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bsl laws

The BS of BSL (Breed specific legislation)

For many dog owners, pups aren’t just pets—they’re members of the family. But not everyone is as fond of our furry pals as we are. Often, that’s due to strong feelings about certain “aggressive” breeds, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, which may not be based in reality. In some cases, those misconceptions have even led to laws targeting certain types of dogs, called breed-specific legislation or BSL. These laws regulate or ban certain breeds in an attempt to reduce the number of attacks on humans.   

One popular form of BSL targets pit bull terriers or dogs who resemble them. Generally, these laws are supported by people who are afraid of dogs, victims of dog attacks, and people who have been led to believe that their families are at risk from dangerous dogs in their neighborhoods. But does it work?

According to the ASPCA, “There is no evidence that breed-specific laws, which are costly and difficult to enforce, make communities safer for people or companion animals.” Furthermore, how would someone even know if the dog is one of the banned or regulated breeds, and who makes that decision? Should it be based on appearance alone? The general public often confuse pit bulls with three other breeds, or describe them as a mix of three or more. Many places with BSL use a highly subjective checklist of characteristics (e.g., the head is “medium length;” they’re “muscular-looking;” they look “aggressive”), but the proper way to determine if a dog is dangerous can’t be based on appearance alone. DNA testing is one possible answer, but what about mixed-breed dogs?

However the determination is made, breed-specific restrictions are a nuisance and a hardship on thousands of responsible dog owners. They may require the owner of a targeted breed to muzzle the dog in public, spay or neuter the dog, keep the dog on a leash of particular length or material, purchase liability insurance, or even post signs outside their home alerting neighbors to their “dangerous” dog.

Banning a breed or particular mix of breeds unfairly punishes dogs that are reliable community citizens, including therapy dogs, assistance dogs for handicapped owners, search and rescue dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, police dogs, and more, and drives them out of the community. So instead, some states like New York track dangerous dogs individually and restrict reckless dog owners as opposed to discriminating against a particular kind of dog breed or mix. Solutions like low-cost spay and neuter, community education, and owner restrictions are more likely to succeed in different communities.

Do you own a targeted breed of dog? Here are a few tips for staying on the right side of the law:

  • First, find out if you state or county has BSL laws. If so, Ask a Lawyer about possible scenarios like pet liability insurance.
  • Make sure your dog is trained and that you have a pet license.
  • Respect your local leash laws and don’t walk your pup unleashed where it’s not allowed.
  • Look into community training and education in your area.

Remember, dog problems are people problems, so they’re not limited to a specific breed or mix. Know your rights, and learn your local laws to avoid any problems down the road.

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