Breed Specific Legislation (BSL): Is your dog safe? Take the test!

Take the test and read the checklist, see if YOUR dog is safe from Breed Specific Legislation!

On Wednesday morning, a dog named Lennox was put to sleep in Northern Ireland for looking like a pit bull. This has drawn worldwide attention to the issue of BSL, or Breed Specific Legislation, and some of the debates have become quite heated. To me, one of the most horrifying parts of Lennox's story is that people fail to see that BSL is alive and well in many parts of the United States, too. Lennox's story can be seen all over the internet. Here is one of many articles.

I am not here to discuss Lennox, specifically. Though the entire rescue community has been deeply effected by this well publicized loss, and the two years leading up to it, I am here to talk about what Breed Specific Legislation really means, and how it could effect you.

When you hear the term 'pit bull', what comes to mind? For a lot of people, it's an image of a growling, lunging, aggressive dog. Something to steer clear of, protect your children from, and avoid at all costs. Thankfully, more and more people are getting to know the REAL pit bull- a loving family dog who, with proper training and responsible ownership, will be your guardian, your jester, and your best friend.

The truth is, 'Pit Bull' is not even a legitimate breed of dog. It is a classification for a grouping of dogs, including the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. At Bully Breed Rescue, we see and rescue many dogs who would be judged at pit bulls, but who in reality may be a good mix of any of the above breeds. My personal dog, Precious, is in reality probably a mix of American Bulldog, Dogo Argentino, and maybe Lab. For all I know she could have Jack Russel or Beagle in her. That didn't stop people from breeding and fighting her, though, and you bet that if she turned and bit someone (which she wouldn't, because I am a responsible dog owner and she is a good dog), the media would jump all over it as a 'Pit Bull Attack'.

Point being - Breed Specific Legislation is not only ineffective, it's inaccurate. There is a great website, www.understand-a-bull.com, that further details information regarding BSL and bully breeds. One of my favorite parts of their site is this game, and I encourage you all to give it a try.

Can You Identify The Pit Bull?

How many tries did it take you to pick the right dog? Admittedly, I got it wrong on the first try. Now, click through the different dogs shown in the game, you will see what breeds they actually are. Note, none of the dogs shown are mixes, they are all photos taken from breeders and are considered accurate representations of their breed. Do any of you have pets the same breed as some of the dogs shown? Well, hold tight to them, because if BSL ever came our way, they'd be effected.

Breed Specific Legislation varies. It can call for anything from requiring certain breeds to be muzzled at all times, to certain breeds being completely illegal. This means owners, no matter how responsible, can incur fines for illegally housing these dogs or failing to muzzle them when leaving the house. It also means, in some areas, that your family pet can be taken from you and killed. Just for what he/she looks like. Animal Control and/or Police Officers are given a checklist of characteristics to look for when defining a dog as a pit bull.

Here is a sample checklist- this is the list used in San Francisco. If your dog meets 5 out of the 8 characteristics listed, he/she is deemed predominantly a pit bull.

  • Head is medium length, with a broad skull and very pronounced cheek muscles, a wide, deep muzzle, a well-defined, moderately deep stop, and strong under jaw. Viewed from the front, the head is shaped like a broad, blunt wedge.
  • Eyes are round to almond shaped, are low in the skull and set far apart.
  • Ears are set high. Un-cropped ears are short and usually held rose or half prick, though some hold them at full prick.
  • Neck is heavy and muscular, attached to strong, muscular shoulders.
  • Body is muscular, with a deep, broad chest, a wide front, deep brisket, well-sprung ribs, and slightly tucked loins.
  • Tail is medium length and set low, thick at the base, tapering to a point.
  • Hindquarters are well muscled, with hocks set low on the legs.
  • Coat is a single coat, smooth, short and close to the skin

Do you know what a 'well-definied, moderately deep stop' looks like? How about 'rose or half prick'? Or 'deep brisket'? Are these officers moonlighting as AKC judges? I certainly don't think your average officer or citizen identifies with these terms. Dog owners, do your dogs have round or almond shaped eyes? High ears? Muscular bodies? Medium length tails, tapering to a point, and smooth short coat? I can think of more than a few breeds who that applies to, and I'm sure you can too.

See what I mean by innacurate? This issue could be debated for an eternity, but for me, the bottom line is as follows:

A good dog is a good dog, no matter the breed. An irresponsible, wreckless or cruel person can take a dog of any breed and train it to be dangerous. So why are we blindly punishing innocent animals instead of punishing irresponsible owners? Instead of enforcing BSL (and taking happy, well loved, well trained dogs from appropriate homes), enforce responsible ownership. Make it law that dogs be spayed/neutered, unless you are a licensed breeder. Require owners of the breeds deemed dangerous to take them to obedience classes, teach them how to be responsible for their pet. Punish animal abusers, dog fighters, and backyard breeders to the full extent of the law. People are the problem, here, not dogs.

For more info on BSL, please visit www.stopbsl.org, or simply google Breed Specific Legislation.

For info on our adoptable Bullies and mixes, please visit www.bbrinc.org.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kayte Mulligan July 15, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Just want to remind everyone about the "Find The Pit Bull" game that is linked in the post. It took me two tries, who else?
Diane Wilkinson Trefethen July 15, 2012 at 10:25 PM
@Meghan We all have individual stories. They are called anecdotes. What one should look at is studies on dog bites. What percentage of what breeds account for all attacks, provoked attacks, unprovoked attacks, fatalities, etc. Like it or not, there are only a few breeds that dominate and the so-called pit bulls are at the top of the list, both in attacks and in damage they wreak. I grew up with a Dalmation. He never attacked or bit anyone. What a surprise it was to me as an adult to find that Dalmations are more prone to attack people than many other breeds. Does the fact that *my* Dalmation never bit anyone mean that the statistics are wrong? "Mauled to death" is a phrase. "Attacked to death" is not. I know full well that every breed has members that will attack, some individuals more than others. But only some breeds were bred to be capable of mauling. I am dismayed that you equate a small dog attacking/injuring with the damage/killing that can be executed by a dog designed for the task.
Stacy Valentine July 15, 2012 at 11:08 PM
There's always going to be disagreements and ignorance regarding pit bull/pit bull type dogs, there will always be statistics, studies, lists, sensationalism, etc...But like I said before, unless you have been involved in rescuing or fostering of pit bulls/pit b ull type dogs, been in the middle of Bridgeport taking a neglected, abused pit bull that was left for days in a cardboard box who by the way is the sweetest dog ever, volunteered with specific rescues that focus on responsible pit bull ownership and education, then quite frankly, you have no right to be so judgemental. These are people that rescue pitties on a daily basis and have adopted them into their families, they can speak from experience, you on the other hand, can not.
Diane Wilkinson Trefethen July 16, 2012 at 12:05 AM
@J James Me ignorant? A Bichon Frise runs 7-12 pounds, not 25-30. So my statement stands. Can YOU cite us a case where a BF mauled a kid to death? I guarantee I can find several such stories regarding “pit bulls”. "If a dog attacks unprovoked, then the fault does not lie in the dog, etc”. Your statement is untrue and irrelevant. What happens as a consequence of a dog attack, the damage done, is what is important. Beating someone up = the instinctive attack of a dog? You’re kidding, right? Better: my child steps on a yellow jackets' nest, with the attendant consequences. He tries to get away and slams into your kid knocking him to the ground. In that situation, no, I would not feel that I "had screwed up", even if your kid were hurt. Nowhere in my post did I say that a small dog was harmless nor did I recommend the "extinction of an entire breed of animal". I said breeders of purebreds should be exempted. Note: the English Bulldog, American Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier are considered "child-friendly" breeds.* Who should be ashamed? I did not demean Ms Mulligan. I politely differed with her opinion on the "pit bull" type of dog. YOU on the other hand, saw fit to denigrate ME with name-calling instead of just stating your point of view or better yet, proffering citations to prove your opinion has more validity than mine.
tracy July 16, 2012 at 12:29 AM
I totally agree with you.
Lauren H July 16, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Diane - I agree with you that backyard breeding of pit bulls (of any dog!) is out of control, evidenced by shelter populations. I also wish for more severe penalties for irresponsible owners. While it's true that bulldogs were bred for bull baiting, & that APBTs & Staffies come from a combinaiton of Old English Bulldog & Old English Terrier (terrier for fighting purposes), not every single pup born wants to fight. Considering the overwhelming population of "pit bulls" in the US, if even 10% of them were vicious we'd have people dying left & right. Based on a 2012 joint study by the National Center for Health Statistics, National Safety Council, & World Health Organization, we are more likely to die from being struck by lightning, stung by a bee, or legal execution than from a dog attack. If you like statistics, the National Canine Research Council does very careful analysis of dog bite fatalities & the like. While they are admittedly anti-BSL, I think their data is objectively presented, much more so that Dogsbite.org. They report that after 20 yrs of BSL, Denver still leads CO in dog attacks. Miami, with similar BSL, has seen a dog attack decrease significantly lower than the national average, which includes states without BSL. I'm running out of space here, but one more helpful resource, imo, is the Lockwood-Rindy study on "pit bulls." It contains scientifically presented data & concludes that handling, not breed, is the causative factor in "maulings."
Andrea July 16, 2012 at 12:32 AM
People who have not worked with, or ever had the companionship of a dog can never understand the true unconditional love. Pitbulls are dogs and like any other dog reacts to situations based on their perception of it, some are fearful some are non stop wiggle wags even at the vets office. Dogs ALL have a few basic behaviors that can be generalized working at a shelter and an animal hospital I found the most common behaviors were wiggle wagged through the entire appointment, sometimes they were scared and tried to climb over you to get away ,others were scared stiff .The least common were fear biters and aggressive dogs (those aggressive were aggressive towards people that were unfamiliar) Dominant dogs were the most rare all the year never got bitten by any dogs the smaller ones were a bit more nervous sometimes but hey if I was that small I would be too! It is not as much about understanding Pitbulls as it is understanding dogs. Fighting can be done with any dog, Boston Terriers were used in Boston for as pit dogs, people use Roosters for cock fighting whatever they can get their hands on to make money. People are also responsible for understanding the behavior of their individual dog they should be held accountable for their dogs actions that goes for any breed mix shape or size. It should be a privilege to have a companion animal given to those who truly desire one, not based on financial privilege, privilege for those who can love and value them as they deserve.
Kristina July 16, 2012 at 12:47 AM
So, just to clear things up... All my life I've been taught to "not judge people by how they look, but by how they act" How is this any different? I have been a vet tech for over 10 years and the only dog I have ever had a serious bite from was a dalmatian. And the scariest situation I have ever been involved with, was when a golden retriever was hanging from another technicians bicep!!! Any dog can be dangerous, it all depends on how they are raised, and responsible, and I emphasize RESPONSIBLE owners shouldn't lose their pets because of them!
Leslie Yager July 16, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Thank you Kayte for writing this piece and responding so thoughtfully to all the commenters. I hope Cupcake gets a fabulous home soon... I vouch for her sweet, gentle disposition!
Donnaleilee July 16, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Maybe I can't find a story about a Bichon killing, but will this one do? http://amarillo.com/stories/100900/usn_pet.shtml Its the story of a Pomeranian killing a 6 week old. Any dog can attack and kill, but yes, a bigger dog will do more damage, and there are many breeds which are much bigger than pits. Maybe we should ban Great Danes too. Actually, I think a kid beating up another kid is worse than a dog attacking since humans have the ability to reason, dogs don't. You're analogy about your kid stepping on a yellow jackets nest and accidentally bumping into someone is a little different than a bully beating up a smaller kid.
Therese Camillone July 16, 2012 at 03:36 AM
My Callie is my 2nd Pittie, another rescue from the New Rochelle Humane Society in Westchester County. My first Pittie, Oopsie, languished at the shelter for 3 years before I took her home. I wouldn't have another breed. Pitties are such a fantastic people dog! One of the newer, fancy high-rises in downtown White Plains won't accept Pits or Rotties as tenants. This is just so wrong and ignorant. After you have one Pibble, you won't want another breed, that I can speak to, personally. My Callie and Oopsie such a sweethearts and great ambassadors for the breed. My Callie is so gentle and intuitive with my Mom, who is 81 and handicapped. You have to do your research before you adopt. This is a physically strong dog with a lot of stamina, but you won't find a more loyal, faithful, smart breed. I have had the experience of having to put some backwards people in their place a couple of times, but, so what. I would lay down my life for my sweet baby.
Jlo July 16, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Pits are great dogs, like all dogs some have their issues though in most cases its with other dogs, pit bulls tend to love people. They are actually terrible guard dogs because they may come out acting all tough but the second you start baby talking them they forget about defending the house and go see their new friend. The problem really is bad dog owners. For pits it is usually because they belong to some moron drug dealer or low life who keeps one because they saw it in a rap video and think its cool. I've had several pitters and will never own another breed. They are simply the most fun and personable dog you can own.
Blake Polett July 16, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Any dog in the wrong hands, can be dangerous. Breed is not the deciding factor in whether or not a dog is dangerous – humans are the common denominator. What the public should be concerned about are the thugs who breed, sell and fight Pit bulls. The made-up bloodlines, the Pits bred to be shorter, fatter, and with bigger heads – all of this is done to boost the egos of the criminals who profit from the sick underground world of Pit-breeding and dogfighting. These are not fine upstanding citizens – these are the underbelly of our nation. Let’s face it - if you find backyard breeders of the breed (or breed “mix”) of dog most often killed in shelters, you have found a sick group of folks. The same folks are often found to be drug-dealers and violent criminals. The fact that they choose dogs with sometimes larger heads and muscular builds to make themselves look “tough” is a human problem – not a canine one. Police the people for their actions, impose greater penalties for dogfighting and animal cruelty in general, and you will do a great deal more to keep the public safe than BSL ever will. The last thing that should happen is punishing responsible dog owners, with well-trained and innocent dogs for the sins of a criminal element of society. Responsible Pit bull owners spay and neuter their dogs, license them with the towns they live in, socialize them, keep them on leash unless in a fenced area, and provide proper vet care.
Blake Polett July 16, 2012 at 04:17 AM
According to the American Temperament Test Society’s 2012 statistics – the American Pit Bull Terrier scored higher than the Golden Retriever, Beagle, Bichon Frise, Havanese and the German Shepherd. I have rescued many breeds - Pit bulls, ShihTzus and Chihuahuas to name a few - from squalid and abusive living conditions, some chained outside their whole lives. To this day, I have never been bit by a dog over 20 lbs. And being bit did not make me dislike the breed of dog (Fox Terrier to be exact). Unfortunately, the Pit bull is this nation’s most maligned breed of dog – thanks mostly to the thugs who misuse their loyalty and take advantage of their love for humans, but also in great part to the media hype and headline grabbing sensationalism. This makes those of us who are truly animal-lovers fight even harder to change the misconceptions people have about Pit bulls. Those of us who love Pit bull class dogs are in good company - many famous folks have owned Pit bulls. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, General, George Patton, Helen Keller, Jamie Foxx, Rachael Ray, Jon Stewart, Jessica Alba, Ken Howard, Jessica Biel, and Pink to name a few. Locally, Senator Bob Duff adopted a Pit bull from Bully Breed Rescue.
Blake Polett July 16, 2012 at 04:18 AM
In short, Breed Specific Legislation has no place in America or anywhere in the world. Not in my town, or any city. Land of the free – unless you’re a Pit bull – then it is the land of the free-unless-you-live-in-a-BSL-city. Responsible Pit bull owners are not criminals. We should not be banned from owning a dog we love. Let’s save the bans and the fines and the harsh treatment for the criminals who abuse Pit bulls and make them fight for money. Having owned a Doberman-mix, a Labrador, a Mini Schnauzer and now a Pit bull, I can say - the only thing fierce about Pit bulls is their loyalty. Their devotion to their humans is unparalleled in comparison to any breed (or breed mix) I’ve ever known, and I have been rescuing dogs of all breeds, as well as cats for almost 10 years (I know, that’s anecdotal, so be it). My Pit bull was left tied to a fence with two ruptured mammary glands in a city here in Connecticut. In pain, she had every reason to bite anyone who approached her, whether they were trying to help her or not. But she never did. Her road to physical recovery was not easy, and as it is evident she was bred many times before she made her way to my home, I can only imagine how sad her past life was. But true to the forgiving spirit of a Pit bull, she has soaked up the love in her new life with every ounce of her being. She is tremendously affectionate, rarely leaving my side and loves to sleep on a pillow, with her best friend – my 11 pound cat.
Glen K Dunbar July 16, 2012 at 12:12 PM
JLO: Correct. You said what I wanted to say. It is the drug dealers and low lifes that make a dog bad...and we all know they type of person who is like that. GLEN
Elyse July 17, 2012 at 04:27 PM
I've met a ton of dogs over the years, including a pit bull who was very charming and docile. However, I've got scars from dog bites (when I was a child) from a lab and a daschund. Kids get bit more than adults because they don't know how to behave around dogs (as in known nothing about territory, pain aggression, etc.) Breed specific legislation leads to horrors like what happened to Lennox, who was put down because of the breed, not the behavior. Virtually all dogs, if raised PROPERLY and treated well, will never bite. If anything needs legislated, it's the owners! More info at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Dog-Bites/dogbite-factsheet.html and http://positively.com/2011/05/04/dog-bite-prevention-part1/ has an interesting perspective from a veterinarian on dog bite prevention.
MK Cuthbert July 17, 2012 at 07:56 PM
What happened in the UK with Lennox encourages me to think that we have DE-evolved and can no longer think critically. Scapegoating being now considered a viable contributor to making a *good* decision is inexcusable. In 99.9 % of aggressive dog issues; human failure- not canine- is to blame. Dogs live to please those they love. *Even* if at their OWN expense. Pit bulls are stout hearted , very loyal to humans . If a pitbull is taught that to please you , they must exhibit violence , violence they will exhibit. Yes, they are sturdy dogs. They were chosen to enter- be trained for the DEBAUCHED modern game of " dogfighting" in part because they are so devoted to man . ( unlike some other breeds which are more emotionally independant, like the Ridgeback ). I am appalled by this trend to try to specify safe V unsafe dogs. It cannot be done. It would be more successful to target people with sociopathic tendancies. And most successfull to make dog ownership a priviledge earned by compliance with some minimum requirements. *IF* this trend to discriminate against certain dogs continues---we're going to have to come up with a way to protect and successfully advocate for those targeted breeds.
Kayte Mulligan July 17, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Thank you all for your well thought out comments! It is encouraging to see so many against BSL and so few for it. Keep on sharing and contributing your thoughts!
Emily Constance (Editor) July 17, 2012 at 08:26 PM
What a constructive thread!
Alex Tytler July 19, 2012 at 12:10 AM
We don't need breed specific legoslation. However if your dog bites me, I would like an automatic payment of $50,000. All of a sudden all of the agressive dogs are gone.
Steven DeVaux July 19, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Bingo. Punish the owner, not the dog. The owner OWNS the dog. THEY are responsible for it. Period.
Tom Falconieri July 19, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Lucia July 19, 2012 at 11:06 AM
It's striking, and quite sad, to see how maligned this breed has become The American pit bull is now more often associated with Michael Vick's dogfights, and stories of household pets gone bad, sometimes tragically involving kids. In the case of Vick, who was convicted of running a dogfighting ring, 47 of the pit bulls from his kennel were taken to animal sanctuaries or adopted. One rehabilitated dog named Mel, who moved to Dallas with a new owner, even received an edible key to the city. As a family dog: Helen Keller had a pit bull. Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote "Little House on the Prairie," owned one, too. And Petey, the mascot pup with the black eye patch in "The Little Rascals?" Pit bull. Over time, the breed, which was also bred to battle bulls and fight other dogs, picked up a reputation for a nasty nature. Cesar Millan, the "dog whisperer" who is around the breed every day, says it's people who should be blamed, not the breed. He writes on his website, "Pit bulls get a bad rap because of irresponsible owners." Responsible owners include Jon Stewart, Alicia Silverstone, Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba and me. Unfortunately, my pitbull Lulu has now gone over the Rainbow Bridge due to illness, but she was a wonderful girl who was loving and loyal and I miss her every day. I have had pitbulls in the past and they, too, will have a place in my heart forever.
Sarah Jancosek July 19, 2012 at 11:21 AM
NO child should EVER be left alone with a strange dog or a dog who is not part of the child's "pack." Period. Even dogs who are part of a family can, when overstimulated, attack the smaller pack member, e.g. the toddler. My friend's 2 year old almost lost an eye to their Irish setter while the dog got possessive over a tennis ball with a lab. The moms were right in the front yard when it happened. Owners - and parents - need to be vigilant. These are animals, not wind up toys. But this applies to all breeds, not just pits.
Sarah Sunshine July 19, 2012 at 12:19 PM
A friend was walking her sweet, small. rescue dog, a dog she walks twice a day. A woman passed by, stopped and asked to pet the dog. My friend said yes of course and the woman pet the dog lovingly and received sweet kisses. The woman looked up and asked what kind of wonderful dog this one. My friend said part boxer,(she normally stops there but because the woman seemed to think the dog was so wonderful) and part pitbull. The woman stopped, backed up, said pitbulls are horrible dogs, and walked away quickly. Now this dog looks more pitt then boxer and if this woman knew what a pitt looked like they way she thought they were so horrible, she wouldn't have stopped and let it kiss her face. Naive people are scared of names even after proof that this dog was a very pleasent dog.
Alex Tytler July 19, 2012 at 12:42 PM
It's quite simple, your dog causes damage, it's like you caused damage, and you are on the hook for it, personally.
Steven DeVaux July 19, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Bingo. And pay they should.
KerriAnn Hofer July 25, 2012 at 05:06 PM
thank you Kayte and Blake for both the well-thought and informative article and comments. the world needs more people like the two of you :)
Jennie August 24, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Well said


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