow dogs to not only release pent up energy, but stress as well.
I grew up with an older sister, who’s about 3 years older than me. When playing together, it was expected of us to play with a specific toy as well as each other respectfully. If we weren’t able to do so, our privileges of that specific toy or even playing with each other were revoked until we were able to follow instructions. While BSL is a little more extreme than basic parenting, the actions of BSL feel very reminiscent of this. Because of one persons ignorant actions, everyone is punished. As a result, the privileges are revoked, but there is not lesson to learn.
Personally, the actions against animal cruelty should be increased and many major cities, like NYC, are looking into this. If specific people are held accountable for their actions, I feel like the likelihood for them to repeat their actions would be slighted. For example, I personally feel that people who are found guilty of extreme acts of animal cruelty should have their name on a national registry, alike a the National Sex Offender Registry, that would restrict them from purchasing, adopting, or owning any sort of pet. I also believe that the punishment for animal cruelty should be greater. While fines for cruelty depend on severity as well as location, there have been cases where offenders have paid as less as a $25 fine. If you knew that you could get away with running a red light by paying a $25 fine, wouldn’t you care less about getting caught. With that said, especially since many animal control agencies and shelters need the extra help, I think offenders should have to provide a certain amount of community service to animal related causes. If a judge can sentence Lindsay Lohan to community service at a morgue, shouldn’t we be holding other people for accountable for their horrific actions.
As I step off of my soap box, I do recommend that people check out the documentary “Behind the Myth”. Where I thought dogs would simply be relocated to areas outside of the BSL, I sadly realized that that is not the case. While it’s sad to see people have to give up on the beloved pets as they can’t continually afford to pay for the legal fees involved with acquitting their dog, there needs to be some sort of alternative where we’re not killing innocent dogs.