What is Breed-Specific Legislation?
Breed specific legislation (BSL) is an attempt by legislators to reduce dog bites by targeting specific types of dogs.
Often, BSL is implemented as a reaction to one or two recent and highly publicized serious attacks in the area. Politicians feel that they must be seen to be doing something to protect public safety. The media jumps on board very quickly and often points out additional incidents involving similar breeds (or dogs that might be that breed), at the same time blatantly ignoring or minimizing attacks by other breeds.
In some cases, the politicians truly believe that there is something "different" about a certain breed or two, but in most cases, the targeting of certain types of dogs is purely designed to appease a misinformed and frightened public without having to put time, effort, and money into solving the problem of dog bites by all breeds.
BSL can range from something as mild as a higher licence fee for specific breeds to an all-out ban, including mandatory destruction of any prohibited dog found within the boundaries of the legislating jurisdiction.
Some restrictions that various versions of BSL impose are:
- muzzling and leashing in public
- muzzling and leashing in cars
- extra-short leash lengths
- automatic dangerous or vicious dog designation, without any bite history
- banning from city parks and beaches where other breeds are allowed
- banning from leash-free parks where other breeds are allowed
- banning completely from jurisdiction (although sometimes existing dogs are allowed to stay)
- special (i.e., more expensive) licensing and jurisdiction-wide registry
- special tags identifying the dog as a restricted dog
- mandatory microchipping and photograph
- mandatory insurance (often one million dollars) for each individual dog on the premises
- mandatory signage indicating the presence of the dog on the owner's property
- mandatory secure enclosures (in some cases, mandatory chaining)
- mandatory spay/neuter (to eventually eliminate the breed entirely)
- higher fines and/or jail time if a restricted breed bites or menaces
- fines and/or jail time for any infraction of any provision regarding restricted breeds
- age limit for walking the dog in public
- persons with criminal records not allowed to own a restricted breed
- ability of law enforcement to stop owners on the street just to check the dog's status
- ability of law enforcement to seize dogs without proof of wrongdoing
- ability of law enforcement to enter an owner's home, with or without a warrant, to investigate and/or seize a dog
Because it is impossible to scientifically or legally identify what breed or breeds an individual dog may contain, BSL legislation often places the responsibility for disproving the breed-specific charges onto the shoulders of the owner. Since many of these laws contain phrases such as "predominantly conforming to the breed standards" or "having substantially similar physical characteristics", the owner is left with the unenviable task of proving that his dog does not "look like" one of the targeted breeds. If he is unable to do so convincingly, the usual result is the destruction of the dog, as well as fines and/or jail time for the owner.
BSL has been proven to be ineffective, unenforceable, and expensive.