Bans on Breeds Are Booming! Florida Bill Backs Wider Adoption of BSL
Ever heard the term "BSL"? It stands for "breed specific legislation" (AKA, breed ban or, more commonly, "pit bull ban"). Municipalities all over the US have adopted these laws in a misguided effort to reduce dog-related violence. But they've never managed to work.
Despite thirty years of statistics that show breed bans don't curb canine violence, a Florida State Representative from Plantation, Rep. Perry Thurston, is sponsoring a new bill to amend Florida's existing "Damage by Dogs" statute. Currently, this Florida law keeps municipalities from banning breeds willy nilly. Instead, it seeks to hold individual owners of dangerous dogs liable for the damage their pets do. Representative Thurston would see this limit on breed banning lifted so that individual municipalities can newly elect to ban specific breeds.
Make no mistake, Florida’s "Damage by Dogs" law is a good one. It takes the enlightened view that individual humans must be made responsible for their dangerous pets. By limiting breed banning, it recognizes that such blanket constraints on individual property rights are not only intrusive, unfair and costly to implement, they also do little to decrease the risk of dog-related violence.
Representative Thurston’s bill would make way for more municipalities to adopt these regressive laws.
While it seeks to amend the existing "Damage by Dogs" law with greater restrictions, his bill (HB 101) does nothing to address the fact that there’s currently little to no enforcement of its key provision: holding owners responsible for their individual dogs' behavior.
Predictably, this new bill has stirred up debate in the local and national media with big groups taking sides. For this party, PETA has been on hand to pass out hats and light the candles while the HSUS, AVMA and Florida Animal Control Association are rallying their minions against the festivities.
Veterinarians, animal welfare groups and animal control organizations are speaking out ever loudly against breed specific bans for their biased infringement on property rights, their failure to stem the tide of canine violence and their short-sighted approach to the problem of unwanted behaviors. Good laws, like Florida’s current "Damage by Dogs" law, already exist. Enforcing them is the obvious solution proposed by this new bill’s detractors.
True to form, PETA supports breed specific legislation. Though its rallying cry references pit bulls and blood sports, truth is it’ll leverage any excuse to keep dogs out of human hands altogether.
The Miami Herald recently addressed the debate with an article quoting those on all sides. Surprisingly balanced, it pointed to the lack of statistics on dog bites and the questionable impact of Miami-Dade County’s 20 year-old pit bull ban. In its final paragraphs it quoted Palm Beach County’s animal control czar, who reported that Shepherd, Lab and Chow mixes were his area’s biggest offenders.
Hmmm … I’ll wager Palm Beach won’t be banning German shepherds, Labrador Retrievers or Chow Chows anytime soon. If pit bulls topped the list, though, I’d bet high against their surviving the year without a breed ban levied against them.
After twenty years of a painful breed ban that’s hurt only the most responsible pet owners among us and sent hundreds of dogs to their needless deaths every week in our local shelters, it’s no surprise this Miami-Dade County resident (me!) is sick of breed bans.
These myopic, tyranny-of-the-majority-enacted bans are seemingly aimed at those lower on the socioeconomic scale. They have no regard for science or public welfare — just for the kind of political expediency that ensures people like Representative Thurston get their names attached to a proposal any safety-loving voter stands prepared to swallow whole.
I guess it’ll always be sexier to ban something than to actually work hard to deliver intelligent laws — or to enforce them. What’s it going to take for our lawmakers to "get it" when it comes to really making our municipalities safer?
Dr. Patty Khuly