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The Forgotten Pet's Drive

My Name is Juliette, and I am a member of BARCS, the Boston Advocates for Responsible Canine Stewardship. We are a small group of dog owners and advocates working to promote responsible dog ownership in Boston and to find an alternative to new anti-pit bull dog ordinance. I am the proud "mother" of an 11 year old adopted pit bull mix and 11 year old Italian Greyhound, plus three cats and two parrots, all adopted!

Our Group formed in 2004 in response to a citywide ordinance, sponsored by City Councilors Rob Consalvo and James M. Kelly, called "Ordinance Regarding Responsible Pit Bull Ownership." The sad irony is that not only does this ordinance not promote responsible pit bull ownership; it actually hurts those of us who are responsible dog owners.

Under this ordinance, pit bulls require a special license and registration process, including a $50 registration fee. Pit bulls are required to be muzzled at all times when off the owner's property. A sign must be posted on the property to warn the dog's presence. Any officer of the law can seize any dog he or she decides to be a "pit bull" that is acting in a "threatening" manner. The dog can be euthanized without due process. The really frightening part is that your boxer dog or lab mix can just as easily be mistaken for a pit bull, and be taken and euthanized!

Both proponents and opponents of the ordinance agree that there is a dog bite problem that must be addressed. This is a public safety issue, for both our citizens and our pets. The key to lowering the number of dog bites and attacks is to educate the public and to enforce the existing dog laws. The Massachusetts Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) "is opposed to breed-specific ordinances and policies because we do not believe they are an effective or fair manner in which to prevent dog bites. This is not an issue about just one breed of dog but about responsible dog ownership."

This ordinance is an example of breed-specific legislation (BSL). The vast majority of local and national animal welfare groups, including the MSPCA, The American Dog Owners Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Kennel Club oppose BSL. Here are some of the reasons that BSL doesn't work:

  • It is overinclusive. Breed-specific legislation unfairly targets all dogs of a particular breed, regardless of their behavior history.

  • It is underinclusive. BSL does nothing about dangerous dogs of other breeds.

  • Compliance is a problem. If dogs that bite are not licensed and restrained on a leash, the owners are also not going to follow a muzzling provision.

  • Identification is a problem. No blood test can tell the breed of a dog, and there are huge numbers of mixed-breed dogs. Who gets to decide if a dog is a "pit bull" under the ordinance?

  • There are potential legal challenges. Breed-specific legislation has been challenged (successfully in Massachusetts) on due process and equal protection grounds. In American Dog Owners Association v. City of Lynn, 404 Mass. 72, 80(1989), the court found: "Unlike an ordinance which generally prohibits the keeping of a "vicious dog," enforcement of which involves questions of fact whether the particular dog is vicious or known by its owner to be vicious, or a strict liability restraint or dog bite law, such as G.L.c. 140, § 155, the Lynn Pit Bull ban ordinance depends for enforcement on the subjective understanding of dog officers of the appearance of an ill-defined "breed," leaves dog owners to guess at what conduct or dog "look" is prohibited, and requires "proof" of a dog's "type" which, unless the dog is registered, may be impossible to furnish. Such a law gives unleashed discretion to the dog officers charged with its enforcement, and clearly relies on their subjective speculation whether a dog's physical characteristics."

  • Other breeds of dog can be trained to be dangerous. Unless we address the real reasons dog bites occur, people who want a 'dangerous' dog are simply going to move on to the next breed.

  • The reality of this ordinance is that it will do nothing to curb dog bites and attacks. Irresponsible, neglectful, or abusive dog owners are unlikely to even register their animals. What is going to make them suddenly decide to shell out $50 for a license and start muzzling their dogs since adoption and whose dogs have never done anything to merit a "dangerous dog" label.

    When this ordinance was being debated at City Hall last summer, City Councilor Maura Hennigan, along with Councilors Arroyo and Yancey, worked with the MSPCA and came up with a very sensible alternative ordinance, which would have improved the city's animal control laws and helped to prevent dog bites in all breeds. Recognizing that enforcement of the city's animal control laws is essential to preventing dog bites, the alternative ordinance also would increase existing fines and add additional ones for people who violate the ordinances and own dangerous dogs.

    The fact that this reasonable alternative was ignored shows that this has become a political and media issue. Pit bull hysteria has reached an all-time high, with newspapers and TV news channels eager to report dog attacks by pit bulls, even if the dog involved was not a pit bull at all. Local politicians jump on such incidents to promote anti-pit bull legislation.

    Our group is exploring several options for responding to the draconian Boston ordinance. One is an exemption for dogs who have taken a basic obedience / socialization course. Another possibility is a lawsuit against the city, which we believe we would have a very good chance of success. Of course, filing a lawsuit requires a substantial amount of money, which we are trying to raise.

    Anyone reading this who has been lucky enough to know and love a pit bull knows what wonderful dogs they are: intelligent, goofy, gentle, playful and extremely devoted and loving. It breaks my heart that some people abuse their obvious strength and fortitude or their own ends. There is a pit bull problem in Boston, but this ordinance will do nothing to solve it! We need a find other ways to educate people to be responsible dog owners.

    For more information, or if you'd like to donate to our cause (all donations are tax-deductible, and go toward our legal fees), please visit the following online sites:

  • groups.yahoo.com/group/barcs/ - our Yahoo! Group with the latest news

  • www.AVMA.org - type "breed-specific legislation" into the search box for many articles about BSL

  • www.PBRC.net/info.html - the Northeast pit bull rescue, with a lot of excellent information about the breed.

  • -- Juliette Hannan --
    Certain sections reprinted
    with permission from the MSPCA

     
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