Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fighting Breed-Specific Legislation

"Breed-Specific Legislation" - or BSL - for those of you who don't know, refers to legislation which targets and punishes certain breeds of dogs based solely on the fact that they ARE a certain breed or look like a certain breed. It is based on the misguided notion that certain types of dogs are inherently more dangerous than any others, and so those types must be suppressed or eliminated.

And misguided it is. Yes, of course there are certain types of dogs who are more dangerous than others... large dogs for instance do usually cause more damage when they attack than small dogs do, because they are stronger. Adolescent, intact dogs are involved in more attacks on humans than puppies or old dogs, for the same reasons (youthful strength and energy, lack of life experience and raging hormones, combined with a lack of discipline) that adolescent and young adult men commit more violent crime than children or older adults. The most dangerous dogs of all, of course, are those owned by people who WANT to have a dangerous dog but are too irresponsible to be willing or able to properly manage their dogs.

But a particular breed being more dangerous? The only way to determine if a particular breed really IS more dangerous than others - based on reports of attacks on humans - is if you know the number of dogs of all the different breeds or mixes that are in a community. Then you could figure the percentage of dogs of each breed or type that are involved in serious attacks each year.

An article on dog bite prevention on the Centers for Disease Control web site states: "A CDC study on fatal dog bites lists the breeds involved in fatal attacks over 20 years (Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998). It does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, [emphasis mine -B] and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic. Each year, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities; about 0.0002 percent of the total number of people bitten. These relatively few fatalities offer the only available information about breeds involved in dog bites. There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."

A commonly given example of this is that if a study indicates that there are five bites by golden retrievers and 10 bites by pit bulls, but there are 100 retrievers in the community and 500 pit bulls, then statistically the retrievers are the breed more likely to bite.

There are many many articles on the Internet and many books out now about this. A great article I just found is on the Caveat blog. Please go read it.

Why do I care about this so much? After all, I don't own a pit bull. I care mostly because BSL is just unfair, and WRONG, and unAmerican in the most essential way possible - it is absolutely and unashamedly willing to punish the majority of innocent pet owners in order to catch a few guilty parties.

And, of course, I also care because I'm scared. I know that all it would take would be for the media to decide that Great Danes are DANGEROUS and then my dogs would be next on the chopping block. Despite their having never done anything wrong.

And that is something I cannot even bear to think about.

1 comment:

Kate said...

I so agree with you. BSL is BS!!!

Also, Pit Bulls are nice dogs- it's irresponsible owners who turn out bad dogs.

And I think irritable little weiner dogs are WAY more likely to bite a kid than a pit bull!