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Breed bans are popular, but do they make the public safer?

Breed-specific laws ban or restrict ownership of dog breeds believed to be responsible for the most serious attacks on people. Pit bull–type dogs are the poster child of breed laws, but they can also apply to Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and other large breeds. The American Kennel Club explained in a statement to JAVMA News that "pit bull" is a term commonly used to describe a particular type of dog—many being of mixed breeding—that has some ancestry relating to breeds in the United States, such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers. The AKC said "pit bull" is also used sometimes to describe mixes or breeds not registered with the AKC with names such as American Pit Bull Terrier or American Bully. "AKC does not consider Pit Bulls to be purebred dogs, and we register no such dogs," the organization said.Breed restrictions emerged and proliferated during the 1980s as news reports increasingly portrayed pit bull–type dogs as an apex predator, one on which no other animals prey. Sports Illustrated highlighted a story on dogfighting in its July 27, 1987, issue with a cover featuring a snarling dog under the headline "Beware Of This Dog: The Pit Bull Terrier." Hollywood, Florida, enacted the nation's first breed-specific ordinance in 1980 after a pit bull–type dog scalped a 7-year-old boy and mangled his face. That law, which required owners of such dogs to prove they possessed $25,000 in personal liability insurance, was overturned two years later; the judge cited a lack of evidence that pit bull–type dogs were more dangerous than other dogs.Communities reeling after a vicious dog attack may respond by prohibiting or strictly regulating what is assumed to be the responsible breed as a quick fix to a legitimate problem, according to Rebecca Wisch, associate editor and clinical staff attorney with the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law. "Breed-specific laws give people a sense of security," she explained, adding that owners of a banned breed sometimes email MSU's animal law center. "These people face either having to get rid of a dog they consider a family member or move out of the city. That's a pretty tall order for some people," Wisch said.

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