Feb 11, 2021

Dogs are not humans: why “dangerous dog” registries are a flawed idea

Articles

The notion of public registries for convicted offenders living among us is not new. The use of these public lists was popularized in the 1990s. Are these registries effective? We have no idea because that is not our area of expertise. We do know that using these registries as a model for tracking “dangerous dogs” is a flawed idea.

Why? Because the focus is on the wrong end of the leash (if there even is a leash!).

Today, two separate news stories caught our attention. The first was a story about a family who, despite exhausting all of their possible resources, was forced to part with their beloved family pet because that dog is labeled “pit bull” in a town with breed-specific legislation (BSL).

The second story was about a small town legislator who introduced legislation requiring a dangerous dog registry after his own dog was seriously injured by an off-leash dog.

While these stories may seem disconnected, they are not. Both are the result of a failed notion of how we should govern dog ownership in our communities.

We all know why BSL doesn’t work. These two news stories are case in point. BSL is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive. It removes non-threatening family pets because of what they look like while missing dogs like the one who injured the legislator’s dog (and reportedly several dogs before).

Dangerous dog registries are a reaction to the acts of reckless dog owners. While they might be well-intended, there is no evidence that these laws are effective in changing owner behavior.

There is no central reporting database, no standardized registration requirements, no standard for notifying neighbors, and no standard for how municipalities determine if a dog is dangerous.

Across our country, anything from running-at-large to killing another domestic animal can earn a dog the label “dangerous,” even though the behaviors are not at all the same.

The one thing that remains consistent in every dangerous dog situation is that a human owner failed to properly manage their dog. In the case of the dog that injured the legislator’s pet, the owner seems to have failed repeatedly, creating an observed pattern of reckless behavior.

There’s a failed notion of how we should govern dogs in our commiunities

Don’t misunderstand, dogs (regardless of breed label) pose virtually no risk to communities. When we consider the multiple daily interactions we have with dogs, we can see that living with or near dogs is statistically very, very safe.

However, since nobody write news stories about dogs sleeping on the couch or playing with the cat, we tend to only discuss and sensationalize the interactions that result in an injury.

Just as is the case with breed-specific legislation, dangerous dog registries fail to put the onus on the person responsible for keeping the dog and the community safe.

If not dangerous dog registries, then what?

Educate dog owners.

Assist dog owners who want to do better but don’t have options. Ensure that your animal control officers are appropriately informed and staffed so they can help dog owners who want it and cite dog owners who are reckless.

Recommended reading on solutions for safe communities for people and pets

Effective Animal Ordinance Models from National Canine Research Council
The Ineefectiveness of Breed-Specific Legislation