Dog Breeds Face Plethora of Discriminatory Laws

Dog Breeds Face Plethora of Discriminatory Laws

By: Norma Bennett Woolf  Date: 01/10/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation |

Cincinnati, Ohio overturned its breed-specific law because it was ineffective, expensive to enforce, and inadequate to protect citizens from dangerous or vicious dogs. But the lessons of Cincinnati seem to be lost or ignored in other jurisdictions as cities large and small plot laws that restrict, regulate, or ban various dog breeds.

Michigan wants to ban wolfdogs even though other states have found the animals hard to identify and bans impossible to enforce.

Reading, Pennsylvania; Washington DC; Wilmington, Delaware, and New York City, want to restrict pit bulls.

Federalsburg and Annapolis, Maryland, tried to ban pit bulls, and Cleveland, Ohio, put several breeds on its hit list, but fanciers mobilized and convinced city fathers that education and strict enforcement of generic dangerous dog laws are more effective than breed restrictions.

North Caldwell, New Jersey, and Fairfield, Ohio, have banned pit bulls. Other cities across the country flirt with breed bans even as some states try to reverse the trend with laws prohibiting local breed-specific laws. Rottweilers, Chows, Dobermans, and Shar Peis show up on the unwanted lists along with pit bulls, American Bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

Breed-specific legislation often looks like an easy out to politicians faced with dog problems, especially those problems that attract media attention. The Cincinnati ban was passed in 1987 when the press sensationalized several dog bite stories and politicians saw an easy answer to a perceived community safety problem. Fairfield, Ohio, passed its ban after a puppy identified as a pit bull brought two mothers to tears because they feared for their children's safety. Rather than write that the dog in question was a 14-week-old puppy, the reporter played up the emotional reaction of the women, and the council passed the ban. Washington DC now faces the possibility of severe restrictions on pit bills that will effectively ban the dogs, according to the DC Dog Coalition.

"In DC, politicians jump on breed-specific legislation because of pit bull incidents highly publicized in the media," said coalition founder Victor Chudowsky. "Last summer a fireman was apparently knocked over (not bitten) by a pit, then he died of a heart attack three days later in the hospital. He had a pre-existing heart condition, and he was 64 years old. No bites on his body, but the Washington Post reported 'Fireman Dies After Struggle with Pit Bull' or something like that. That is all it took for some politicians to introduce breed-specific legislation into the City Council."

Chudowsky and the coalition are fighting the Washington DC proposal and are asking instead that the city enforce strict animal control regulations that apply to all dogs, not just those that look like a particular type of dog. The strategy worked in Cleveland. When breed-specific legislation was proposed in that city, it included not only the various pit bull breeds, but also Akitas, Chows, and Rottweilers. Dog fancier Melanie Tierney helped found Canine Friends of Cleveland, a group that convinced the city that there is a better way to control dogs.

"I think breed-specific legislation is all a matter of perception," Tierney said. "If dog calls are high relevant to particular breeds, the politician, police, or ACO will perceive that there is a problem, specifically with that breed of dog. Rarely are extenuating factors or basic animal behavioral responses considered as part of solving the problem. Breed-specific legislation is seen as a good approach - if a type of dog is a problem, then by eliminating the dog, you eliminate the problem."

Both Chudowsky and Tierney emphasized that dog owners and fanciers must lead politicians and reporters out of the dark.

"Dog fanciers must dedicate themselves to creating positive views of dog ownership in their communities,"  Tierney said. "I think it is unfortunate that so often, government is allowing the most irresponsible members of our society to set the standards by which we all must live. Breed-specific legislation is a classic example of this sad decline in our democracy. Dog fanciers must become the contacts for the media, so that a balanced picture can be maintained." Chudowsky urged fanciers to "organize and organize early, and send a flood of protest faxes to your City Council. Do your research, and focus on the cost of breed-specific legislation, and why it tends not to work. Politicians don't like to look like they are wasting money. . it is important for anti-breed-specific legislation groups to press for alternative legislation which would improve animal control. Breed-specific legislation comes about in places where there is poor animal control and education about responsible ownership of dogs. It should be seen as a quick fix attempt to do something about a failing animal control system."


Politicians often welcome the expertise of fanciers when writing or rewriting dog laws, so, to get in on the ground floor .

  • Don't wait for disaster: contact legislators, council members, and zoning commissions with concerns about dog laws on the books and suggestions for preventing problems with reasonable laws that protect well-behaved dogs and responsible dog owners while targeting those who actually cause nuisances or endanger public safety;
  • Contact newspapers and offer to serve as a resource for dog-related stories; and
  • Invite lawmakers, agency heads, and reporters to dog shows, Canine Good Citizen tests, seminars, agility and obedience events, etc.

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