2012: The Year in Review

With the close of 2012 comes the opportunity to look back at the events of the year and the extraordinary impact responsible dog owners and advocates have had on changing the negative stereotypes that surround pit bulls, as well as stopping and reversing breed specific laws proposed across the country.

The powerful momentum we gained in 2011 went into overdrive in 2012.  We continued to see an intense energy, along with a renewed sense of hope, that breed specific legislation (“BSL”) should be fought, and the confidence that it can be defeated.  I previously wrote a blog about being an informed dog owner. While the current cities and circumstances may be different – for instance, Armstrong, Iowa can be easily exchanged with Etowah, TN – the blog remains relevant.  Being informed means knowing that when a breed ban or breed regulations are proposed in your town, you have the right to question the city’s motives and statistics used to support that proposal. Rather than simply accepting discriminatory ordinances, more people are coming to understand that they don’t have to accept biased, flawed laws. That they have a say in their community, and these laws can and should be challenged. Once again, we saw more and more people step up to the plate and do just that. Your voice can and does make a difference. If you don’t believe me, keep reading!

In 2012, the following communities proposed and REJECTED breed specific ordinances because ordinary people like you and me took a stand against them.

Jackson, MS Voted Against BSL
Slater, MO Voted Against BSL
Waterbury, CT Decided Against BSL
Donnellson, IA Voted Against BSL
Sioux Falls, SD Voted Against BSL
Ramona, KS Decided Against BSL
Garland County, AR Decided Against BSL
**The issue is likely to be brought back up in January
Crab Orchard, KY Decided Against BSL
The Crab Orchard city clerk confirmed the council declined to take action on the breed specific proposal.
Aberdeen, SD Voted Against BSL
Larned, KS Decided Against BSL
The Larned city clerk confirmed the resident’s proposal was not taken up by the council.
Ishpeming, MI Decided Against BSL
The committee formed to review the city’s animal control ordinance recommended against passing a breed specific ordinance.
Gering, NE Voted Against BSL
Yalobusha County, MS Voted Against BSL
Hammond, LA Voted Against BSL
Buffalo, MO Decided Against BSL
After Mayor Mead announced his opposition to a breed specific ordinance, the clerk advised BSL would not be taken up by the city council as the city already had a mechanism in place to handle vicious dogs.
Fon du Lac, WI Decided Against BSL
Dunn, NC Voted Against BSL
West Fork, AR Voted against BSL
Hagerstown, MD Decided against BSL
Hobart, IN Decided against BSL
York County, SC Decided against BSL
Tupelo, MS Voted against BSL
Pilot Knob, Mo Decided against BSL
The city passed a breed neutral vicious dog amendment to their existing animal control ordinance. The initial breed specific proposal was strongly opposed by residents.

In addition to the above areas that rejected breed specific proposals, the following cities REPEALED their breed specific ordinances in 2012.  

Wentzville, MO Repeal
Cincinnati, OH Repeal
North Beach, MD Repeal
Town & Country, MO Repeal
Cridersville, OH Repeal
Summit County, OH Repeal
Manchester, MO Repeal
Deer Park, OH Repeal
Chesterfield, MO Repeal
Edmonton, Canada Repeal 25-year-old breed specific bylaw voted out!
Allen Park, MI Repeal
Avon Lake, OH Repeal
Painesville, OH Repeal
Morris, IL Repeal
Westlake, OH Repeal

BREED SPECIFIC ORDINANCES PASSED IN 2012

Dawson, GA Passed
Terrell County, GA** Passed (**Additional info below)
Worcester, MA Passed (then REPEALED by state law in Oct. 2012)
Ventura, CA Passed (Breed specific mandatory spay/neuter pit bulls)
Malden, MA* Passed (*but VETOED by Mayor!)
Okolona, MS Passed
Rainesville, AL Passed (pit bulls and bull mastiffs)
Portsmouth, OH Breed specific ordinance amended; Still BSL
Amsterdam, OH Passed
Elephant Butte, NM Passed (pit bulls, rottweilers, German Shepherds)
Archbold, OH Passed
Etowah, TN Passed

**Almost a year after passing their breed specific ordinance in response to a single incident, Terrell County, Georgia continues to experience problems with compliance and a shelter overrun with abandoned dogs, draining their already stressed resources and dwindling funds. These problems aren’t exclusive to Terrell County or their particular breed specific ordinance – every city that implements BSL struggles with the same problems – the difference is the problems in most cities aren’t as well documented by the media as has been the case with Terrell County.  More importantly, the ordinance enacted by county officials has left its citizens more vulnerable to problem dogs, not less.

Highland Heights, OH Repeal considered BSL retained
Ottumwa, IA Repeal considered BSL retained
Troy, MO Repeal considered BSL retained

CURRENTLY PENDING

Breed specific ordinances are currently pending in the following cities.  Please click each city to read more about each proposal and what YOU can do to help prevent them from passing.

Yazoo, MS
Pasadena, CA
Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
Schuyler, NE
Monticello, AR
Wilmington, DE (repeal)

HEADLINES OF 2012

JANUARY

We started the year off on the right foot.  We learned in late 2011 that New Mexico Senator Sue Wilson Beffort drafted a bill that targeted “pit bulls,” and created harsher penalties for “pit bull” and “pit bull mix” owners. Under Beffort’s bill, a pit bull was defined as an American pit bull terrier, an American Staffordshire terrier, a Staffordshire bull terrier or “a dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one of more of those breeds.” The bill would also grant animal control officials the ability to obtain warrants to seize unregistered dogs if they deem to have “probable cause to believe that a dog is a dangerous dog.”

Senator Beffort hoped to present the bill in the New Mexico Legislature’s brief second session in January 2012.  In late January, the Governor’s Office advised that Senator Wilson Beffort’s bill would not be placed on the agenda due to the governor’s concerns over portions of the proposed legislation and increased costs associated with the bill.

 FEBRUARY  

On February 21, 2012, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed HB 14 into law, thus removing “pit bulls”  from the definition of “vicious dog” in the state law that had been in effect since 1987.  The new state law went into effect on May 20, 2012, and as of that date, ALL dogs in Ohio are now determined to be vicious based on behavior, not breed (or appearance of breed, which was the reality of the old state law, as is the case with all breed specific laws).

This was a monumental accomplishment in the fight against BSL, and after years of hard work, education and advocacy by numerous animal welfare organizations, it finally came to fruition this year!

HB14 doesn’t repeal existing municipal breed specific ordinances, but it has proven to be a strong negotiating tool for residents living in towns with BSL to work toward change. The removal of “pit bulls” from Ohio state law has also made an impact in the consideration of breed specific laws across the country.

 APRIL

In their ruling in the case of Tracey v. Solesky, the Maryland Court of Appeals determined that showing the owner of a dog (or the landlord of a property) knew that a dog is at least part pit bull, is sufficient to hold the owner and landlord liable for any damage or injury caused by the dog. The ruling stated that it was no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous. The  decision makes owners and landlords liable for injuries caused by a “pit bull” regardless of whether the specific dog had a prior history of attacks or aggressive behavior.  The decision caused immediate concern for Maryland landlords, and some issued notices and warnings to tenants to remove their “pit bulls” from their properties.  In addition, shelters saw an increase in the number of pit bulls surrendered.

In August,  the Court partially reversed its decision and removed the reference to “cross-bred pit bulls.” However, the ruling left the provision of strict liability for owners and landlords of owners with “pit bulls,” while at the same time, it failed to define the term “pit bull.” The decision did not resolve any of the confusion surrounding the Court’s ruling.

Several Maryland legislators drafted bills to remedy the problems caused by the Court’s ruling.  Members of the Maryland General Assembly convened during a brief summer session to consider a bill that would effectively reverse the Court of Appeals’ ruling in Tracey v Solesky.  Both the House and Senate overwhelming agreed that the ruling should be reversed and be replaced by a breed-neutral strict liability standard, however, they disagreed on which exceptions should be included in the strict liability language contained in the final bill.  The session ended without compromise, and legislators vowed to bring the issue back in the 2013 legislative session.

On September 12, 2012, a federal suit was filed on behalf of residents in a housing community who were issued notices, based solely on the Court’s ruling, to get rid of their dogs or face eviction.  The suit argues that the Appeals Court ruling unconstitutionally overrides the property rights of people like the plaintiffs by making them choose between their homes and their pets, and asked the  judges to strike down the Maryland Court of Appeals’ ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

The results of this legal challenge can have great implications for “pit bull” owners in Maryland, as humane societies are already hearing from homeowners and condo associations of plans to ban pit bulls in common areas.

JULY

On July 11, an international effort to save a dog on death row because he resembled a pit bull ended in failure, heartbreak and recrimination when Lennox was killed by the city of Belfast, Ireland despite pleas for mercy from the world over. The death of Lennox, the adored pet of a little girl and loved family companion, was covered by major media outlets around the globe bringing the atrocity of breed specific legislation to the attention of the general public.  Prior to his death, Lennox attracted worldwide attention during the two years he was taken from his family for no other reason than his appearance. Tens of thousands of people voiced support for his cause through social media sites, and more than 200,000 people signed a petition asking for his release.  Lennox’s family was not permitted to see him before he was killed, and there was much controversy over the conditions in which he was kept, as well as questions about the actual date he was killed.

Lennox became the symbol of the fight against breed specific legislation, and animal advocates united in an effort to prevent and overturn laws that target dogs based on their appearance rather than their behavior.  Lennox’s death was not in vain.  It unified advocates and strengthened our will to fight BSL, and it sparked people who were previously unaware that breed specific laws existed to fight against it and work toward positive change.  Lennox and his heartbreaking ordeal will forever remind us that no animal should ever lose his life due to ignorance and bias, and no family should have to endure what Lennox’s family went through.

 AUGUST
Massachusetts Overhauls State Animal Control Law
Prohibits BSL

On August 2, 2012, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s animal control law. This is an extremely important bill that a number of animal advocacy groups worked on for six years. The new law provides, among other things, that no dog shall be declared dangerous based solely on breed, and no city or town can regulate dogs in a manner that is breed specific.  The new state law nullified all existing municipal breed specific ordinances in the state of Massachusetts!

Other provisions established in this monumental bill include:

**Requires all animal control officers be certified and trained in their field;
**Allows people seeking restraining orders to list their pets, allowing the pets to be taken with them;
**Creates a fund for donations to spay/neuter programs for homeless pets; and
**Elimination of the use of carbon monoxide or dioxide in euthanizing animals.

The signing of this bill made Massachusetts the 13th state to prohibit municipalities from passing breed specific ordinances, thus underscoring the growing understanding that breed specific laws do not work and are ineffective at achieving community safety.

ABA Adopts Resolution 100

On August 6, 2012, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates, during the 2012 ABA convention, approved Resolution 100, which urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.

This recommendation was accompanied by a comprehensive report detailing the problems associated with breed specific regulations, including significant questions of due process; waste of government resources; failure to produce safer communities; enforcement issues related to breed identification; and infringement of property rights.

Miami-Dade Ballot Initiative to Repeal BSL Fails

In December 2011, Florida House Representative Carlos Trujillo and Senator Jim Norman filed HB997 and SB 322, respectively. These bills would repeal the portion of the Florida statute that allow Miami and Dade County to discriminate against dogs simply because of their appearance and perceived breed. Both bills made incredible strides in their initial House and Senate readings, and it seemed extremely promising that the 23-year-old pit bull ordinance would be defeated.  Activists worked tirelessly to reverse decades of negative stigma against pit bulls reinforced by city and county officials, and Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle, and his wife Jamie, advocated extensively to allow ownership of pit bull type dogs in Miami-Dade.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be (this time).

The August 14, 2012 ballot initiative failed by a vote of 63% to 37%.   The ballot question was worded in a way that was extremely confusing, and it also characterized pit bull dogs as “dangerous,” adding to the confusion of voters. Advocates have vowed to fight on, and I expect we shall see bills drafted in the future that will end breed discrimination in Miami/Dade County once and for all.

NOVEMBER

In November, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published an article entitled Rethinking Dog Breed Identification in Veterinary Practices.  The article questions visual dog breed identification by veterinarians given the vast percentage of mixed-breed dogs in the United States, and discusses studies that demonstrate that physical appearance of a dog is not a good indicator of breed.  The article also notes that while DNA analysis of dog breeds continues to evolve but, rather than guessing at a dog’s breed, DNA testing should be utilized  in order to attain a more accurate understanding of the predominant breed(s) of a dog.

The authors, Dr. Rob Simpson, Dr. Kathryn Simpson, and Ledy VanKavage, Esquire, assert that correct identification of a dog’s breed based on visual inspection in dogs of unknown parentage can lead to misidentification and negative consequences. They recommend a shift toward a non-breed-based system given the ramifications that misidentification could have both from a legal, as well as quality-of-life, perspective.  Breed-based policies adopted by insurance companies and legislative bodies have also made this a potential area of concern for veterinarians.

The JAVMA article is significant in that many elected officials indicate reliance on physical appearance and/or breed determination by a veterinarian in order to determine if a dog would be subject to a breed discriminatory ordinance.  Providing this important information rebutting the reliance on breed identification by physical appearance, not only be a veterinarian, but by animal control or police officers, can and does lead to animals and owners being wrongly subject to and penalized by a breed specific law.

DECEMBER

A bill has been proposed in the Oklahoma legislature that would authorize governing boards of incorporated municipalities to restrict ownership of any breed of dog within municipal limits.SB32declares that an emergency exists, and the Bill is immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety. Oklahoma statute Title 4, §4-46 currently prohibits local, municipal and county authorities from regulating dogs based on breed.  The Bill does not have a House companion at this time, but Representative Paul Wesselhoft has been attempting to pass a breed specific bill in Oklahoma for years and, no doubt, he will likely sponsor a bill in the House.

The breed specific measures proposed in past legislative sessions have met stark opposition, and Oklahoma residents should be reaching out to their respective legislators to let them know they do not support BSL.

The bill is set to be introduced at a first reading on February 4, 2013.

*    *    *

Its easy to get bogged down, and even disheartened, in the day-to-day fight against breed specific legislation.  But in taking a step back and looking at the big picture, we made incredible strides in the fight against BSL in 2012. Aside from the overwhelming number of cities that decided against, as well as those who repealed their breed specific ordinances, we continue to see fewer cities proposing breed discriminatory ordinances.  It is obvious that the notion of judging dogs as dangerous based on their appearance is falling out of favor in lieu of common sense laws that focus on irresponsible and reckless dog owners.

We continue to see a wealth of information and studies released that support the failures and flaws of breed discriminatory laws. I encourage you to follow organizations like the National Canine Research Council  who work continuously to bring us reliable studies and reports based on facts and accurate data.  These studies allow us to educate elected officials and the general public on the many problems associated with breed specific laws.

While I have been active in the fight against BSL in Tennessee for several years now, my experience does not make me an expert, but it does allow me to give you insight into how you can prevent breed specific laws from passing.  In sharing and using accurate information to speak out against BSL, each of us play an integral role in preventing biased laws from being passed and in changing stereotypes related to certain breeds of dogs.  Waiting for someone else to speak out runs the risk of a heartbreaking outcome for responsible, loving owners and good dogs.  Be that someone.  Be the catalyst of positive change.  Arm yourself with knowledge, use that knowledge wisely, and be a positive role model for others to follow and learn from.

I hope that you, like me, find hope in reviewing the decisions made with respect to animal control laws in various cities across North America in 2012.  With your help and advocacy, I look forward to a 2013 that will yield even more positive results.

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