Part One of this article pointed out that the proposed breed-specific legislation for the City of Seattle is ambiguous and uncertain in designating which dogs it should apply to. But even if the City works out this knot, the legislation creates further problems.
Some of the restrictions on these breeds present potential health issues. The bill’s purpose is ultimately to eliminate these breeds (or their mixes) in Seattle, mixed or purebred; accordingly, if this law passes, all mixes or purebred dogs affected by the legislation must be sterilized within seven days, “with the exception of immature dogs.” Puppies will be exempt until they’re 13 weeks old if female or 9 weeks old if male. I’m not a vet, but my puppy class students and Companion Animal Solutions‘ clients tell me their vets advise waiting to spay or neuter until the puppy reaches at least six months old. One reason: to make sure that lack of hormones doesn’t adversely affect the puppies’ growth. Sex hormones regulate bone growth and early neutering can change some joint angles in an unhealthy way, possibly contributing to hip dysplasia or CCL rupture. Additionally, sex hormones help regulate bone density, and dogs that are spayed or neutered prematurely often have lower density.
Considering the health risks presented by neutering puppies at such a young age, I believe that a vet, not a law, should determine an appropriate age for spaying or neutering based on an individual dog’s needs. And while I am an advocate of trying to reduce pet overpopulation by neutering the vast majority of cats and dogs, thirteen weeks seems awfully young to subject a puppy to an invasive surgery like ovariohysterctomy (spaying).
A different health concern arises from the requirement that all dogs affected by the law be attended by their owner or “a responsible person designated by the owner” when outside their own home unless they are in a locked car and muzzled. My first reaction to this was disbelief, since I immediately pictured a dog in a grooming muzzle locked in a car in the middle of summer. I was slightly less nauseated when I internalized the time limit specified: less than thirty minutes. Still, in a locked car, a muzzle could be a death sentence for a dog during the summer. The definition of a muzzle in the legislation is this: “Muzzle means a restraining appliance made of metal, plastic, leather, cloth, or a combination of these materials that, when fitted and fastened over a dog’s head, nose, and mouth, prevents the dog from biting but allows the dog to breathe or pant.”
Breathe or pant. I’m arguing semantics here, but to avoid killing a dog, this particular passage should be very clear that (a) dogs shouldn’t be locked in cars when it’s hot and (b) any dog locked in a car must be able to pant with an open mouth, not just breath through their nose. Because dogs cannot sweat as humans can, their best bet for cooling off is to pant, and they can easily overheat if they’re unable to do so. Without further defining appropriate muzzles as basket muzzles, which allow dogs to fully open their mouths, take food, and drink water, but not bite, this law puts these dogs’ health and lives at risk, not through humane euthanasia but by potential heatstroke.
In Part Three of this blog, I’ll examine further aspects of the bill.