We've been in the news the past few days as several local television stations have featured reports regarding proposed breed specific legislation in Westwego. The legislation has been prompted by an incident in which a woman was seriously injured by dogs that were kept in her house for the purpose of breeding. It was an exceeding rare, extreme incident, but one that is now jeopardizing family pets who have no history of causing anyone harm. While the mayor of Westwego has been quoted saying that he doesn't believe there is any law that can be created to keep people safe from their own dogs, councilman Glenn Green has been vocal in the media about his intention to create an ordinance that singles out pit bulls and their owners. One of the proposed requirements is a special insurance policy--so special, in fact, that we haven't yet found anyone who actually offers it in the state of Louisiana. Without this non-existant insurance, owners of any "pit bull type" dog will have to surrender the animal. Because Westwego has no animal control officers, the enforcement will fall upon their police force, who remain untrained in dealing with, or identifying animals. The burden of the cost of sheltering and euthanizing the animals in Westwego will be taken from the Jefferson Parish animal shelter budget, resulting in reduced resources for the rest of the parish. And the result will be that no one is any safer than they were before.
New Orleans recently enacted a breed neutral dangerous dog law that keeps its residents safe from dangerous dogs of any breed. We'd like to see Westwego adopt a similar law--one that can be enforced and effective. We were pleased to be asked for our opinion in some of the recent news coverage regarding the Westwego proposal, but disappointed that the coverage ultimately focused on the sensational aspects of this tragic, isolated incident rather than promoting a discussion of effective laws. We've reached out to the council in Westwego, but remain unconvinced of their interest in seeking out effective policy. Below you will find the text of the letter we have sent to them. We hope you will also reach out to share your thoughts will them; it is important that they hear from rational, level-headed people who understand that focusing solely on breeds will not keep anyone safe. You can read the New Orleans ordinances here; and you can find the contact information for Westwego city council here.
Like you, we were alarmed with the news of the recent, extreme attack on a Westwego woman who was sharing a home with a pit bull breeding operation. Contrary to suggestions occasionally made by non-experts on broadcast and print media, science shows us that the behavior of "dangerous dogs" can not be accurately predicted by breed or appearance. All dogs - from a Chihuahua to a Rottweiler - can be a menace to a community if they are not properly socialized by the humans that own them.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the Center for Disease Control, the American Kennel Club, the ASPCA and countless other professional organizations agree. The CDC, often misquoted in these matters, does not support breed profiling, also known as breed-specific legislation (BSL). After years of study, the CDC concluded that many other factors mark the probability of a dog displaying inappropriate aggression: reproductive status, heredity, sex, early experience, and socialization and training.
70% of all dog bite cases involve unsterilized male dogs, and an unneutered male dog is 2.6 times more likely to bite than a neutered dog. 94% of all dog related human fatalities in the United States involve unsterilized canines. Dogs kept tethered in a yard account for 25% of all fatal attacks.
More particularly, several recurring claims in the media have absolutely no basis in fact:
*Pit bulls do NOT have "stronger jaws" than other breeds; all dogs, on average, have a bite with 320 pounds of pressure per square inch.
*Pit bulls do NOT have "locking jaws"; the University of Georgia found that there were no differences in jaw structure between pit bulls and other dogs
*Pit bulls do NOT attack without warning; a study by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover, Germany found that "pit bulls signal like other dogs."
Breed specific laws inevitably punish the responsible owners of entirely friendly, properly supervised and well-socialized dogs. Meanwhile, criminally irresponsible owners will continue to endanger the community, either with their "banned" breed, or another breed altogether. For example, studies conducted in the United Kingdom following their ban of pit bull type dogs found that the ban had absolutely no effect in controlling the number of dog bite cases each year.
Cities and municipalities that have enacted breed-specific laws have been surprised to discover the cost involved in trying to enforce it. In Denver, the city shelter has been scandalized by enormous kill rates and faced multiple legal cases regarding their seizure of dogs who may or may not have been pit bulls. Another side effect of breed specific legislation is that it encourages homeowners insurance and landlords to reject pit bull type dogs, which in turn leads to higher numbers of abandoned pit bulls wandering the streets and filling the local shelters.
More recently, several European countries, including the Netherlands and Italy, have lifted decades old breed legislation after concluding that it had no effect on reducing the number of incidents.
The city of New Orleans recently enacted a strong, breed-neutral dangerous dog law that focuses on the behavior of dogs and their owners, rather than vague physical characteristics. We urge you to consider this type of action, which would keep your residents safe from all dogs, not just a particular breed.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss this further; we have a number of colleagues on the national level who would be happy help draft effective legislation.
The Sula Foundation
On a lighter note:
After a late start last year, we're already on track to get our 2014 calendar out at the start of September. The theme this year is "My Pit Bull is a Saint," and entries are welcome from all over the world. You can enter your dog's photo (high resolution please, no Instagram) and describe the miracles he or she has performed at The My Pit Bull is a Saint 2014 Calendar contest. We've got some great entries already, and each one dollar vote supports our low-cost clinics, training and spay/neuter.
With sincere thanks to all you,
The Sula Foundation