Breed-specific regulation: Not new and not working
We all want to live safely, including with dogs. With that purpose in mind, we should adopt policies that have succeeded, and avoid ones that failed.
Breed-specific regulation did not originate with pit bulls. Long Branch, N.J., banned the Spitz in 1878. Massachusetts banned bloodhounds in 1886. Australia prohibited the further importation of German Shepherd dogs in 1929.
None of these breed-specific regulations made communities safer, and all have long since been consigned to the dustbin reserved for government failures.
More recently, some have redirected this failed idea on the so-called pit bull. ("Pit bull" is not a breed. The definition varies, depending upon where you are.) Directing attention to a different dog has not turned a failed idea into a successful one.
Breed-specific regulation misses the mark because it is over-inclusive, penalizing dog owners who do not permit their pets to be problems; and under-inclusive, since it overlooks owners of other dogs who do. This makes it tough on some dog owners and pets, without making anyone safer.
There has never been any evidence that breed regulation has reduced the incidence of dog-bite injuries, serious or otherwise.
Recognizing this, American communities, the state of Ohio and two European countries — the Netherlands and Italy — have repealed breed-specific laws, and focused instead on public education in dog safety, and on holding dog owners to higher standards of humane care, custody and control.
Florida was ahead of the curve. In 1990, Florida preempted towns and counties from regulating dogs by breed. Miami-Dade is an exception.
Neither the National Animal Control Association nor the Florida Animal Control Association endorses breed-specific regulation, of pit bulls or any other dogs. These are the professionals on the ground in our communities, charged with protecting people and animals. They know it is not good policy.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Humane Society of the United States, the Best Friends Animal Society and the ASPCA also know it is not good policy.
We certainly must punish reckless owners who have allowed their dogs to cause harm. However, if safety around dogs is our goal, we must do more than that; we must enact policies that prevent serious incidents from occurring. Prevention results when communities adopt a responsible pet-ownership model.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and the AVMA recommend community implementation of responsible pet-ownership models. The principles of such a model are straightforward:
1) License and provide permanent identification for your pets.
2) Spay or neuter your pets.
3) Provide training, socialization, proper diet and medical care for your pets.
4) Do not allow your pets to become a threat or nuisance in the community.
5) Procure your pet ethically and from a credible source.
Communities that adopt these clear principles apply them to all dog owners, whether their dogs are big or small, however many they have and whatever kind they choose to keep.
Let success be our guide, and failure serve only as a cautionary tale.
Donald Cleary is director of communications and publications for the National Canine Research Council.