Companion Animal Solutions believes that breed bans are a bad idea for a number of reasons. Instead of discussing this broad topic in a general way, I decided to get a copy of Seattle’s proposed breed ban legislation. I found so many vague and problematic issues with Seattle’s proposed legislation that I’m breaking my article into three parts. This is the first of those three parts.
Recently I’ve noticed bumper stickers and posters popping up with sweetheart pictures of stocky dogs or small children or both, either in support of or in opposition to breed bans. In many dog communities, breed-specific legislation (BSL) has become a prominent topic of discussion and debate, resulting in a variety of websites and groups centered on promoting or preventing laws restricting ownership or breeding of “pit bulls” among other breeds. One article can neither fully explore the numerous perspectives on this delicate, emotionally loaded topic, nor discuss the rationale (or lack thereof) behind all of them. This series of blog entries will focus on the local situation: the practicality of proposed legislation that has recently been circulating in Seattle. After reading the proposed law from beginning to end, I’m convinced that the writers missed out on a few very important facts about dogs, beginning with their designation of which dogs this law would affect.
One of the biggest debate points regarding breed bans has been the ability to identify the banned breeds to begin with. The proposed Seattle law would affect the following breeds: “Akita, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, Kuvasz, Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or Tosa Inu, or breed of any dog, or any mix of dog breeds which contains as an element of its breeding any of the abovelisted breeds, as to be identifiable of or partially of such breed(s), and any breed designated by the Director pursuant to this chapter as a “fighting breed”.
“Any mix of dog breeds with an element of any of those breeds?” How large a percentage is considered an element? Considering that dog trainers, breeders, veterinarians, and shelter workers with years of experience working with a variety of breeds are often at a loss when it comes to identifying the combination of breeds that make up many mixed-breed dogs, I’m interested to know how the city intends to enforce this. For many dogs, visual inspection will not allow reliable, accurate identification. Many Boxer or American Bulldog mixes (heck, even purebreds are frequently misidentified) might be labeled “pitbull mixes” because of their stocky build and short fur. For example, the “Find a Pit Bull Quiz” is quite enlightening for many people.
An alternative might be DNA testing, but even here we run into a reliability problem. I’ve met or heard of a number of Heinz 57 mutts whose DNA results came back “unknown,” talked to owners of AKC purebreds whose results listed three or four breeds, with the dog’s registered breed third or fourth on the list. The “Wisdom Panel MX Mixed Breed Analysis,” one of the more expensive DNA tests available, retails at about $130 before you pay the vet to do the blood draw required. My Google search to find product reviews for different DNA tests) suggests vets consider the Wisdom Panel more reliable than the cheaper cheek swab kits. According to the company website, the test has “an average accuracy of 90% in first generation cross-bred dogs.” It says nothing of second or third generation cross-bred dogs (what if the dog in question comes from two mutts, as well?), and even among the dogs they used to test, 90% accuracy isn’t a number I’d be willing to bet a dog’s life on. However, should the City of Seattle find DNA tests to be an acceptable method of determining if an element of one of the breeds in question exists, who will foot the bill for the test? Simply determining which dogs the restrictions should apply to is a huge challenge.
I’ll look at further problems with the legislation in Part Two of this blog.