Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT
The city council of Bothell, Washington is considering enacting breed specific legislation that would ban residents from owning certain breeds of dogs. All of us at Companion Animal Solutions believe that Breed Specific Legislation is the wrong approach to making our neighborhoods and ourselves safe from vicious dogs. We believe that well written, well enforced dangerous dog legislation betters serves us all by protecting us from dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners without making criminals or victims out of safe dogs and responsible owners. Andrea Kilkenny recently wrote an article for us titled Fun Activities For You and Your Dog and Andrea has participated in them all… with her bully breed dogs. I’m please to present here the letter that Andrea sent to all members of Bothell’s City Council.
Please reconsider your proposed law to ban the American Pitbull Terrier and related breeds, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. As an owner of three bull breed dogs, a Humane Law Enforcement Officer, and a dog trainer, I urge you to please read the information below as it may provide you with some facts you are unaware of.
There are many reasons why breed bans should not be enacted; and why, instead, legislators should focus efforts on dangerous dog laws that are not breed specific. Legislation that encourages responsible ownership – and which also results in effective and enforced consequences for violators – would help solve many of the problems communities face with reckless dog owners.
From a logistical standpoint, breed bans are difficult to enforce. One problem is the correct identification of breeds. Many shelters and animal control facilities currently struggle with this task, and often mislabel dogs. Often, shelters label any muscular, stocky, or wide-headed dog as a bull breed or bull breed mix, and incorrectly so. There are many current cases in which DNA tests were conducted to prove a dog’s heritage, and animal control facilities and municipalities have been sued for misidentification. In addition, animal control personnel would be faced with the insurmountable task of having to remove, house, re-locate, and/or euthanize the dogs within a given region. I have worked for many years in the shelter world, and served many more than that as a volunteer, and still do. Shelters are already overwhelmed with conducting their day-to-day tasks with limited time, staffing, and resources. To impose a ban, imposes a burden on them as well. Best Friends Animal Society, a national welfare organization, has a fiscal calculator which helps estimate cost to cities if they enact breed discriminatory legislation. According to their calculator, the city of Bothell would spend an estimated $44,000 per year to enact a breed ban. Couldn’t this money be better spent on dog bite prevention programs, spay/neuter initiatives, and enforcement of animal related ordinances that encourage responsible ownership?
Irresponsible and reckless owners should be targeted, not a breed. Owners should be held accountable for their actions. There are many responsibilities that come with maintaining a dog; one of those responsibilities is following local animal ordinances such as those that guide proper containment, vaccinations, identification, leash laws, etc. Most owners follow these and should not be unduly penalized for the actions of a few. In addition, there are many responsible owners who have bull breed dogs who are more than just pets. I am speaking of those owners of bull breed dogs, which provide valuable services to the community in a working capacity: search and rescue, drug detection, animal-assisted therapy, and humane education. They, too, should not be jeopardized for the actions of others. To give you just a few examples of great working dogs that are bull breeds:
Popsicle, a recently retired drug detection dog, is also a rescued pitbull. He was found – near death, in a freezer – when his owner’s premises were being investigated for illegal activity. The puppy went from surviving trauma as a dogfighter’s baitdog to becoming one of the top drug detection dogs in our country. Popsicle won a significant seizure medal when he helped federal Customs agents seize 3,075 pounds of cocaine.
Dakota, also a pitbull, is another fine example of a working dog. Dakota and owner Kris Crawford have been involved in some of the nation’s high-profile search and rescue efforts including the Columbia mission and the Laci Peterson case.
In Columbia, Ohio, U.S. Customs Department recently “hired” a new recruit – Pete, also a pitbull. Our own ferry system here in WA utilizes trained pit bulls for the purpose of narcotics and explosives detection.
Pitbulls excel in the areas of detection, search and rescue, pet therapy, and other working fields because of their high intelligence, affection and loyalty towards humans, and strong work ethic. The United Kennel Club notes in their description of the American Pitbull Terrier (APBT) breed characteristics:
The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children.
The APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable. This breed does very well in performance events because of its high level of intelligence and its willingness to work.
Similar characteristics can be found in the American Kennel Club breed description of a related breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier:
Its character is one of indomitable courage, high intelligence and tenacity. Coupled with its affection for its friends, and children in particular, its quietness and trustworthy stability make it an all-purpose dog.
Another fact to consider is that renowned and reputable animal organizations, such as the American Kennel Club (AKC), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) all do NOT support BSL. Each of these organizations encourages dangerous dog legislation that is not breed specific. Information about writing humane law, including dangerous dog laws, can be found on each of these organizations’ websites, or by contacting their national or regional headquarters. In a 2001 journal article published by AVMA, their Canine Aggression Task Force suggest that community-wide dog bite prevention programs, not Breed Specific Legislation, is a better solution to preventing dog bites:
“An often asked question is which breed or breeds of dogs are most “dangerous?” This inquiry can be prompted by a serious attack by a specific dog, or it may be the result of media driven portrayals of a specific breed as “dangerous.” Although this is a common concern, singling out 1 or 2 breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment. Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community’s citizens.”
In addition, please consider the idea that irresponsible owners will find another breed to train and handle for illegal or undesirable purposes when the current fad breed – the pit bull – is banned. We are already witnessing this occurrence here in the States. While the APBT maintains its popularity, there are a growing number of larger-sized dogs such as the Mastiff, Dogo Argentino, and Presa Canario being sought and even imported by irresponsible people. Banning a breed does not solve the problem. Historically, in our nation, different breeds have been wrongly generalized as ‘dangerous;’ the German Shepherd, the Doberman, and the Rottweiler have all been previous victims of media hype.
Furthermore, an increasing amount of research demonstrates that breed is not a defining characteristic in reported bites. Instead, some identifiable commonalities seem to be: intact dogs – of various breeds, including “unsuspecting” breeds such as the Golden and Labrador Retrievers, unsupervised situations involving children, and chained dogs. Studies reported in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine Association, Pediatrics, and Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program clearly illustrate that there are identifiable and preventable circumstances under which any dog can bite. In my many years of experience employed at a shelter in Iowa City, we saw dogs of all breed types who had been involved in bites. No one breed should be singled out. Each dog should be looked at individually and judged individually for its actions. Those animals with aggression problems or bite histories that pose a threat to the community should be euthanized to prevent further injuries and to maintain a safe community. Currently, the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) has done an outstanding job of documenting bite statistics, and providing information on the factors identified in bites. Consider the difference between family dogs and ‘resident’ dogs as outlined by NCRC. Resident dogs are yard dogs, dogs obtained for guarding purposes, dogs that are chained or kept outside; these are not family pets, and are often the victims of abuse, neglect, and mismanagement. Family dogs would be unduly punished if breed specific laws are enacted. Please consider visiting Karen Delise’s site for accurate, data-based materials on dog bites and dog bite prevention:
Lastly, as a responsible owner of two rescued pitbulls and one purebred Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I respectfully appeal to you on a personal level. My dogs are well trained, supervised, abide by city laws, and are ambassadors for their breeds. One of them competes in organized dog sports and competitions for flyball, disc, and agility. All three of them have appeared regularly on a local TV show in Iowa City, aired on public access, providing dog training tips and humane education on a show created to foster adoption at the city’s shelter we used to work at. My Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Rumble, and I are registered with the Delta Society as a Pet Partners team; he and I have participated in therapy, demos, and humane education at facilities for the elderly, schools, and neighborhood centers. I think it is unfair that I, and other responsible owners, should suffer the consequences due to the inappropriate and often, illegal, actions of others. Rumble and I are part of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Puget Sound which has members in Bothell, and we have competed in disc dog events in your city. A ban would prevent us from being able to do so in the future.
I fully support efforts to create safer communities for both dogs and humans and I believe that non-breed specific/vicious dog legislation, when properly written in the law and enforced, can help achieve that aim.
Sincerely, Andrea Kilkenny