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.
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.