What Is Breed-Specific Legislation?
Breed-specific legislation—commonly known as BSL—aims to ban or highly regulate certain dog breeds in the hope of reducing dog attacks. BSL can be enacted by governments of any size, from small towns to entire nations. In 1991, for example, the United Kingdom (comprised of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) passed the Dangerous Dog Act to ban Pit Bull Terriers and a handful of other breeds.
BSL is often passed in direct response to a single, particularly violent dog attack. Thus, the regulation of certain breeds is based on anecdotal, rather than scientific evidence. Proponents of these laws fail to recognize the well-documented truth that a host of factors other than breed—including a dog’s reproductive status, quality of life, and training or lack thereof—are far more reliable predictors of and contributors to dog bites and fatal attacks.
What Is the ASPCA’s Policy on Breed-Specific Legislation?
The ASPCA opposes laws that regulate or ban dogs based on breed. While we acknowledge that dangerous dogs are a problem in many communities, we strongly assert that breed-specific laws unfairly infringe upon the rights of responsible dog guardians based solely on their choice of breed—and are not a rational, effective way to remedy this problem. Read our full, in-depth position statement on BSL.
The ASPCA instead favors comprehensive dangerous dog/reckless owner laws. These are laws that focus on the behavior of individual dogs and owners and regulate any dangerous dog when necessary, regardless of his or her breed.
What’s Wrong With Breed-Specific Legislation?
In addition to the heartache BSL inflicts on guardians of the “wrong breeds” who are forced to give up their dogs or move, it does great damage to society’s perception of the regulated breeds. Across the nation, animal shelters are overflowing with large dogs—particularly Pit Bulls, a breed that in recent years has suffered tremendously from a combination of overbreeding, bad publicity and irresponsible owners. BSL contributes to the culture of fear that the media and popular culture have created around certain dog breeds and legitimizes the negative stereotypes assigned to those dogs most in need of our help and compassion. More on the media bias against Pit Bulls
Furthermore, by merely regulating the “bad reputation” breeds, BSL does nothing to further the desired goal of stopping illegal activities such as dog fighting and breeding and/or training dogs to be aggressive. The ASPCA believes that strict enforcement of laws that ban these activities is the proper means to address the problem of aggressive dogs.
Is Breed-Specific Legislation Effective?
No—there is no evidence that breed-specific legislation is effective. Cities and countries that have enacted BSL tend to discover that BSL does not result in a decrease in dog bites.i BSL is also extremely costly to enforce, which stretches animal control resources thin, thereby reducing animal control’s ability to respond to other situations and help a greater number of animals.
Conversely, cities that invest in low-cost spay/neuter programs and pass and enforce anti-tethering, dog licensing and at-large/leash laws have seen a decline in dog attacks.
BSL also fails to acknowledge that any dog can bite, and that the breeds with “bad reputations” change over time. Not long ago, Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and even Bloodhounds—rather than dogs with the characteristics of Pit Bull Terriers—were particularly feared. Those who want to possess aggressive dogs will always find a way to do so—ban or regulate one breed, and another will rise in popularity to take its place.ii
Has the ASPCA Been Involved in Battling Breed-Specific Legislation?
The ASPCA’s Government Relations department has a strong history of fighting against the passage of breed-specific legislation on the state and local levels.
With the help of our citizen Advocacy Brigade, in 2008 the ASPCA successfully lobbied against the passage of the following breed-discriminatory bills, among others:
- OH HB 568—Statewide Pit Bull Ban
This bill sought to ban pit bulls throughout the state of Ohio. It would have required pit bull owners to forfeit their dogs for destruction, and authorized law enforcement to confiscate and kill any dog whom they suspected was a Pit Bull.
- FL HB 101—Overturning Ban on BSL
Current Florida law prohibits jurisdictions—with the exception of Miami-Dade—from enacting ordinances or regulations that target or ban specific breeds of dogs. HB 101 would have overturned the current law and allowed any community or city in Florida to regulate dogs based simply on their breed.
- MN HF 3245— Repeal of Breed Discrimination Prohibition
Like the Florida bill, this Minnesota bill would have repealed the state’s prohibition on breed discrimination. This legislation was introduced after separate, unsuccessful attempts to introduce a piece of breed-specific legislation and to compromise an ASPCA-supported dangerous dog bill with amendments to allow breed discrimination.
How Can I Help?
You can take a more active role by working with the ASPCA to:
- Fight legislation that seeks to discriminate against entire breeds
- Pass legislation that ensures all animals are judged individually
Stay up-to-date about current legislation related to dangerous dogs/reckless owners by joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade.
iWhile dog bites have spiked in Lucas County, OH—despite Toledo’s and the state’s regulation of pit bull laws—dog bites have steadily declined in New York City, which does not regulate dogs based on breed. And in the summer of 2008, legislators in the Netherlands decided to end that country’s 15-year ban on pit bulls because it has not led to a reduction the number of dog bites.
iiIn 1990, a pit bull ban was enacted in Winnipeg, Canada—after which pit bull bites decreased, but Rottweiler bites increased. In Council Bluffs, IA, bites from Labrador retrievers and boxers have climbed steadily since pit bulls were banned in 2005.