Tails are wagging in Washington this week.
Not only did the Obama family introduce Sunny the puppy to her adoring country, but the White House also came out against breed-specific legislation -- regulations and laws that restrict ownership of dogs by breed, pit bulls being the most common target.
Groups like the American Bar Association have said for years that these sorts of restrictions do harm -- to families, to dogs, to due process and to the economy -- without actually improving public safety.
Based on a statement that the White House put out about a week ago, it would seem that Obama agrees. "Breed-Specific Legislation Is a Bad Idea" begins the White House's official response to an online petition, signed by more than 30,000 people, asking for laws that target dogs by breed to be outlawed at a federal level.
Obama's statement doesn't speak to federal legislative efforts. But, the White House does adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's community-based ideas for better methods of improving public safety:
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.
Lisa LaFontaine, who is president of the Washington Humane Society (which received a donation from the Obamas in honor of Sunny the puppy) and a longtime opponent of breed-specific legislation, told The Huffington Post she thinks this statement will provide a big boost.
"The White House is such a bully pulpit for important issues," she says, with her daughter's pit bull, Lila, napping nearby. "And certainly for them to come down against this type of discrimination I think will give pause to any communities that are thinking about putting something like this in place, and certainly will fuel the work that's already being done by advocates to overturn legislation that already exists...It's a really happy day."
Indeed, some advocates -- like those challenging a ban on pit bulls in Prince George’s County, Md., about 20 miles from the White House -- are celebrating.
Others are not quite as ready to give the president a belly rub.
"I think it's the least he could do," says Rebecca Corry, an actress and comedian who's organizing the upcoming Million Pibble March on Washington, which is aimed at spreading public awareness about pit bulls, as well as protesting breed-specific legislation and encouraging federal money be spent on enforcement of animal abuse laws. "It should have been done a long time ago."
Another complaint: widespread pit bull bans in U.S. military housing and other installations (read more about this in a White House petition that went up just after the White House issued its response to the first petition).
"I really, really hope that the military takes note that the Commander in Chief has made this statement about there being no place for breed-specific legislation," says LaFontaine, who says that "there is nothing more difficult" than seeing families surrender well-loved pets due to wholesale bans on certain types of dogs.
"Discrimination enshrined in law is not OK," says Corry, whose own dog, Angel, was abused before taking up station in -- for real -- a pit bull kissing booth. "And that's exactly what breed-specific legislation is."
Here's the White House's full 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.
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at twenty years of data about dog bites and human fatalities in the United States. They found that fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog bite injuries to people and that it's virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds.
The CDC also noted that the types of people who look to exploit dogs aren't deterred by breed regulations -- when their communities establish a ban, these people just seek out new, unregulated breeds. And the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they're intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.
For all those reasons, the CDC officially recommends against breed-specific legislation -- which they call inappropriate. You can read more from them here.
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.
Let's end on a cute note (or three).
Here's a picture of LaFontaine and Lila:
Here's Corry's dog Angel, getting political during a recent visit to D.C.:
And this, of course, is Sunny: