BSL: What is it?

By on February 17, 2016

Breed-Specific Legislation: BSL. An incredibly touchy and confusing issue.

What is BSL?

It’s actually hard to get a consistent definition. So here are two that come up most often.

BSL is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.

BSL is a law that bans or restricts certain types of dogs based on their appearance, usually because they are perceived as “dangerous” breeds or types of dogs.

The understanding of BSL is that it is regulated by breed/appearance and not by behavior of a specific dog, which is the factor that irks people the most.

Which breeds are impacted?

American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and English Bull Terriers. In some areas, regulated breeds also include a variety of other dogs like American Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers or any mix of these breeds—and dogs who simply resemble these breeds, says ASPCA.

The Animal Legal & Historical Center gives us some examples of laws currently in place.

As of July, 2000, thirty-eight states have enacted BSL on a statewide level or in certain municipalities, or were considering BSL on one of those levels. Some examples of currently active breed-specific municipal ordinances:

(1) Denver, Colorado has prohibited “any person to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, or sell within the city any pit bull.”  The ordinance defines “pit bull” as “any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds.”

(2) Waterford Charter Township, Michigan has prohibited any prospective “possession, maintenance, and harboring” of any “pit bull terriers,” and justifies the prohibition by stating that “the township has further concluded that it is in the interest of public health, safety and welfare that the presence of pit bull terriers be limited in this community to only those existing licensed pit bull terrier dogs in order that the threat of this breed will eventually be removed from this community.”

(3) Des Moines, Iowa defines “vicious dog” to include the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the Pit Bull Terrier, and imposes stringent confinement, licensure, and control requirements (including provisions for animal seizure and disposal) upon any animals deemed “vicious” under the ordinance.

(4) North Little Rock, Arkansas has restricted ownership of Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, or Bull Terriers or mixes thereof by implementing a breed-specific licensure fee of $500.00 – far more than license fees for other breeds.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) released a statement that discusses their views.

“The American Kennel Club (AKC) strongly supports dangerous dog control. Dog control legislation must be reasonable, non-discriminatory and enforceable as detailed in the AKC Position Statement.

To provide communities with the most effective dangerous dog control possible, laws must not be breed specific. Instead of holding all dog owners accountable for their behavior, breed specific laws place restrictions only on the owners of certain breeds of dogs. If specific breeds are banned, owners of these breeds intent on using their dogs for malicious purposes, such as dog fighting or criminal activities, will simply change to another breed of dog and continue to jeopardize public safety.

Strongly enforced dog control laws such as leash laws, generic guidelines for dealing with dangerous dogs and increased public education efforts to promote responsible dog ownership are all positive ways to protect communities from dangerous dogs. Increasing public education efforts is significant because it helps address the root cause of the problem — irresponsible dog owners.

The AKC and the purebred dog fancy have worked together to promote non-breed specific dangerous dog control legislation throughout the country. Concerned dog lovers are encouraged to serve on or start animal control advisory boards to monitor problems and help develop reasonable solutions to dangerous dog issues. The AKC can help by providing model legislation that can be tailored to the needs of individual communities.”

Stop BSL gives reasons as to why BSL is not effective.

To name a few:

  • Does not improve safety or prevent dog bites
  • Ignores plight of victims
  • It’s costly
  • BSL requires ach and every dog to be identified as a breed
  • BSL does nothing to make irresponsible dogs owners accountable
  • BSL punishes responsible dog owners

We heard from our friends over at Dharma Dog Training who have a lot of experience working, training and living with “bully breeds,” dogs that are considered bullies and are effected by BSL.

First we will here from Kelley McAtee.

“In my opinion, Breed Specific Legislation is a very scary discriminatory practice and affects families around the country. I have personally been through this with my own dogs struggling to figure out whether to move or how to keep my dogs safe in a city that passed a breed ban while living there. This legislation tears families apart.

It is terrifying to think that your dogs could be euthanized not based on their behavior but because of the way they look.  We empower people with tools to train their dogs but especially bully breeds because all eyes are on them in public. We have a responsibility to help them.

Our shelters around the country are filled with bully breeds and one out of 10 is likely to make it to the end of their life. Most people whom are renting have a hard time finding a place to live because of these breed specific discrimination practices. Most cities set their own guidelines for this legislation which is scary because you may enter a city and not even know that your dogs are banned.  Studies prove that this is an ineffective, inefficient and expensive practice.

Many states are banning breed-specific legislation and hopefully one day our country will stand united against such discriminatory, outdated practices. I should know, I have a pack of bully breeds that teach other misbehaved dogs; from Labradors to Poodles how to act in the world.  We as a society should not be judging a dog or person by the way they look, but on the basis of our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in the world.” –Kelley McAtee, Dharma Dog Training, dog training and behavior specialist.


Gina Rotella adds on.

“In my opinion, Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is discrimination, ignorance and racism all rolled into one.

It upsets me knowing that this type of discrimination still exists in this day and age. This law is morally and ethically wrong and the people who support BSL should be ashamed of themselves for agreeing with such stereotyping. Most of the people who think bully breeds are aggressive/dangerous and support this law have never even encountered one and simply form their opinion based on what they’ve heard or seen through social media. Most of the time these reports offer biased and inaccurate information. Media outlets know that these sensationalized incidents with so-called “bully” breeds generate publicity and ratings.

Unless you’ve owned or have had a good/bad experience with a bully breed then the opinion of these people hold no merit. Being that, I myself, am a bully breed owner, my opinion does hold value; I will tell you that bully breeds are in fact one of the sweetest, most loving and forgiving dogs I have met.

In order to enforce the BSL, it is necessary to be able to identify the breed being targeted. Visually Breed Identifying is proven to be extremely subjective and unreliable. Recent studies have shown that even professionals i.e. Veterinarians, animal control officers, shelter workers, dog trainers, etc. failed to identify the correct breed(s) a majority of the time.  The most accurate way to identify a breed is through a DNA test, not assumptions.”

The only way to make our cities safer, as it relates to dogs, is through education, treating each case individually and holding owners responsible for their dogs.

Dogs are domesticated animals that rely on humans for everything, which includes looking to us for guidance. It doesn’t matter what breed of dog you have, they all have the capability of biting. However, a majority of those that do bite were failed by their owners. It’s our duty as owners to have a clear understanding of our dog’s individual personality, their limits, likes, dislikes, body language, etc. and most importantly that dogs are animals first and family members second. Like Kelley mentioned, we as trainers work with various breeds of dogs to educate and empower their owners. We know firsthand that NO particular breed is any more dangerous than another, in other words, one breed does not have any more of a propensity to bite.

We see the trauma and stress BSL poses on not only the dogs, but their families. This law has helped in creating such a stigma against the breed that even those of us who reside outside of a BSL jurisdiction are still affected.

Bully breed owners understand the scrutiny that our dogs are under every time we take them out in public. However we will not allow the judgment of others to stop us from owning, advocating and loving our bully breeds!

Several studies have proven that BSL is ineffective and costly which is why several cities have repealed the legislation. According to the National Canine Research Council, there were 97 BSL repeals from January 2012 to May 2014.

I encourage everyone to do their own research, educate themselves and form their own opinion so as not to fall victim to the myths that surround BSL.

Just as a person should not be profiled or stereotyped by the way they look, neither should a dog.” –Gina Rotella, Dharma Dog Training, assistant teacher and rescue specialist

*Photo credit: Karen Clemente- Paws and Whiskers Photography




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