Breed-Specific Bans Spark Constitutional Dogfight

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
June 17, 2004

Imagine being told you have ten days to get rid of your dog.

That's what pet owners in Caraway, Arkansas, were recently ordered to do after the city council passed an ordinance in May that bans pit bulls, Dobermans and Rottweilers from being kept in the city.

Caraway now joins about 200 cities and towns throughout the United States that restrict or prohibit ownership of certain breeds of dogs, according to the American Canine Foundation in Belfair, Washington, an organization dedicated to fighting against such legislation.

Large, powerful dogs are frequently targeted, including Akitas, chow chows, Dalmatians, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Great Danes, pit bulls, Rottweilers as well as mixes of these breeds.

Cities like Miami (Florida), Pawtucket (Rhode Island), and Cincinnati (Ohio) ban breeds they deem dangerous or vicious. Other communities place restrictions on owners, such as requiring that they carry liability insurance or muzzle their pets in public.

The laws are often passed after a fatal dog attack in a community and city officials want to protect the public from future incidents.

But animal organizations say breed bans don't keep residents safe because they fail to target the real problem: irresponsible pet owners.

"If a specific breed is banned, irresponsible owners intent on using their dogs for malicious or illegal purposes will go underground with their dogs, or switch to another breed and continue to jeopardize public safety," said Gina DiNardo Lash, director of club communications for the American Kennel Club (AKC), an organization that supports breeding and exhibiting of pure bred dogs.

The AKC, headquartered in New York City, recognizes 152 different breeds; worldwide there are about 400.

Legal Loophole

Stephen Zawistowski, senior vice president and science advisor for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York City, said the difficulty with breed-specific legislation is that it doesn't address the root problem: dogs are bred and created by people.

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