Discrimination among humans is (unfortunately) not unheard of nowadays, however, it largely stays “under the radar” due to laws. But could you imagine being told that you can’t live in a particular place because of the color of your skin? Or because your head is “too big?” Or perhaps you are not allowed to take your child to a certain playground because he “looks dangerous.” Sounds absurd, right?
Sadly, breed discrimination does just this.
Certain breeds of dogs are often discriminated against in pet policies and other official legislation. The breeds that are most commonly affected include Pit bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, Rottweilers and other “bully” breeds. Laws and policies can range from an outright ban of certain breeds, making it illegal to own or import them, to restricting where these animals can be in public. Hotels, city parks, ferries and even pet boarding facilities can have these discriminating policies.
Breeds that are most likely to be affected by BSL include:
- Pit Bull terriers
- Staffordshire terriers
- American bulldogs
- English bulldogs
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherd dogs
and Boxers, can be more sensitive to heat stress due to a condition called brachycephalic syndrome. This syndrome makes airline travel risky, especially if the pet is unattended in the cargo hold. Many airlines outright ban other breeds that are not predisposed to brachycephalic syndrome, such as Doberman Pinschers. These bans come from a concern that these dogs are dangerous to airline staff or could be destructive to the aircraft if they escape their enclosures.
Most of the laws are targeting “pit bull” type breeds and does not make any exception for temperament testing, the pet’s personal history or background.
BSL ultimately leads to more dogs being abandoned and euthanized. Some shelter dogs are not given a chance at adoption because of the way that they look. These prejudices can lead to families being forced to make a hard decision between giving up their dog or having an affordable place to live.
Dog Bite Prevention
The aim of this legislation is to target certain breeds in order to make communities safer. But safe from what? It all seems to boil down to dog bite prevention. No one breed is more likely to bite than another. In my experience as a veterinarian, I have been bitten by more Chihuahuas than Pit bulls, but there is no BSL against Chihuahuas. However, supporters of BSL will argue that even if a small dog is more likely to bite, large breeds like Pit bulls are very strong and will inflict more damage if a bite occurs.
The majority of dogs don’t bite “out of the blue,” while dogs that have never bitten can certainly still bite. There are ways to educate yourself about dog body language and how to prevent dog bites, regardless of the breed. Small children and the elderly are most likely to suffer dog bites and it is also important for families to temperament test any dog to see if they will be a good, safe fit.
Some excellent resources are listed below:
- Dog Bite Prevention with Dr. Sophia Yin
- AVMA’s Dog Bite Prevention Week
- Temperament Testing Puppies
- Temperament Testing Adult Dogs
But what about those dog attacks you hear about on the news or social media? In most cases, these dogs are unneutered, un-socialized and untrained. Some may be victims of dog fighting rings, where they are used as “bait dogs”, leaving them fearful and more likely to bite or attack. Banning the pit bull won’t stop these illegal operations ultimately, the goal is to crack down on irresponsible and criminal owners and breeders. Report any illegal, unethical or unsafe activity to your local law enforcement, even if it is a fellow dog owner at the park.
If you are affected by BSL or think you may be, it is best to stay pro-active. Find out what legislation is in force in your community or if any is being planned. Write letters or call your local, state or federal government representatives, urging them to not support such legislation.
For more information about Breed-Specific Legislation and how it may affect your family, please click here for the AVMA’s website.