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All Dogs Are Equal

Raise the bar for dogs, families and communities by fighting harmful breed-specific policies

When Michael brought Hennessy home, the 3-month-old puppy fit right into the family. Caring for the pup also made Michael happy and helped him cope with a mental illness.

But nine months later, the family received a notice from their apartment complex: It said they had to get rid of Hennessy because of her breed. Michael and his family could have tried to register Hennessy as an assistance animal, but they feared eviction. They lived in a publicly subsidized unit and would have been hard-pressed to find another affordable rental. Reluctantly, they surrendered their sweet dog to the local animal care and control agency.

This scenario is all too common. Across the country, housing complexes and even entire communities ban or restrict dogs because of their breed (or perceived breed) or their size.

The HSUS opposes such public policies and housing restrictions as inhumane and ineffective. There is no evidence that breed-specific laws reduce dog bites or attacks on people, and they divert resources from more effective animal control and public safety initiatives. As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes in its report on community dog-bite prevention, “singling out 1 or 2 breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment. Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community’s citizens.”

Breed-based policies aren’t founded on science or credible data, but on myths and misinformation surrounding different breeds. Their impact on dogs, families and animal shelters, however, is heartbreakingly real.

Learn the truth about breed bans, and help your community become a place where dogs aren’t judged by their looks, but by their behavior.

Bad Laws Have High Costs

Breed bans and restrictions force dogs out of homes and into shelters, taking up kennel space and resources that could be used for animals who are truly homeless. Underfunded animal control agencies bear the burden of enforcing the laws, and are often called on to decide, based on looks alone, whether a dog belongs to a certain breed. Battles erupt between dog owners and local agencies—and often continue to the courts—costing the community resources that could have been spent on effective, breed-neutral dog laws and enforcement.

One of the most difficult challenges we have as an organization is going to someone’s house, knocking on their door, and seeing their American pit bull terrier sitting in their living room watching television with the family, and have to take it out. Where the dog has done nothing wrong, no problems, but is just because its breed, he has to be removed.” — Rodney Taylor, associate director of the animal management division of Prince George’s County, Md., testifying in 2012 to the impact of breed bans in his community

Science Doesn’t Support Breed Bias

Experts have found that no breed is more likely to bite than another. The AVMA, the National Animal Control Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oppose breed-specific legislation (BSL), along with leading animal welfare organizations.

Complicating the issue of breed bans and restrictions is the fact that about half the estimated 80 million American pet dogs are mixed breeds. Through canine genetic testing, studies have found that even people in animal-related professions can’t accurately identify the breeds in a mixed-breed dog’s genealogy. Tragically, breed-biased laws and housing policies have caused the deaths of countless dogs whose only crime was to resemble a certain breed.

Dozens of popular breeds have been targeted by breed-specific legislation. Photo by Burntright/Stock.xchng

Breeds Don’t Magically Disappear

In a 2012 article about the long-standing breed ban in Miami-Dade County, Fla., Kathy Labrada, then head of animal services enforcement, admitted that the ban had been a failure. “No, it has not been effective,” she told The Daily Telegraph. “To target a specific breed I don’t think is logical.”

Some banned breeds, like German shepherds and pit-bull-types, are among the most popular dogs in the U.S., reflecting just how out of touch these policies are. Many animal shelters are flooded with dogs who, because of breed bans or housing restrictions, can’t be adopted to the people in their communities. Shelters in neighboring cities and counties often end up taking in the dogs, creating something like a shell game.

Katie Barnett, an animal law attorney in Kansas, remembers when animal control officers showed up at her door several years ago and told her that she had two weeks to get rid of her dog, Katrina. Instead, Barnett and Katrina moved just 10 miles away, to another city in the Kansas City metropolitan area that didn’t ban Staffordshire bull terriers. Her experience, Barnett says, underscores the illogic behind a patchwork of local breed bans: “I can live in one city and by simply crossing the street into another, all of the sudden my dog is labeled dangerous.”

BSL Is a Dying Trend

Fortunately, more people and their elected officials are learning why breed bans don’t make sense, and BSL is on the decline. In recent years, 19 states have passed laws prohibiting BSL on the local level, and nearly 100 municipalities have replaced BSL with breed-neutral policies. Repealing BSL has not resulted in more dog bites in these communities. In fact, after Ohio repealed its statewide breed-based law, State Farm Insurance reported a decrease in dog-related claims in the state.

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