Breed-specific legislation (BSL) places restrictions on certain types of dogs perceived as inherently dangerous. It does not target purebreds exclusively, but rather any dog that shows physical characteristics of a breed. Over the last 30 years, “pit bull” type dogs have been the focus of BSL, generally due to the notion that they are inherently more dangerous and are sought out by “undesirable” owners. However, these are perception issues and can apply to many different types of dogs. Rottweilers, Dobermans, Chow Chows, Akitas, shar peis, German Shepherds, and various mastiff breeds are currently restricted in parts of Canada.
Why BSL is Being Implemented
Policymakers who implement BSL usually want to make communities safer. However, they are doing so based on perception and not evidence-based policy. This perception is perpetuated by journalists, who often make factual errors when reporting on this issue. (Please see our Media’s Responsibility page.) This leads to certain categories of dog being identified as the problem.
BSL Doesn’t Work
When properly measured, statistics show that BSL is ineffective. It does not substantially decrease the incidence of dog bites or attacks. The upholding of BSL bylaws demands additional resources, and the actions required to manage the process of ridding a community of a certain breed of dog are financially and emotionally costly.
One of the additional challenges of BSL is that it is often put in place in response to one or more serious dog bites in a town, city or region. It is an emotional, fear-based response that puts the blame on the breed. When this legislation is enacted, it is individual dogs (that have done nothing wrong other than having the wrong “look”) and their human families that become victims.
The individuals who choose to train a dog to be vicious (for protection, for dog fighting, etc.) or who do not properly train or monitor their dogs’ behaviour are not typically going to obey bylaws such as this. They tend to go underground and continue their practices.
The Financial and Emotional Cost of BSL
While there is no national (in Canada or the U.S.) measurement in place regarding the effectiveness of BSL and the number of incidents of dog bites or attacks after BSL is put in place, there are smaller studies that show that enforcing BSL does not reflect a decrease in dog bites. Putting BSL in place and upholding those bylaws takes already limited resources away from other matters that are important to the community. It means that pets – happy, good-natured dogs that have never bitten anyone or shown any aggression and who are beloved members of the family – are ripped from their homes and their loved ones. This takes a toll on both human and emotional resources.
Most families can’t afford to move out of an area that has brought in BSL, which means they either have to surrender their four-legged family member for euthanasia (another cost to the municipality) or find a new home for their pet outside of the banned area.
Additionally, there is a growing trend for animal lovers to avoid visiting or moving to towns, cities and regions that have BSL. This will have a growing impact on the economy of these places.