Breed Discrimination

Despite the close bond humans have with their companion dogs, dog bites and bite-related injuries do occur.  In response, cities across the country have enacted breed-specific ordinances which ban ownership of dog breeds deemed to be dangerous–irrespective of the individual dog’s behavior or whether he or she has a bite history.  Such ordinances often raise serious constitutional objections, demonize a breed of dog irrespective of individual behavior, and perhaps most importantly, fail to increase public safety.    

Breed-specific ordinances fail to address the root cause of dog bites.  Laws that ban or place restrictions on particular breeds without reference to the behavior of the individual dogs punish even responsible pet owners with entirely friendly and well-supervised dogs. Placing the onus where it belongs–on the pet owner–by enforcing laws designed to ensure proper supervision of dogs (i.e., anti-tethering laws, dog-licensing laws, leash laws, animal-fighting laws, and well-crafted breed-neutral dangerous-dog laws) improves public safety more than overly broad efforts to ban or discriminate against specific dog breeds without regard to the behavior or temperament of the individual dog. A 2014 article in Time Magazine, “The Problem with People, Not Pit Bulls,” addresses the reality that the pet owner can be a huge factor in the behavior and temperament of an animal.

Jurisdictions that have enacted breed-specific laws have learned by experience that these laws do not make their communities safer.  For instance, In the second year after enacting a breed-specific ban, Council Bluffs IA actually saw bite levels exceed the number of bites prior to the ban. Boxer and Lab bites had increased–replacing pit bulls as top-biting dogs–with no increase in public safety for Council Bluffs citizens.  A breed-specific ban gives a false sense of safety to a community when any dog or other animal can be dangerous. In another example, Denver County CO enacted a breed-specific ban in 1989.  Even with this ban in place, Denver County, with a population twice that of Larimer County CO had over seven times as many dog bite-related hospitalizations as Larimer County. Breed-specific bans, which are extremely costly to enforce and stretch thin already scant dog control resources, have not resulted in fewer dog attacks and do not replace other methods of enforcement such as leash laws, which assure all dogs are under control. Communities that have invested in low-cost spay-neuter initiatives and that have passed and aggressively enforce anti-tethering, dog licensing, breed-neutral dangerous-dog, and leash laws have seen a reduction in dog attacks.   

Respected authorities acknowledge breed-neutral ordinances can improve public safety.  As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states, “Breed specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive … Generic non-breed specific, dangerous dog laws can be enacted that place primary responsibility for a dog’s behavior on the owner, regardless of the breed.”  The American Bar Association passed a resolution that urges all local legislative bodies and government agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral ordinances including leash laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership, and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed-specific ordinances. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has found that less than .05% of fatal dog-bite cases were caused by dogs on leashes, demonstrating the effectiveness of leash laws.  The AVMA also found that since 1975, dogs belonging to more than 30 breeds have been responsible for fatal attacks on people, including Dachshunds, Yorkshire Terriers, and a Labrador Retriever–not just breeds such as pit bulls, Dobermans, etc., which people sometimes believe to be more “dangerous.”

Local leash laws, as well as Ohio’s animal-fighting laws, are all powerful protections against dogs that are aggressive or merely creating a nuisance.  In addition, the established association of dog aggression with chaining makes anti-tethering laws, as noted above, an extremely useful animal-control tool.  Ohio law does not prohibit localities from enacting breed-neutral dangerous dog ordinances that protect due process and provide residents their constitutional right to a hearing.  In fact, some localities have both created a successful deterrent and augmented their animal control budgets by enacting local breed-neutral, dangerous-dog, and other associated laws, and imposed steep fines for these offenses.  

In addition to issues surrounding which breeds to regulate, breed-specific ordinances raise several legal issues.  When a specific breed has been selected for stringent control, two constitutional questions concerning a dog owner’s Fourteenth Amendment rights have been raised. First, because all types of dogs may inflict injury, ordinances addressing only one breed of dog are under-inclusive and therefore violate owners’ equal protection rights. Second, because identification of a dog’s breed with the certainty necessary to impose sanctions on the dog’s owner is prohibitively difficult, such ordinances have been argued as unconstitutionally vague and, therefore, in violation of due process. A number of breed-specific bans have been successfully challenged in Ohio courts.

Breed Discrimination has led to the death of many dogs – irrespectively of their individual behavior.  Whether it is dogs that have had to be put done due to breed specific ordinances, or dogs that have been trafficked into dog-fighting, breed discrimination has led to the death of many dogs without any consideration of their individual behavior.  Nationally, all dogs rescued from dog-fighting rings were automatically euthanized.  When 47 dogs were rescued from the Michael Vicki dog-fighting operation and allowed to live, the course of animal welfare was altered.  The Michael Vick dogs were poignant reminders of their tragic beginning but also of the grace, patience, and unexpected enrichment of the lives of countless humans as these dogs were given a chance to live and thrive, as documented in a 2019 Washington Post article.

Community research shows breed-specific ordinances do not improve safety. Review research conducted by communities across this continent–Miami Dade County FL, Council Bluffs IA, Denver CO, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada–that show breed-specific ordinances do not increase public safety.

Respected authorities call for breed-neutral ordinances to improve safety, Review the CDC report and the ABA report recommending the enactment of breed-neutral ordinances.

Breed neutral ordinances. Learn about breed discrimination and model communities that have passed breed-neutral ordinances that enhance public safety and the humane treatment of animals. Ohioans can check what communities have breed specific ordinances on the interactive map on Animal Farm Foundation’s website. View the Dublin OH breed-neutral ordinance and the Lakewood OH community fact sheet on their breed-neutral ordinance.