Is breed-specific legislation for on-base pet owners way off-base?

Pittie white and brownBreed-specific legislation affecting military pet owners can have serious consequences for dogs targeted by these laws. Dogs wreaking havoc on a neighborhood is a real and serious issue for some communities across the country. In response, lawmakers have enacted Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), more commonly known as “breed bans,” which effectively outlaw certain types of dogs.

BSL originated in the 1980s, with pit bulls as the primary target. As the result of serious and even occasionally fatal dog attacks, BSL swept the nation, infiltrating communities that felt compelled to regulate ownership of entire categories of dogs perceived as “dangerous.” More recently, BSL is affecting military families – and pit bulls aren’t the only type of dog landing on the “not wanted” list.

In fact, there is no single breed known as a “pit bull;” it is a commonly used term to describe a range of animals, including American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and other breeds and breed mixes.

In 2009, the Department of the Army detailed a new policy for military families living on-base. The memo aimed to create uniform rules across Army bases and make moving for military families easier. Breeds deemed “aggressive or potentially aggressive” were forbidden, and the list extended beyond the much-maligned pit bull.

One of the only solutions for military families with a banned breed is off-base housing. A family living on-base with a banned breed may be grandfathered in, but they cannot take their pet with them if they relocate to another base that bans its breed. And while many families live off-base to avoid the base ban, municipalities are increasingly enacting BSL. Families are then forced to surrender their dogs, often to shelters already overflowing with “forbidden” pets who have almost no chance of adoption.

In a recent and widely reported story, MLB pitcher Mark Buehrle moved his family from Miami-Dade county rather than surrender his dog, Slater, who was subject to the county’s breed ban. Of course, most people can’t just pick up and move quite so easily, but the loss of a resident with a $58M, four-year contract no doubt caught the attention of Miami-Dade authorities. 

To animal and anti-cruelty advocates, BSL is often seen as an impulsive reaction by politicians to show that they are doing something after a dog attack occurs in their community. Yet the problem really begins not with the pet, but with people.

Currently, there is a lack of regulation in dog breeding, placing overbred animals into the hands of irresponsible pet owners. Most aggressive dogs are a product of their owners: a dog who is bred illegally can lack proper training and socialization, increasing the chance that it will bite someone out of fear or anxiety. The offending dog is often confiscated and put to death. pittie smiling

Reckless breeding isn’t the only issue, however. Dog fighting remains a disgraceful “sport” in spite of being illegal in all 50 states. Animals raised to fight, including those used as bait dogs, are innocent victims of criminal behavior. Yet, they are the ones to suffer horrific abuse and, often, death. Those that are rescued and, if possible, rehabilitated, often have lifelong emotional scars.

In addition, banned breeds aren’t the only animals to occasionally attack, suggesting that breed specific legislation is, perhaps, too breed specific. According to the American Humane Association, no less than 25 dog breeds were involved in 238 bite-related fatalities in the United States.

Many proponents of BSL believe legislation should focus less on breed and more on behavior. The ASPCA advocates for breed-neutral laws, and cities like Toledo, Ohio and Calgary, Canada are implementing legislation that holds the owner accountable on an incident-by-incident basis. In addition, the American Kennel Club (AKC) is working to enforce non-breed specific dangerous dog ordinances.

Animals impacted by BSL are being persecuted due to preconceived notions and stereotypes that aren’t necessarily accurate traits of the breed as a collective whole. Military families with banned dogs are feeling the effect of BSL two-fold: unable to live on-base due to military pet regulations, and unable to live off-base because of municipal breed bans. The issue is further complicated when service members deploy and seek to foster their pets, since BSL limits where these pets can be cared for while awaiting their owners’ return.

The implications go beyond those in active duty. Recent stories highlight disabled veterans with banned-breed service dogs running afoul of local breed-discrimination laws. At Pets for Patriots, we believe that every dog deserves a loving home, regardless of its pedigree.

Is your dog deemed dangerous? Find out if your branch of service or military base has put out the “not wanted” sign for your dog’s breed.

Comments

  1. David Lesage says:

    I don’t believe that breed specific legislation can stand the judicial test for long. We are having a law challenged and dismantled in Broward because it singled out pitbulls. I am personally not fond of the breed, but frankly I am even less fond of most of their owners. I’m now talking about Nature VS Nurture.
    If you ask the average person to name you 5 dangerous dog breeds, you’ll find; the pitbull, Rottweiler, German shepherd, Huskies, Doberman Pinscher.
    The combined number of bite related death from these five breeds from 1979 to 1988 was 156 or 15.6 per year average, where 6 of these were from pitbulls. The Statistic however does not tell the full story. Since a lot of these dogs were trained and used specifically to protect property and people. As an example, you would be hard pressed to find a Drug Dealer in south Florida who doesn’t own a pitbull, and the dog is equally popular with people who live in low income housing in poor neighborhoods.
    The Doberman is a regular Employee of junkyards and Rent-a-Dog security agencies. It is Noteworthy however that since breeders starter to breed for a slightly wider skull, the Doberman has become much mellower.
    K-9 police units have by and large abandoned the German Shepherd in favor of its cousin the Belgian Malinois (the dog that took down Osama bin Laden!

    Although I spoke of bans in civilian situations, I think the same logic should apply to the military, rarely is the problem just the dog.
    David

  2. I do not agree with BSL and wonder WHY we still have politicians pushing this issue. I know that alot of it is from pressure of people that are ignorant to dogs. They do not even probably know them or been around them. People should be held accountable for the actions of their pets just like their children. There are too many dogs KILLED daily just because of their breed so who is the monster here. I think it is MAN and he should be held accountable for every action that he takes. All any animal wants is love, food and the comfort of a family not DEATH.

    • Linda Mahoney says:

      I agree with Barbara humans make dogs what they are, you do have to watch interbreeding. But a poodle can be vicious maybe not to the point of death any dog is possible of anything. Educate people!

  3. I understand that the military is feeling pressure from certain groups to enstate BSL but it would be such a negative thing. Pit bulls were once the symbol of military dogs, including Sergeant Stubby and German shepherds are still used frequently, to name the toppers. I would think many career military members would own retired dogs or would continue the tradition of owning these types of breeds. BSL can also target dogs that look like these breeds including boxers, Boston terriers, Malinois and mixes of all sorts. It’s very traumatic on families to have to rehome a family pet or a much worse fate. Families who rely on these pets for emotional support, protection and company while their loved ones are away. I hope that the military will seriously consider what a blow to moral this would be.

  4. People who don’t agree with the military are living in lala land. I’ve been a trainer for over 30 years and have trained many pits. Nice dogs but in the hands of the right owner. I think that to own a “strong breed” dog you have to first pass a test, to see if you have what it take to own one of these dogs. Secondly you would need an additional insurance policy. I own a GSD. I have trained many strong breed dogs. They are not for everybody and if you can’t be responsible with an animal like that than you open the door for the government to step right on in and do it for you.

    • I couldn’t agree more with Val. It’s not the dogs, it’s the owners. I live on Ft. Lewis in WA, and my neighborhood is inundated with hound and beagle breed dogs. I love dogs, but… The baying and barking is out of control. I’ve suggested to our community manager that instead of banning breeds, require pet owners to attend (even as I write, they bark – it’s driving me nuts) socialization classes and puppy classes. Dogs, like hound and beagle breeds – need a fair amount of exercise. They’re sporting dogs. These dogs aren’t walked, and are thrown in a backyard. They bark at everything, incessantly for 30 minutes – 45 minutes… And, the baying… Oh lord… Certain breeds need lots of attention and work, how is a Soldier supposed to give that when they’re at work from 12-16 hours a day? Is the wife going to load up the kids, and let the unruly pet drag them around the neighborhood barking, straining at the leash, acting aggressively towards other dogs? No. So, they languish in the back yards. There are lots of great pet owners out there. But, in my neighborhood – none of these people should have pets. They don’t take the time to care for them, they’re just possessions. I understand the love and affection that a pet can provide, but they should be educated about the breed before bringing it into a community setting. If the military members can’t attend classes for their dog, they don’t have the time to have the dog in the first place.

    • If you are really a dog trainer, then you would be aware of the fact that “pit bull” is a subjective designation that can mean up to 10 different breeds and breed mixes. A recent Ohio DNA study showed that dogs identified as “pit bull” by shelter workers and dog wardens were a mix of several breeds, and most “pit bulls” did not even have any breed in common.

      Considering the fact that a “pit bull” can as easily be a boxer/mastiff mix OR a bulldog/cane corso mix OR an Amstaff/husky mix, any argument that these dogs have a genetic propensity to be dangerous does not make sense.

      ALL dog owners should responsible, whether they own a Boston Terrier, a German Shepherd, or a “pit bull”. Owners of large breeds can be responsible, even if they work long hours. Working long hours and leaving your dog home alone for most of the day is common for anyone who has to work for a living. It certainly does not mean that the dog is unsocialized or neglected.

      I walk all three of my dogs, which most people would call “pit bulls” quite well without them barking, straining at the leash, or acting aggressively toward people or other dogs. Why? Because my dogs are cared for and well-trained.

      The military would accomplish much more by making it mandatory to spay/neuter if a dog is on base. Not spaying and neutering, and raising dogs for breeding rather than as family pets (dogs used for breeding are often penned, chained, and neglected), is one of the largest factors associated with dog aggression. This has been documented by the CDC in a study that concluded that dog breed is NOT a factor in cases of aggression.

      • One big argument I get from pro bsl people is it is in their genes. first there is about 50 genes of the 20000 dog genome that decide its appearance. and a dogs individual behavior is decided by many factors other than genetics. also there should be more regulations of dog breeding for all breeds. Personally I believe people should educate themselves on dog body language and what to do when a strange dog approaches. also I think dogs regardless of breed when they reach maturity for their should take a test to see how they react to. strangers kids other dogs and animals and new environments if they pass they can go anywhere dogs can normally go. if the pass with a 90 or higher they can go places dogs normally can’t go on leash. if you pass a harder version of the test with a 95 or higher they can go places without a leash. if they fail they are required to wear a muzzle. and this info is on the dogs permanent idenification.

  5. Two thoughts.

    First, there’s a difference between breed-specific legislation and specific breeds that are considered “aggressive” being banned from housing complexes, civilian or military.

    The first is when specific municipalities or counties flat out ban certain types of dogs or severely restrict them. Legislation is only then in place if people vote for it. That’s why it’s important that responsible owners go to those town hall meetings when such legislation is being discussed and considered because if nobody speaks up, these things do pass. (The next bigger city to me recently passed a “no dogs at public events” law that makes it illegal to bring your dog to an outdoor parade or other event. There was just not enough pressure from good dog owners onto the city council to prevent this law from being passed.)

    The second is when a landlord restricts which breeds you can own on their property while you live there. Sometimes this is due to size, sometimes this is due to breed. It has been my experience that those who don’t permit certain breeds generally do so due to their insurance company’s guidelines. If the insurance company that covers the complex says that they feel certain dogs present more of a danger (and, therefore, are more likely to cost the insurance company money), then the complex won’t allow these dogs – otherwise their insurance would be cancelled.

    Second thought. Breed bans in military housing have primarily happened over the past five years and I think it’s largely due to the fact that so much military housing is now privatized. At our current base and the one where we were stationed previously, the housing was run by private companies and did not allow a listing of breeds that included German Shepherds. (I thought that was ironic, of course, being that the military uses German Shepherd working dogs.)

    Personally, I don’t see why anyone would want to willingly live in on-post housing in the first place. I can’t imagine a worse place to live … with nosy neighbors, catty military wives, lawn care tickets, and all the other stupidity that goes on with military housing, not to mention the fact that a lot of it isn’t exactly well-built or nice. We haven’t lived on base at our last three duty stations … not that it would be an option with an “aggressive” dog (a former K-9) and three cats … but even if we could live on base, no way would I want to.

    I also kinda wish that people would stop citing Stubby as a “pit bull” – especially since period literature consistently refers to him as a “Boston Terrier Mix” or “Bull Terrier Mix”, respectively. Just a side thought.

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