Breed Specific Legislation was a hot topic this year with all of the news surrounding Montreal’s BSL. Although things did not turn out as we’d all hoped with Montreal, the fight there is not over. But in the states, the fight is over for two cities – Shawnee, KS and Hubbard, IA. Why is the fight over? Because officials repealed their BSL. (more…)
It’s been four days since the Montreal city council passed their ban on “pit bull type” dogs. Families in Montreal are scared, confused, and devastated. The rest of us are heartbroken and outraged.
But the people at the Montreal SPCA are passionately fighting their city officials. They’re fighting with facts, which show that breed specific legislation doesn’t reduce dog bites, and they’re offering up alternative approaches that actually work. (more…)
In May of 2015, Animal Farm Foundation transported six “pit bull” dogs from Prince George’s County in Maryland to our shelter in New York. The dogs were well-behaved, healthy, friendly, and played well with other dogs. So why did we need to transport them 300+ miles instead of being adopted out of their Maryland shelter?
Because they live in a county that still has an archaic breed ban in place. These dogs, all of varying appearances, behaviors, and breed mixes, were perceived to be “pit bull” dogs. That perception made them illegal in Prince George’s County. They cannot be adopted out of shelters. There are only two outcomes for these dogs: death or transport to a safe jurisdiction.
Cindy, identified as a “pit bull” dog, cannot be adopted out from Prince George’s County Animal Services due to this breed label. She’s one of six dogs transported to Animal Farm Foundation in NY.
Prince George’s County’s animal services staff work hard to arrange the latter outcome. Each day numerous dogs, subjectively identified at “pit bull” dogs, come into their shelter. None of them are allowed on the adoption floor. Many are dogs that were loved family pets taken straight from their homes. They were seized, not because they did anything wrong, but simply because of their appearance or breed label.
Now, these family pets are wards of the system.
Source: Animal Farm Foundation
The staff spends their time and resources making sure that these family dogs have a chance at a fair and humane outcome – adoption – by arranging transports around the country. AFF recently sponsored Aimee Sadler’s Dogs Playing For Life! training for the staff to help them enrich the lives of the dogs in their care and to assist in identifying transport candidates.
During her recent training, Aimee wasn’t surprised to see that there were many “pit bull” dogs that were “rock stars” in the play groups. Calls went out to shelters around the region to help get these highly adoptable dogs out of danger and into adoption programs.
AFF and Fairfax County Animal Shelter were two of the organizations that pulled numerous dogs after seeing Sadler’s play group footage.
The behavior and appearance of the 6 dogs from Maryland varies. When someone decided to label Leo (seen here) a “pit bull” dog, he became illegal in PG County. He is now at Animal Farm Foundation in NY.
Rodney Taylor, the director of Prince George’s County’s animal services facility, publicly opposes the ban for many reasons. The Huffington Post reports that the shelter has a “live release rate” of only 64 percent. This is not a reflection on the shelter’s policies or approach to adoptions. The high euthanasia rate is largely due to the law that bans them from adopting out any dog that is labeled a “pit bull.”
The euthanasia rate would be even higher if the staff didn’t work so hard to make transports a daily reality.
Source: Animal Farm Foundation
But until the ban is removed by lawmakers or struck down in court, the shelter will be stuck with a live release rate that falls far short of what progressive adoption centers, in areas without breed bans, attain. As Rodney told the Huffington Post:
“Such beautiful dogs come in and we can’t adopt them to families that want to adopt them.”
There are no facts or experts to back up the retention of this ineffective, inhumane law. In 2003, Prince George’s County authorized a task force to examine the results of their ban, which has been in place since 1996. The task force reported that the ban was ineffective, has a negative impact on public safety, stretches animal control and sheltering resources thin, and costs approximately a half million dollars a year to enforce.
That’s right, a half million dollars a year.
Luke (seen here) and the others from PG County enjoy playing with other dogs and people. Despite this, they are banned from the adoption floors in PG County because of their breed label.
In the fiscal year 2001-2002, costs due to “pit bull” dog confiscations totaled $560,000. And that doesn’t even touch the amount of money needed to cover the expenses for utilities, manpower, and overtime spent caring for the dogs. You can read the full report here.
Of course, that was 14 years ago. If we do some simple math and assume that the numbers remain the same, that’s $560,000 a year multiplied by 14 years, which means the current total spent enforcing a ban that doesn’t work could potentially be estimated at: $7,840,000.
The tax payers are footing this enormous bill for a law that does not increase public safety. They’re footing the bill for a law that tears innocent dogs away from loving families. And they’re paying for a law that strains shelter systems and animal control services by misdirecting their time and resources to addressing a crisis that need not exist.
What’s the alternative?
If the breed ban was repealed, that money could be used to enforce effective breed-neutral dangerous dog laws. The very ones the 2003 Task Force recommended. Animal control would no longer need to waste their time seizing safe family pets. Instead, they could focus on addressing problem dog owners (of any breed). Focusing on irresponsible owners would truly make the county safe for all of its citizens. Animal services wouldn’t have to make kennel space for loved dogs freshly torn away from their families. And instead they could use their time and resources to do what shelters are
Source: Animal Farm Foundation
Animal services wouldn’t have to make kennel space for loved dogs freshly torn away from their families. They could use their time and resources to do what shelters are meant to do: help the dogs that are truly homeless, evaluate them as individuals, and find them new families within their county.
In 2009, after the shelter spent 12 million to build a new facility, Taylor stated:
“There’s one goal: to become the number one shelter in the nation.”
Six years later, with a 64% live release rate and the breed ban still being in effect, Prince George’s County animal services is lagging far behind other shelters nationwide. No matter how hard they work, the ban prevents them from ever being able to achieve their goal.
Suzy, Monaco, Dessta, and the rest of the dogs transported to NY, all banned in PG County, are seen here enjoying a summer day with the interns at Animal Farm Foundation.
The breed ban in Prince George’s County is an ineffective and expensive mistake. It is time-consuming and nearly impossible to enforce. As the live release rate proves, it is incompatible with progressive animal sheltering policies that helps dogs find homes. It perpetuates myths, hysteria and fear. It suggests we can accurately
It perpetuates myths, hysteria, and fear. One of those myths is the assumption that we can accurately identify a dog’s breed based on their looks and that a dog’s breed is an accurate predictor of behavior. Because of all of this, the ban jeopardizes everyone’s safety by misdirecting money, resources, and time.
Source: Animal Farm Foundation
Breed specific legislation denies every resident of Prince George’s County the opportunity to live in a safe and humane community.
When will lawmakers listen to the task force recommendations, given more than a decade ago, and finally remove this failed legislation? When will they free up those wasted millions of dollars to fund breed neutral laws that are proven to keep communities safe? Change must happen now. There’s no more time or money to waste for the families of Prince George’s County.
You can learn more about BSL and building safe communities in our ebooks.
If you’ve ever thought that one person can’t make a difference, we encourage you to read this interview with Gerald “Jerry” Sager! A lawyer originally from South Dakota, Jerry was a major force behind the 2014 passing of South Dakota’s SB 75 which bans breed specific legislation on the state level.
South Dakota joins 17 other states that now have preemptions in place, which prohibits municipalities from passing breed discriminatory laws. Best Friends Animal Society recently released this video about the legislative process for two recent preemptions, including South Dakota. You can watch that here.
Jerry did a great job researching stakeholder issues and laying the groundwork before the bill was introduced. The National Canine Research Council consulted with Jerry prior to the bill being introduced and they connected us to him for an interview because he’s a terrific example of how concerned citizens can make a BIG difference!
Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get involved in working for the BSL preemption in SD?
My wife and I owe the new South Dakota law to our “pit bull” dog mix, Chip, and our Doberman mix, Jeter. We adopted Jeter from the local humane society and, one day, while on the way to law school class, I found Chip on the side of the road. Then, not long after finding Chip, the town of Aberdeen, SD talked about a pit bull ban, and that is when the idea of a law prohibiting Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) came to us. I researched that idea and learned that other states already had such a law. In November of 2011, StubbyDog ran an article about us that gives some insight into why and when my wife and I began to pursue this endeavor.
How did you get this particular process started?
Once my wife and I became fixated on the idea that people in government can enact regulations that ban and/or significantly adversely affect the owner(s) of a certain or perceived breed of dog, we began to thoroughly research everything that has to do with the issue. We researched everything we could think of, such as dog bite statistics, how dog bite statistics come about (what data/information is used to generate dog bite statistics), what type of effect do breed bans and other forms of breed specific legislation have and are they or are they not effective in reducing dog bites. We wanted to learn every argument there is for breed specific legislation, and we wanted to know every argument against breed-specific legislation.
We knew we couldn’t be successful in getting a law passed prohibiting breed specific legislation if we didn’t know the facts ourselves, so we read and watched every resource we get ahold of, such as online resources, relevant books and magazines, and videos. In addition, we also researched what certain relevant organizations, like the American Veterinary Medical Association, have said regarding breed specific legislation.
We also looked up the wording of the statutes of states that at that time had a law prohibiting some form of breed specific legislation. Every resource proved to be very informative, especially the data compiled by the National Canine Research Council, Animal Farm Foundation, and Best Friends Animal Society.
You knew it would be important to engage all the stakeholders prior to the legislative session. Can you explain how you did this and why it was critical to the success of the bill?
We couldn’t have been successful if it weren’t for the certain people who have been working on this issue for a long time and gathering and putting together the needed information that we used to help backup our position. Eventually, we brought the idea of the bill that would prohibit breed specific legislation to a few legislators. Through my work as a legislative intern in 2006, I am acquainted with a few legislators, so I reached out to some of them hoping to get a feel for what kind of response such a bill would receive and to see if any of them would be receptive.
There was one Legislator who got the bill typed up and visited with quite a few legislators in 2013. But in the end, we got the sense that there was a lack of knowledge of the topic of BSL and general misconceptions. The legislator suggested we hire a lobbyist.
But we were already a quarter into the 2013 legislative session and up against the deadline to introduce bills, so we ultimately decided not to propose the bill. It was a tough decision, but we were told that if we did propose the bill and the bill was defeated, then it would be nearly impossible for the bill to ever have success in the future.
In addition to reaching out to certain legislators, we also reached out to other individuals and organizations throughout South Dakota who we thought might be supportive and influential.
We contacted local animal shelters, veterinarians, the South Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, animal control, and a dog behaviorist. These are local individuals and organizations that are considered experts and whose stance, one way or another, would likely be impactful. Fortunately, pretty much everyone we contacted said they and/or their organization was supportive of our bill.
At this point we decided not to propose the bill during the 2013 legislative session and to gear up for the next legislative session instead. In 2014 I went to Pierre, SD and spent a week at the capitol visiting with legislators about the potential bill and letting them know that they would have an opportunity to vote on the bill during the upcoming legislative session. I knew that time was limited when visiting with individual legislators, so my wife and I created a colored brochure that explained the bill, what it would accomplish, and its importance.
Later, I sent a personal letter to each legislator. For the legislators with whom I personally visited, I thanked them for the opportunity to visit and for the legislators with whom I did not get the chance to visit, I explained why I was at the Capitol, included a copy of the brochure, and mentioned that I was looking forward to working with them in the upcoming session.
You wound up hiring a lobbyist. In our experience, this isn’t always a necessity, but it did make the difference in this situation. How were you able to secure the funding to take this approach?
Following the time at the Capitol the next step was to find the lobbyist. We eventually found a lobbyist who was a former South Dakota Attorney General, and respected amongst the legislators. Acquiring the funding for the lobbyist was a little difficult. To secure funding, I reached out to every organization you could think of and everyone was supportive, but no one could contribute funds. Eventually Best Friends Animal Society was able to help.
Because Best Friends is involved with many legislative issues throughout the country, they had to make sure they would have the funding available and that success in South Dakota was actually viable.
Because my wife and I had done a significant amount of groundwork and, basically, the only thing we were missing was a lobbyist, they were able to secure funding. Best Friends was also able to testify in both committee hearings on behalf of the bill.
Where there any unexpected challenges that you encountered during this process?
There were a few challenges. Most, if not all of the legislators, had never heard about breed specific legislation and when introduced to the idea of a bill that would prohibit breed specific legislation, they initially thought BSL did make sense because of their preconceived ideas about “pit bull” dogs.
In addition, most legislators wrestled with the issue of local control. When that happens, the argument for local control comes into play to protect the peoples’ right(s) and privileges. Here, however, our bill was trying to give the people more rights, or at least preserve their rights, and, therefore local government doesn’t come into play.
Moreover, most bills enacted into law affects local control, therefore, the argument that a bill takes away local control can be used on almost every bill. So the two main hurdles we encountered during the bill’s legislative process were the local control issue and the preconceived notion that certain dogs are dangerous.
What advice would you give to other concerned citizens who would like to get involved with BSL preemptions in their states?
My suggestion is to just get started and research the issue by reading and watching everything that is relevant. Getting a bill passed is hard; you have to do your homework. I would also start reaching out to individuals and organizations that appear would be supportive of the bill and whose support would be influential when the bill is in front of legislators. In our case, some of the local experts that we contacted were willing to reach out to their legislators and testify on behalf of the bill. This definitely helped the bill to pass.
And put in face time. After SB 75 passed, I was told by a legislator that the time I spent circulating with legislators the previous year was beneficial because the legislators remembered visiting with me about the bill.
Once the bill was proposed, the bill was no longer a secret and the media jumped on it, but, by that time, we had laid the ground work and it was time for the legislative process to do its thing.
Congratulations on a job well done Jerry. Thank you for talking with us and for all your hard work!