Failure to Improve Safety

BSL has not been effective in decreasing dog bites or increasing public safety.

Just a few examples…

The Netherlands

In June 2008, the Dutch government announced the repeal of their 15-year-long ban on pit bulls due to its failure to ensure public safety. Dog bites continued to rise in spite of the ban. The government is now looking into behavior-based, rather than breed-based, legislation. (Note that the article says the ban lasted 25 years; this is obviously incorrect if the ban passed in 1993.)

The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s Dangerous Dog Act bans the American Pit Bull Terrier and three other breeds of dogs and their crossbreeds. Yet reports from the U.K. indicate that dog bites requiring hospital treatment have not decreased. Rather, 4,328 dog bites were reported treated by U.K. hospitals in 1999, whereas in the year ending April 2011 there were 6,118 such treatments—an increase of 41% over ten years [HES data]. The U.K. also continues to experience approximately four dog bite fatalities per year.

The media and many others have noted a sharp increase in the number of “status dogs” being obtained and ultimately abused. A Dogs Trust press release from 2012 noted that numbers of stray “status dogs” had increased by 148% from the previous year. One contributor to a 2011 roundtable debate on the DDA observed: “Banning breeds inevitably makes them more desirable for the wrong kind of person. Pit bulls and Staffie crosses are now so common that people are inevitably moving on to the next thing – huskies, molosos, presca canarios. We can’t add every dog to a banned list. We need to look at why people are getting these dogs.” The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has repeatedly observed that the Dangerous Dog Act does not address the ownership and management issues that lead to the creation of dangerous dogs.

Following a fatal attack in early 2013, a select group of MP’s formed a committee to review the Dangerous Dogs Act and the changes officials proposed in response to this incident. The ultimate outcome of this committee is a report that concludes the banning of certain breeds in the UK is accepted as a failure in reducing bites by both targeted dogs and all others.

The U.K. has been struggling for at least half a decade to decide how to handle their continued problems with dangerous dogs. Most officials and organizations agree that the DDA is not protecting the public, but very few agree on exactly what should be done about it. In February 2011, Scotland officials took matters into their own hands by revising their laws to remove BSL (but unfortunately, as part of the U.K., Scotland cannot get out from under the DDA).

Aragon, Spain

Spain passed the Dangerous Animals Act in 2000, placing restrictions on nine breeds of dogs and dogs possessing “characteristics” of those breeds. A scientific study analyzing dog bites reported to the Aragon health department during a five year period before the Act was passed (1995 to 1999) and the five year period after passage (2000 to 2004) found that there was no significant difference in the number of dog bites in Spain before or after the Dangerous Animals Act passed.

Furthermore, the study found that the most popular breeds (none of which were targeted by the legislation) were responsible for the most bites both before and after passage of the BSL. The targeted breeds accounted for a very small portion of bites both before and after passage of the BSL. The scientists concluded that there was no rational basis for Spain’s BSL.

Prince George’s County, MD

In 1996, Prince George’s County, Maryland, instituted a pit bull ban. In 2003, a task force set out to determine whether the ban was having the desired effect in a number of areas, including public safety.

The task force found that

  • The “public safety benefit is unmeasurable.”
  • Across the board, dog bites had decreased among all breeds at about the same rate. The ban did not appear to have had any noticeable effect on public safety.
  • What’s more, the task force expressed concern that the ban might actually be having a negative effect on public safety; animal control facilities and workers were stretched thin because they were constantly having to respond to “pit bull” complaints and house alleged pit bulls. The task force felt that this had a negative effect on animal control’s ability to respond to other types of violations.

The task force urged Prince George’s County to rescind the ban and institute non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws.

Denver, CO

Denver’s ban on “pit bulls” has been in place since 1989, and has long been touted as a success by a handful of Denver officials, but it turns out that the results of the ban have been unclear.

Since the ban, there has been…
no fatal attack by a pit bull Fatal attack by a chow mix
fewer bites by pit bulls Dog bites by all types of dogs have declined
fewer pit bull-related complaints Pit bull population is not believed to have decreased in Denver
Thousands of “pit bull”-looking dogs have been killed by animal control for no reason other than appearance.
Bites by other types of dogs now exceed the number of bites by pit bull types

Recent press coverage has also noted: “Between 1995 and 2006, Denver had almost six times as many dog-related hospitalizations compared to Boulder, even though Denver’s population is less than twice that of Boulder.” Boulder does not have BSL.

Aurora, CO

Aurora passed a breed ban on “pit bulls” and seven rarer breeds (e.g. Dogo Argentinos) effective 2006. The most recent statistics from Aurora demonstrate that the annual total of dog bites, including severe dog bites, has not decreased. The bites are primarily inflicted by non-banned breeds and types of dogs. Statistics also indicate that severe bites have not decreased, and non-banned breeds of dogs have been overwhelmingly responsible for those—putting lie to the oft-repeated claim that banning “pit bulls” reduces severe bites.

Perplexingly, after passing their ban, Aurora changed the way they tally dog bites—along with some other poor data collection procedures that make their numbers extremely difficult to compare from year to year. In 2011 discussions about the breed ban, city officials carefully ignored the city’s collected data on dog bites; possibly this was due to the data’s flaws, but more likely, the numbers were just plain embarrassing. The data shows that citizens of Aurora are no safer from dog bites today than they were before the breed ban was instituted.

Surely someone has had success with BSL?

The effects of BSL on public safety are seriously understudied, especially by the scientific community.

The few scientific studies that exist have indicated that BSL has little to no effect on public safety. In some cases, as in the U.K., dog bites appear to be a growing problem in spite of BSL.

To date, there are no scientific studies anywhere that confirm BSL or breed bans have had a significant positive effect on public safety.

The reasons for this lack of data are numerous:

  • Some cities that pass BSL fail to collect bite data after passage of the legislation. They assume that the problem is solved, and do not look into the issue again.
  • Or, as with Aurora, the city changes its method of bite data collection so that it becomes difficult if not impossible to compare pre- and post-BSL dog bites.
  • Sometimes the city only tracks bites by “pit bulls” and not other breeds, so it is not possible to discern whether another breed is causing more problems after passage of BSL.
  • Often, the city does not make its dog bite data freely and easily available upon request. The reasons why are unclear. One could surmise that this may be because of improper or outdated methods of record-keeping, overburdened office workers, or embarrassment over unfavorable statistics.
  • Breed identification and many other issues raise questions as to the accuracy and validity of many dog bite statistics.
  • There is no uniform method for collecting dog bite information, nor is there a primary organization to which all dog bites are reported.

In the few cases where sufficient data has been scientifically gathered and analyzed, BSL has not been shown to reduce dog bites or improve public safety.

What does happen under breed-specific legislation?

  • Innocent people continue to be threatened, bitten, traumatized, disfigured, and killed—by non-targeted breeds and types of dogs.
  • Innocent dogs are killed because they look a certain way.
  • Millions of dollars are wasted and animal control resources stretched thin in order to kill dogs and not save people.
  • Abusive and irresponsible owners carry on with “business as usual.”
  • Good owners and their families are outcasts (if they keep their targeted dog) or devastated (if they give up their targeted dog).
  • Reason, science, and expertise gets ignored or, even worse, scoffed at.
  • Nobody learns anything about the real reasons why dogs bite and attack, safety around dogs, or responsible dog ownership.

Breed-specific legislation makes victims of us all.

Sources and Resources

Associated Press. “Dutch government to lift 25-year ban on pit bulls.” June 10, 2008.

Aurora City Council Meeting, Presentation regarding results of ban , June 27, 2008.

BBC News. “Dog asbos come into force in Scotland.” 26 February 2011.

Collier, Stephen. “Breed-specific legislation and the pit bull terrier: Are the laws justified?” Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2006) 1, 17-22.

Davis, Rowenna. “Beware of the law when it comes to dangerous dogs.” The Guardian, 30 September 2011.

Lakhani, Nina. “Dog bite victims up by 50 per cent in 10 years.” The Independent Online, Dec. 30, 2007.

Prince George’s County Task Force Report, 2003.

Rosado et. al. “Spanish dangerous animals act: Effect on the epidemiology of dog bites.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2007) 2, 166-174.

Sorenson, Dan. “‘Dangerous breed’ ban in Denver yields few clear results.” Arizona Daily Star, Dec. 3, 2006.

Watson, Linda. “Does Breed Specific Legislation reduce dog aggression on humans and other animals? A review paper.” From the Endangered Dog Breeds Association of Australia.

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