Nanny dogs, meet the nanny state. Now keep apart, you two.
Six states are considering bills that would put an end to laws restricting dog ownership by breed. Called "breed-specific legislation" -- or BSL -- these laws most often target pit bull type dogs (which are said to have been called "nanny dogs"), often forcing people to choose between their pets and their homes. And most Americans think they're bad laws. Bad laws!
Opposition to BSL comes from sources as diverse as the American Bar Association, animal rescue groups, the Center for Disease Control and even President Barack Obama, who said in August that the laws are largely ineffective while doing nothing to improve public safety, and are often a "waste of public resources."
In addition, a recent poll conducted on behalf of the rescue group Best Friends Animal Society found that a big majority in the United States don't want the government deciding which breeds of dogs we may and may not keep as pets:
A new national survey commissioned by Best Friends Animal Society reveals that 84 percent of those polled believe that local, state or federal governments should not infringe on a person’s right to own whatever breed of dog they choose.
This survey, conducted by Luntz Global, is consistent with a growing trend by many state and local governments that have repealed breed discriminatory provisions and enacted behavior-based, breed-neutral dangerous dog laws. Of the 850 polled, 59 percent were dog owners. Only four percent of those polled believed the federal government should dictate what breed of dog a person could own, while six percent supported state government restrictions and 11 percent local government limits.
Seventeen states have already passed laws that stop localities from discriminating against dogs by breed. The six now considering similar prohibitions are Maryland, Vermont, South Dakota, Missouri, Utah and Washington state.
"Today was a good day for dogs," Ledy VanKavage, an attorney with Best Friends, told HuffPost just after the South Dakota Senate's Local Government Committee met to consider its bill about a week ago. "We have 17 states that outlaw it now. We think every state should have it."
VanKavage said that states are becoming more amenable to passing these prohibitions for a combination of reasons. "People view dogs as members of their family. And more and more cities are getting sued. If a city tried to take my dog simply because of its breed, I'd lawyer up in a minute," she said. "In America, responsible dog owners should be able to have whatever breed of dog they choose."
Plus, VanKavage added, "The scientific studies show it doesn't work."
Indeed. In December, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a study looking at the factors at play in fatal dog attacks. Studying 256 dog bite fatalities from 2000-2009, the contributing factors were found to include the failure of an able-bodied person to intervene in the attack and the dog being abused by its owner. Breed was not deemed to be a significant contributing factor; the researchers found, moreover, that breed could not even be reliably determined in most of the cases.
Best Friends also emphasizes the cost of enforcing anti-pit bull bans; the group commissioned an economist to put together a tool that calculates the costs by city. And here's a sample calculation: In Baltimore, there's an estimated 151,105 dogs, of which 10,918 are assumed pit bull type dogs. The costs associated with enforcing laws against pit bull ownership would be $992,606 per year.
Kristen Auerbach, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Northern Virginia, says that lifting restrictions against pit bull ownership would have significantly waggy other benefits, as well.
Even though her jurisdiction doesn't have breed restrictions, "people have heard the stories about beloved family dogs being taken from their owners in places where there are full bans on pit bulls. That is every dog owner's worst nightmare," she said. "People don't want to risk it."
Getting rid of these laws would not just let people adopt without fear of their animals being taken away, she said, but would also help counter negative stereotypes.
"BSL not only impacts people in Maryland, but contributes to the overall perception of pit bulls as different, which inevitably works its way into the public conscience and effects adoptions, shelter policies, and even other public policy," she said.
Auerbach cautions that even if these anti-BSL laws are passed, that isn't the end of these problems, since many landlords won't rent to people with pit bulls. One of several anti-BSL bills now under consideration in Maryland would actually address this point: HB 422 is aimed not only at stopping localities from classifying dogs as "dangerous" by breed, but would also apply to landlords and condo associations.
But even if these bills weren't a panacea, their passages would mark a significant step forward, said VanKavage. "If we could get just one or two this year I'd be happy," she said.
There's reason for optimism: Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, tells HuffPost she thinks her state is likely to pass pro-pit bull legislation this session.
And on Tuesday, the South Dakota Senate passed its bill, which now moves over to the House.
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