Monday, August 15, 2005

Education is Key, not Specific Breed Bans

This was posted in the Monterey Herald this morning;

Education is the key, not breed-specific bansDr. Suzy Hochgesang Happy Tails
Q: Are certain breeds of dogs so inherently dangerous that they should be banned altogether?
A: The trend for communities to ban specific breeds of dogs has been growing worldwide for several years.
Ontario, Canada, passed a ban against pit bulls earlier this year, becoming the first North American province or state to impose such a ban. In May, pet owners in Caraway, Ark., were told that they had 10 days to get rid of their dogs, after the City Council passed an ordinance banning pit bulls, Dobermans, and Rottweilers from being kept in the city. Caraway now joins about 200 cities and towns throughout the United States that restrict or prohibit ownership of certain breeds of dogs.
Large, powerful dogs are frequently targeted, including Akitas, chows, Dalmatians, Dobermans, German shepherds, Great Danes, pit bulls, Rottweilers and mixes of these breeds. San Francisco is among the U.S. jurisdictions currently considering breed-related bans, and Denver is in the process of cracking down on its pit bull prohibition after a court upheld the ban last month.
Laws prohibiting certain breeds of dogs are often passed after a fatal dog attack in a community. City officials want to protect the public from future incidents. However, statistics have shown that banning ownership of specific breeds has generally failed to make the public any safer from dog attacks. The United Kingdom has prohibited the sale and breeding of pit bulls since 1991 with no impact on the number of dog attacks.
If the past is prologue, none of the bans currently being enforced or considered in the U.S. will have the desired effect. The reason that breed-related bans fail to keep the public safer is because they fail to target the real problem: irresponsible pet owners.
Communities should steer clear of breed-specific bans and should instead focus on protecting the public by aggressively enforcing dangerous dog ordinances and educating dog owners about their responsibilities.
Although fatal attacks by pit bulls or any other breed are nothing short of devastating, they are actually quite rare. Data in a report published in the September 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association revealed that, during the past 20 years, at least 25 breeds of dogs have been responsible for 238 human fatalities. Pit bulls and Rottweilers were incriminated in 66 and 39 fatalities, respectively, over the 20-year period.
However, other purebred and mixed-breed dogs, including Dachshunds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and a Yorkshire terrier, were responsible for the remaining 133 fatalities. Therefore, although fatal human attacks may appear to be a breed-related problem, dogs of other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates. Dogs of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive.
This study also concluded that fatal attacks represent only about 0.002 percent of all dog-bite injuries, and therefore should not be the driving force behind public policies on dangerous dogs. Injuries from dog bites are a much larger problem, approaching approximately 1 million per year, with thousands involving serious wounds.
The factors that affect a dog's propensity to bite are no more specific to a pit bull than they are to a poodle. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, male dogs are six times more likely to bite than female dogs, and intact dogs are almost three times more likely to bite than neutered or spayed dogs.
This study also showed that besides gender and reproductive status, a dog's propensity toward biting might result from factors such as the extent of socialization and training, quality of ownership, health of the animal and the bite victim's behavior toward the dog.
The size of the dog-bite problem, which incriminates almost every breed of dogs, shows that banning pit bulls is not only an unwarranted solution, but also an inadequate solution. Since all breeds of dogs can be potentially dangerous, local ordinances that ban one certain breed are "under inclusive." Instead, we need better enforcement of dangerous-dog ordinances against all breeds and more education to encourage responsible dog ownership.
Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Kennel Club have made public statements opposing breed-specific laws. Instead, they believe that dog owners are responsible for their pet's behavior. The AKC says appropriate laws should penalize irresponsible owners instead of unfairly singling out specific breeds. Their slogan: "Deeds, not breeds, should be addressed."
Some cities are following suit. Madison, Wis., recently enacted a dangerous-dog ordinance, in which the focus is on a dog's behavior rather than its breed. Madison grants local authorities the power to declare any dog, regardless of breed, dangerous based on its behavior. The dog's owner then has the right to appeal. If the dog is finally determined to be dangerous, it can be impounded or destroyed.
In 2001, Chicago passed an ordinance in which the city may fine irresponsible owners of any breed of dog. These penalties range from a fine for allowing a dog to run unsecured to the possibility of jail time for the owner of a dog that attacks someone.
Lawmakers supporting breed-related bans are taking a short cut around the drafting of effective laws by prohibiting ownership of specific breeds instead of defining unacceptable animal and owner behavior. Gun laws don't stop people from having guns when they shouldn't. Drug laws don't stop the sale and use of drugs. That's why education is so important.
People need to be educated about the characteristics of different breeds so they are able to select an appropriate pet for their life situation. By educating dog owners about pet care and responsibility, they will realize the effect of neutering on a dog's aggressive tendencies as well as the importance of proper socialization and training.
If lawmakers continue to take the easy way out by enacting breed-specific bans, they will indict the responsible owners of many well-trained, well-socialized dogs of all breeds and will likely do little to target the irresponsible owners who breed and train their dogs to be aggressive.
Ask 'Doc Suzy' Dr. Suzy Hochgesang is a veterinarian at Aguajito Veterinary Hospital in Monterey. Send questions to her at 1221 10th St., Monterey 93940 or e-mail
© 2005 Monterey County Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


Flex said...


Conners said...

THIS IS SOOOOOO INCOURAGING!!! We need more provinces, states and others places to realize where the real danger lies and how BSL isn't the solution. This is what I call, 'using your brain!' You would not know how much reading this has given me so much more hope. It's a good start and let's hop it catches on!!!!

Amstaffie said...

Wow... at least that's a start. If one state, (VA), realizes that it should be focusing on the owner of the dog, hopefully other states and countries will follow suit!

I give the state of VA two thumbs up!

Conners said...

If THIS can catch on like the BSL did, it could turn around into what were were all hoping and praying for. My heart skipped a beat when I read this! :)