During its Annual Meeting last year, the American Bar Association’s policymaking House of Delegates passed a resolution  urging all legislative bodies and governmental agencies “to repeal breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.” Instead, the ABA called for breed-neutral dangerous dog laws that ensure due process for guardians, encourage responsible pet guardianship and focus on the behavior of both the individual and the dog. The ABA’s approach is a sensible one.
Generally speaking, breed-specific legislation (BSL) refers to laws that either regulate or ban dogs based on breed or type, as opposed to dangerous behaviors or actions, in hopes of reducing dog attacks. Often, regulated dogs are viewed as “inherently dangerous” because of the perception of breed characteristics. Most BSL currently focuses on dogs with “pit bull characteristics,” although some BSL also includes Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinchers, Mastiffs, Dalmatians or Chow Chows.
Unfortunately, numerous problems are associated with BSL, including significant questions relating to due process (i.e., fair treatment through the judicial system); waste and ineffective use of limited government resources; well-documented failure to produce safer communities; enforcement issues connected with identifying dogs to be regulated or seized, including prohibitive cost and inaccuracy; unintended and often nearly insurmountable hardships on responsible dog guardians who happen to fall within the regulated breed; and infringement of property rights.
BSL typically stems from shortsighted “panic policymaking ” after a well publicized dog bite incident in a community, when instead what is needed is pragmatic regulation that does not penalize the innocent along with the guilty. California is among the twelve states that currently prohibit BSL, although California law does permit the enactment of BSL for mandatory spay and neuter programs under certain circumstances (Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 122330 and 122331 ). San Francisco , for example, requires pit bull breeds to be spayed or neutered within city limits.
A better solution to BSL to regulate dangerous dogs exists, and it is simple – encourage responsible pet guardianship through widely accessible education and spay/neuter resources and impose liability on all dog guardians, irrespective of breed. As the ABA suggests, government should improve public safety by enacting comprehensive breed-neutral measures that focus on the behavior of both the dog and the individual.