Last Wednesday, while most of us lay sleeping, a murder was committed. The victim was chosen by racial profiling, the murder was a racially motivated hate crime, and was commissioned by government officials. It occurred in Belfast, and the victim was a seven-year-old American Bulldog/Labrador Retriever mix named Lennox. His story is a heartbreaking one that began two years ago, and it should concern everyone who has a dog.
Two years ago, animal control officers took a wrong turn and ended up at Lennox’s home. They realized their mistake, but, observing Lennox, said they had to measure him. After doing so, they claimed he met the measurement outlined by the city in their dangerous dog legislation, and as such, would have to be destroyed. Lennox was held in solitary confinement for two years while his family fought for his freedom. They showed proof, via DNA testing, that Lennox was not a pit bull. They had expert behaviorists evaluate him. They presented information stating that Lennox was their ill daughter’s therapy dog. \
Over 200,000 people around the world signed a petition asking Lennox be freed. Well known dog trainers Cesar Milan and Victoria Stillwell both attempted to save Lennox. Stillwell traveled to Belfast, repeatedly trying to meet with the Belfast City Council, and offered to remove Lennox, all expenses paid, to a sanctuary in the U.S. Remember, no one had complained about Lennox. He had not bitten or even growled at anyone or any creature and was not a neighborhood nuisance. Animal control happened on him by accident. Despite all of this, Lennox was killed.
Breed Specific Legislation, commonly referred to as BSL, is a law that bans or restricts certain types of dogs based on their appearance, usually because they are perceived as “dangerous” breeds or breed mixes. A breed ban usually requires that all dogs of a certain breed or breeds, (the “targeted dogs”) or that appear to be of the specified breed(s) be removed from the area where the band has been implemented. After the date of the ban, targeted dogs may be subject to being confiscated and killed by animal control.
Breed restrictions may require the owner of a breed to obey limitations. These may include muzzling the dog in public, keeping the dog completely away from the public, spaying or neutering the dog, containing the dog in a kennel with specific requirements as to height, material, flooring, etc., purchasing a specific amount of liability insurance, posting “vicious dog” signs and more. The bans and restrictions are applied automatically, not because a specific dog has performed any hostile act.
Which breeds are targeted? Every locality that introduces BSL typically includes Pit Bulls in their ban. But what is a Pit Bull? Pitties are often described as medium sized with a short coat; powerful, muscular build; wide chest; broad head; powerful jaws and a thick nose. I have a dog that is more than medium sized, but the rest of the description fits him to a T. The problem is, he’s a purebred, champion, Labrador Retriever. The description could also fit Boxers, Great Danes, Bulldogs (English, American and Olde English), Bull terriers, Weimaraners, Staffordshire terriers and more, as well as mixes of these breeds. It can be very difficult to correctly identify the breed or breed mix. A great illustration of this can be found at http://www.understand-a-bull.com/Findthebull/findpitbull_v3.html. The quiz shows 26 different dogs. All are purebred dogs of known parentage. Take the quiz and see how easily you can find the pit, and see how many times you are fooled.
Pit Bulls are not the only breed targeted by BSL. Other commonly named breeds include Akitas, Chow Chows, Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Bulldogs and many of the mastiff breeds. However, in various locales in the United States, there are at least 75 different breeds banned for various reasons. Included on the list are Labs, Golden Retrievers and Great Danes, as well as breeds such as Pugs, Boston Terriers and French Bulldogs. More breeds are targeted all the time. The fact that your breed may not be included on a list now does not mean that he won’t find himself there in the future, or be mistaken for one of these breeds. I once had an animal control officer compliment me on my “gorgeous” Pittie as he admired my champion Labrador. Luckily for me, Pits were not targeted in that municipality, but had they been, I could have found myself fighting for my dog’s life.
BSL should be of concern to every dog owner. Next week we’ll continue to examine the problems with it.