I understand there has been discussion of dog breed-specific legislation in Ottawa — specifically on whether to retain the “pit bull ban” on Ottawa residents.
Other area cities are taking a look into these outdated laws, and I think it is time Ottawa does, too. I want to ensure Ottawa is a safe community, however, experts across the globe have proven that breed-specific legislation does not make communities safer for people or pets. It is costly, ineffective and undermines the human-canine bond.
Regulating breeds puts the focus on the dog, without addressing owner behavior and the owner’s responsibility to the animal and the community. Breed-specific legislation fails to reduce dog bites and brings a false sense of security, with no actual increase in public safety. Ottawa residents believe they are safer, but they are not. Laws that deem dogs dangerous based on breed or appearances, rather than behavior, fail to protect residents from truly dangerous dogs, and in turn Ottawa’s scarce resources on animal control are diverted to target dogs based only on appearances and not behavior.
In fact, most researched areas with breed-specific legislation have seen dog bites decrease at a slower rate than communities that have a breed-neutral dangerous dog law. For example, Denver enacted a breed ban in 1989. Denver residents continue to suffer a higher rate of hospitalizations from dog bite-related injuries after the ban than other area big cities in Colorado that simply have breed-neutral dangerous dog laws.
None of the experts on the matter advocate regulating dogs on the basis of breed. This includes the American Bar Association, the American Temperament Testing Society, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Animal Control Association and the federal government has taken a stand on breed-specific legislation this month after a petition started online obtained more than 40,000 signatures in less than three weeks with this statement: “We don’t support breed-specific legislation — research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources ... As an alternative to breed-specific policies, the CDC recommends a community-based approach to prevent dog bites. And, ultimately, we think that’s a much more promising way to build stronger communities of pets and pet owners.”
Several area cities recently have repealed their breed-based city ordinances, including Garnett, Lawrence, Emporia, Topeka, Olathe, Lenexa and Kansas City. Topeka, which in 2010 repealed its breed-specific legislation after animal control was running $27,000 over budget annually from housing dogs that had, as stated by assistant city attorney Kyle Smith, “not ... exhibited vicious behavior,” but instead were just “in violation of our breed specific ordinances.”
Statewide laws banning breed-specific ordinances already have been passed in 14 states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Colorado, California, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada and Washington. They are currently pending a vote in many other states. Ottawa needs to get on the ball before it is taken completely out of its court.
There is no scientific evidence that one kind of a dog, specifically the pit bull, is more likely to bite or injure a human being than another kind of a dog. In fact a study by the American Temperament Testing Society’s signature temperament test, which the organization has conducted on more than 30,000 dogs to date, measures “stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness as well as the dog’s instinct for protectiveness toward its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat.”
How well did the pit bull score? It was found to be the second-most tolerant breed overall, losing out only to golden retrievers. There is and was no dog bite epidemic as much as our media outlets like to sensationalize it.
Dog bites are a societal problem that cannot be characterized apart from people. They result from problematic human behaviors that place people and animals at risk. Responsible dog ownership is the key to addressing public safety issues involving dogs. Intense focus on select and isolated incidents of serious dog bite injuries incites fear and hysteria. It is not a sound basis for making effective public policy. Such an approach prevents a useful understanding of the complexity of dog bite-related incidents, and ignores the benefits to society of positive human-canine bonds and responsible pet ownership. To reduce dog bites, expert recommendations have remained consistent since the 1960s: dog-safety education, owner responsibility, detailed reporting and enforcement of dangerous dog laws, not to be confused with breed-specific laws.
There is overwhelming support from animal and legal experts for breed-neutral laws that focus on responsible ownership. I and so many others on the “Don’t Bully My Breed” Facebook page, which recently was started, would like to see that done here in Ottawa as well.
— Jason Berve,