On Jan 31, 2014, the South Dakota Senate Local Government Committee will be looking at SB 75. SB 75 has the stated purpose of prohibiting “local governments from enacting, maintaining, or enforcing regulations on certain dog breeds.” This bill is in direct response to groups trying to enact ‘pit-bull’ bans in various cities across South Dakota. I wrote a letter to the Aberdeen City Council in 2012 lobbying against breed specific legislation (BSL). Nothing has changed since then; I still wholeheartedly believe breed specific legislation is misguided and would do nothing but cause more confusion for animal control officers.
The question here for me is whether the State of South Dakota has the right to tell the cities that they cannot enact BSL. Even if I find BSL to be misguided and illogical, does that mean the State has the right to tell the cities how they can run themselves?
On one had there are citizens of South Dakota exercising their right to have the pet of their choice. Advocates for pit-bull owners rightly point out at that science does not back the claims that pit-bulls and related breeds are more dangerous. Yes, these breeds when they bite can potentially do more damage, but that does not mean they are more or less likely to bite than other breeds. And research has shown that very few bites (from any breed) create serious medical injuries.
On the other hand there is a public perception that certain breeds are more dangerous. Everyone has ‘heard a story’ about an incident involving pit-bulls. As a result people lobby hard for their local elected officials to ‘do something’. Enacting BSL is usually the answer for Mayors and City Councils. Should these City Councils be prevented from doing what their constituents want?
In this case I would side with the State. SB 75 is attempting to prevent local governments from unduly creating arbitrary ordinances specific to a certain type of dog that is hard to classify. To explain why BSL is arbitrary I will post this definition of pit bulls:
The slang term “pit bull” can describe anywhere from 3-30+ breeds of dog and their mixes and lookalikes. (Some have even confused Chihuahuas for “pit bulls”!) That’s why “pit bull” as a designation has widely become recognized as a type, not a breed; a type that could potentially describe countless numbers of medium- and large-breed dogs and their mixes.
SB 75 doesn’t say that local governments can’t regulate dogs, only that it can’t single out certain breeds or perceived breeds of dogs. The key to SB 75 is the ‘perceived breeds of dogs’. Pit bull, as defined above, is not an actual breed and will require someone to make an arbitrary decision as to what ‘is’ or ‘isn’t’ a pit-bull. Trying to create BSL at the city level will place an undue burden on animal control officers and citizens in trying to determine what kind of breed is legal.
As the bill is written I fully support SB 75. For cities that are worried about dog bites I would direct those citizens to the root cause of dog bites (regardless of breed). These are the findings of research complied by the National Canine Research Council (NCRC):
We have always known the cause of dog bite injuries
From the first dog bite study published more than 50 years ago until today, the conclusions and recommendations of the researchers have shared a lot in common.
”This study of the epidemiology of dog bites would seem to indicate that human factors are more important than environmental factors in the genesis of dog bites.”
– Henry M. Parrish, 1959
”Education programs aimed at influencing the behavior of pet owners, particularly with respect to the responsibilities of ownership, would do much to reduce the magnitude of the problems.”
– H. Michael Maetz, 1975
”Poor owner control blamed for increase in dog bites.”
– Washington Post, 1975
”The growing problem of dog control can only be solved if dog owners realize their responsibilities as pet owners.”
– Lancaster Farming, 1978
”Efforts to prevent severe dog bites should be focused primarily at the level of the owner.”
– John C. Wright, 1985
”Generic non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws can be enacted that place primary responsibility for a dog’s behavior on the owner . . . In particular, targeting chronically irresponsible down owners may be effective.”
– Jeffrey J. Sacks, et al, 2000
”The dog bite problem is not a disease problem with a single vector; it is a complex societal issue that must address a wide range of human behaviors in ways that deal with irresponsible behavior that puts people and animals at risk.”
– Randall Lockwood, 2007
If we want better outcomes in our communities, we need to promote responsible pet ownership: the humane care, custody and control of all dogs.