This post is going to be a little bit heavier than usual. The picture above highlights the reality of Breed Specific Legislation. The dogs were euthanized at Denver Animal Care & Control for the crime of being (or assumed to be) pit bull breeds. These were not stray or abandoned dogs, they were family pets seized from their homes and put down for the simple offense of looking too much like pit bulls.
Images like this usually don’t get much press. They’re intensely upsetting and disturbing, and no matter what side of the animal welfare movement we find ourselves on, most of us would rather look away. Unfortunately, these photos are a daily occurrence within towns and cities that support breed-specific legislation, one of the most misdirected legislative attempts at public safety. In the following series of posts I take a look at what breed-specific legislation is, what cities and states enforce it, and how it affects pets and pet owners.
What is BSL?
Let’s start at the beginning. According to Wikipedia, breed-specific legislation (hereafter we’ll shorten it to BSL) “is a law or ordinance passed by a legislative body pertaining to a specific breed or breeds of domesticated animals.” While it can apply to different types of animals, it seems thus far to be used to regulate dog breeds, most often a category of dogs broadly defined as pit bulls. Although most people use the term “pit bull” thinking it refers to a specific breed, it actually refers to a collection of different dogs — the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and English Bull Terrier.
Where is BSL enacted, and how does it come in to being?
In the United States, BSL is proposed and decided on a municipal level. Certain localities in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin all have BSL on the books, although Denver, CO has the most draconian approach to enforcement and compliance.
Jared Jacang Maher, the author of a terrific (and terrifically thorough) piece on BSL in Denver, says that after a few high-profile attacks from dogs in the pit bull family in the mid- and late-1980s, Denverites started to impose certain restrictions on “pit bull type” breeds. In 1989 Dade County, FL passed an outright ban, which is around the same time that people in Denver started to advocate for something similar in their own community. Animal care officers represented a persuasive subset of this movement, arguing that the restrictions then-currently in place were not enough to keep people safe.
Where Denver really stands out, however, is its enforcement of the ban. Animal Control Officers strictly uphold the law, responding quickly and reliably to reports of pit bull type dogs in the city. Dogs who are deemed to be in the pit bull family that are found in Denver are impounded immediately, regardless of whether they are owned or not. If they are owned, their owners must either sign a notarized document stating that they will remove the dog from the city limits within three months, or the dog will stay at Animal Care & Control to be put down. The ordinance even blocks local rescue groups, such as the venerable Dumb Friends League, from pulling the dogs and working to get them adopted out safely. Since 1992, Denver has pounded more than 5,286 dogs deemed “pit bull-types.”
If you are thinking about adopting a breed of dog from the pit bull family, do your research first so that you don’t put yourself or your dog in a situation where you cannot legally keep them. If you’re already the owner of a pit bull-type dog, remember that you should do thorough research before moving anywhere to ensure that you are both safe and protected in your new community.
- Breed Specific Legislation Part 2
- Breed Specific Legislation Part 3
- Breed Specific Legislation Part 4
(Images via Beverly & Pack)