The Problem with Breed Specific Legislation

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  • Topic: Dog, Dog breed, Breed-specific legislation
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  • Published : February 2, 2006
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The Problem With Breed Specific Legislation

The time has arrived, many say, for restricting the presence of- and even

eliminating- certain breeds of dogs. There have been many documented instances of

vicious dog attacks in cities across America . As a result, around the

country many communities are enacting laws based on the misguided belief that a dog's

breed is responsible for its behavior. These laws are commonly referred to as breed bans,

or breed-specific legislation. Breed specific legislation is any law that prohibits the breed,

or kind, of dog that someone is allowed by law to own. There are many

practical alternatives to these laws that would provide adequate protection to the general

public, without penalizing all dogs in certain breeds. Breed specific

legislation does not consider the individual dog, it's past actions and behavior, or even

the way that the dog was raised and treated by its owner. Just being the wrong breed is all

that is taken into account; the dog is presumed guilty until proven innocent. Every dog

has the potential to bite, even the most stringent breed specific legislation will not change

that. That is why, instead resorting to breed specific legislation, dog owners need to be

responsible and have their pets trained as puppies to avoid any behavioral or socialization

problems later on in life.

Dog owners often challenge the constitutionality of breed specific regulations.

The challenge is a difficult one because in general the courts defer to lawmakers, upholding legislation when there is some rational connection to the promotion of public

safety. Discrimination by breed of dog does not discriminate on the basis of a

constitutionally protected class such as race, sex, or religion. Discrimination,

therefore, on the basis of breed of dog is constitutional if there is a rational basis for the

classification and a reasonable relationship between the classification and the purpose of

the law.

Opponents of breed specific ordinances vigorously deny the rationality of the

classification, while proponents just as vigorously supports it. In many cases, courts

uphold breed specific regulations as constitutional. In some cases, all or

parts of regulations have been struck down, primarily on the basis that the language

identifying the breed is too vague.

An ordinance is unconstitutionally vague if it encourages arbitrary and erratic law

enforcement. A law regulating conduct must give adequate notice of what is prohibited,

so that a person knows what is prohibited and so as not to delegate basic policy matters to

policemen, judges, and juries for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis. Strict

precision is not required. The language used, however, must be sufficiently clear that the

person subject to its requirements does not have to guess at the meaning. A court will

uphold the law if the meaning of the statute is clear to a person of ordinary intelligence.

Animal laws are not always a result of state and federal battles. Feuds between neighbors

often erupt over animals, heated arguments that often flow over into

complaints to local governments. Local governments grease the squeaky wheels with

some ordinance or other tacked on to the zoning code or the criminal code to make it

seem like they are doing something about the problem. These ordinances are often passed

out of frustration, with little consideration for the consequences. Horrible cases of dog

attacks bring a flurry of laws to restrict or ban certain breeds or mixes in a frantic attempt

to protect the public from dogs perceived as aggressive because of their appearance or

because a similar dog committed a hostile action against a person or pet. In

Ohio, the only state with breed-specific restrictions in its legal code, any dog that looks

like a ‘pit bull' is...
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