Last week, we looked at the tragedy of the murder of Lennox, a sweet dog whose only crime was to fall within the spectrum of measurement that the Belfast City Council had deemed “dangerous.” Lennox was a victim of Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL. BSL kills dogs whose only crime is to be, or to resemble, a targeted breed. Dogs are destroyed not because of any aggressive act, but solely because of how they look. But you may be thinking, “Pit Bulls (or Dobermans or Rottweilers or Chows or …) are vicious dogs, and banning them is a proactive measure that saves lives.” But does it?
Attacks by large, powerful dogs are often exploited by the media. In my experiences as a dog trainer, however, small breed dogs are often quicker to bite. One of the worst bites I am personally familiar with involved man who reached into the middle of a fight between his Chihuahua and Shih Tzu and lost the end of one of his fingers. If you search for them, you can find other examples of small dogs attacking. However, small dogs typically don’t do as much damage as large dogs so attacks aren’t publicized.
A 1996 Scottish study looked at bites by mammals in the three month period before and after BSL was introduced. Prior to the Dangerous Dogs Act, 73.9 percent of mammalian bites were due to dogs. Post legislation, 73.1 percent of bites by mammals were due to dogs. Of the dog bites, only 6.1 percent were caused by Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermans, the breeds targeted by the BSL.
A 2007 Spanish study compared dog bites reported to the Aragon, Spain health department for five years before and after BSL was passed. The study concluded that there was no change in the number of dog bites reported both before and after legislation, and that the restricted breeds were responsible for less than 4 percent of all bites both before and after the BSL.
In June 2008, a report regarding the United Kingdom’s Dangerous Dog Act of 1991; the same Act that ultimately led to Lennox’s murder; showed that the number of people hospitalized for dog attacks has increased by almost 50 percent in the past decade, despite the Act. Also in June of 2008, the Netherlands repealed a 15-year ban on Pit Bulls after research proved that it did not improve public safety and that dog bite incidents did not decrease.
These are just a few real life examples showing that BSL doesn’t work. It does not decrease dog bites overall, and before and after legislation the numbers show that the restricted breeds make up a small total of overall dog bites to begin with. So what is the answer?
Responsible pet ownership is the first key. There were 33 fatal dog bites in the US in 2010. Sixty-four percent of these dogs, 21 of the 33, were what the National Canine Research Council classifies as “Resident Dogs.” Resident dogs are kept isolated. They typically live on chains or are ignored in yards, or are allowed to roam freely. They are often denied basic, humane care, so they frequently suffer from malnutrition, disease and illness. They have not been socialized or taught appropriate behaviors. Dogs are pack animals who desire and require companionship in order to grow and develop properly. Proper socialization allows them to learn how to interact with a wide variety of people, and gives them the tools to deal properly with unknown situations.
According to the American Humane Society, 50 percent of dog attacks involve children under 12 years old, and bite rates are dramatically higher among children who are 5 to 9 years old. A huge percentage of children bitten are unsupervised. It’s critically important that parents oversee contact between young children and dogs. Children need to be taught how to act around dogs, how to play with dogs, when to leave dogs alone and how to properly meet a dog. Dog-savvy children are seldom bitten.
Leash laws and vicious dog laws are also an important part of the package. Dogs allowed to roam freely, especially unspayed and unneutered dogs that may be driven by sexual tension, are more likely to bite. There also need to be legal ramifications for those persons whose dogs are proven to have bitten someone.
A popular slogan in the anti-BSL ranks is, “Ban the deed, not the breed.” Dogs bite people, not dog breeds. Please let Lennox’s death inspire you to stand with me in opposing Breed Specific Legislation at every opportunity.