This Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) guide is for new or future dog owners who are considering a specific breed of canine. BSL is a ham-fisted attempt to regulate or outright ban certain dog breeds with the goal of decreasing dog attacks on people and other animals. It is ham-fisted because it does not actually address the problem of dangerous dogs. In fact, it is more discriminatory than it is helpful in any way. Right off the bat, we'd like to state that we do not support BSL, and neither do animal organizations like the ASPCA and the Humane Society. If you stop reading by this sentence, at least know that, and also know that BSL is not scientifically backed.
However, BSL is a fact in quite a few states, and it is important for all new dog owners to know whether it affects them.
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The best way to get the most up-to-date information on BSL is through the BSL Census, a map that is constantly being updated.
Commonly banned breeds
Certain breeds of dog are banned via BSL simply because of the way the breed looks. The Michigan State University College of Law explains, "Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is defined as a law or statute that equates the qualities of a dangerous dog with a certain breed, and bans or restricts certain breeds based on identity, not behavior of a specific animal. This type of legislation does not make concessions for those members of the breed who are valuable assets to their communities, such as therapy dogs, assistance dogs, or advanced trained dogs such as drug dogs and search and rescue dogs." Perhaps the main problem with BSL is that it does not make any exceptions for the banned or restricted breeds. In this way, it becomes particularly discriminatory against the breed. It does not matter whether the individual dog has committed any offense – BSL decides that it must be banned or restricted because of the way it looks or because its breed has a "reputation" for being "dangerous." Your individual dog may be perfectly well-behaved and not a threat in any way, (or simply be a reactive dog or maybe be a little stressed) and yet BSL will not take this into account. That is one of the reasons why it is being fought by dog owners, animal rights organizations, and animal advocates.
Here are the most commonly banned breeds via BSL:
- Pit Bull
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Belgian Malinois
- Dogo Argentino
- Doberman Pinscher
- Cane Corso
- German Shepherd
- Alaskan Malamute
- Siberian Husky
- Presa Canario
- Bull Terrier
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Wolf Hybrids
- American Bulldog
- Chow Chow
History of BSL
Breed-specific legislation initially came into being in the early 1980s. It was a knee-jerk reaction to several fatalities that occurred following attacks by certain dogs. The goal of these laws was to identify which breeds were "inherently dangerous" to people and other animals. Breed-specific legislation also varies in severity. In some bans, certain breeds are banned from areas like public parks and beaches. Other laws or statutes ban certain breeds altogether from specific towns or cities.
Some breed-specific laws can include restrictions instead of outright bans. Some of them include: muzzling the dog in public, spaying or neutering the dog, containing the dog in a specified kennel with features like concrete floors and chain link walls, keeping a dog on a specific sized leash, purchasing liability insurance of a predetermined amount, hanging signs that say "vicious dog" at the place of residence.
The status of BSL in each state
States that enforce BSL, and where there is no legislation that prohibits BSL:
- North Dakota
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
States with some laws that prohibit BSL from being enforced, but some cases are allowed:
States with no BSL:
- South Dakota
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
The bottom line
Researchers agree that BSL and breed bans do not actually address the underlying issue of dog bites or attacks, but of course, all dog owners need to be aware of existing laws or restrictions in their area.
The good news is that BSL is on the decline because more and more people are becoming aware of its ineffectiveness. Not only is BSL ineffective and useless, it also drives perfectly good dogs out of their homes and into shelters, taking up space and resources that can go to dogs that are actually homeless and in need of help. The national trend is leaning towards repealing breed-specific legislation, with states actually passing legislation to preempt municipalities, local governments, from passing BSL.
If you're interested, you can look for resources in your area to help fight against BSL.
- Michigan State University - Animal Legal & Historical Center: Breed-Specific Legislation in the United States
- BSL Census: Breed Specific Legislation Map
- ASPCA: What Is Breed-Specific Legislation?
- Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Maumelle council again looks at lifting dog-breed restrictions
- The Humane Society of the United States: Repealing breed-specific legislation
- ASPCA: Preemption Laws: When State Authority Overrides Local Authority