The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board proposed that state legislation be introduced to authorize local governments in California to ban pit-bull-type dogs as an effort to reduce the incidence and severity of dog bites. While the board must believe that breed alone accurately and fairly signals a dog’s propensity to harm humans, it doesn’t (“A Dangerous Dogs Act of 2015?”; editorials, Nov. 8).
California has local and state laws to regulate dogs that are proven to be dangerous, but breed bans have proven to be costly and impossible to enforce while negatively affecting families and communities. The state prohibited breed-specific approaches in 1989 and the Legislature revisited the policy in 2005, both times concluding it is ineffective and problematic to try to legislate a breed of dogs out of existence. Most compelling of the reasons not to enact a breed ban is that it doesn’t solve the very problem it pursues: The public is no safer.
Breed bans waste scarce animal services resources by separating good dogs from their families for no defensible reason. Battles erupt in the field and in the courts when overburdened officers attempt to identify pit bulls, leaving issues with truly dangerous dogs unaddressed.
Breed-specific policies spring from misinformation, not scientific evidence. Recent peer-reviewed science published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association concluded: “Most (dog-bite-related fatalities) were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these. Study results supported previous recommendations for multi-factorial approaches, instead of single-factor solutions such as breed-specific legislation, for dog bite prevention.”
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Any “Dangerous Dog Act of 2015” should leverage these approaches. We would not oppose a state requirement that local dangerous-dog determination processes and penalties ensure due process and are geared to be effective, humane and enforceable. The bill should require all dogs declared “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous” to be sterilized and receive training.
Such legislation would also require the analysis of data collected at the time of all reported dog bites to help the state identify steps communities can take to prevent them, including: vaccination and reproductive status, training history and details about the dog’s living conditions and bite-incident scenario. State funding to support local agencies in these endeavors would be imperative.
The Humane Society of the United States devotes resources to programs like our Boyle Heights-based Pets for Life initiative, providing meaningful support for families living in “pet care deserts.” Our outreach in this community and others like it helps pet owners get the training, veterinary care and tools they want and need to keep their dogs and families safe. This is what support for healthy human-animal bonds looks like, not indiscriminate bans.
Jennifer Fearing is the deputy director for policy and programs, and Eric Sakach is the senior law enforcement specialist for The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization.