by: Ralph C. Richardson, DVM
This letter was initially prepared for publication in The Manhattan Mercury
to letters and articles about breed bans.
DANGEROUS DOGS: A VIEWPOINT ON BREED BANS
Your two recent articles by Kevin Elliott (ref.
“Dogs at large” on September 22, 2006 and “naughty or nice?” on September
24) were well done and accurate. Mr. Don Redeker’s Letter to the Editor published
on September 24th seeking a breed ban on Pit Bulls is an understandable and
common response to reports of dog attacks or media coverage such as yours.
In order to avoid having Manhattan go down a “breed ban” pathway, I would
like to offer a veterinary professional view on the topic of dangerous dogs
and, specifically on the fallacy of believing that breed bans are effective.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
has written a position paper on dangerous dogs (Dr. Gail Golub, Assistant
Director of Communications, November, 2005). In that paper Dr. Golub notes
that banning specific breeds to control dog bite injuries ignores the scope
and nature of the problem and is unlikely to protect a community’s citizens.
Breed bans assume all dogs of a specific breed are likely to bite, instead
of acknowledging that most dogs are not a problem. In the 1970’s the
German Shepherd breed was the one to avoid, in the ‘80’s it was the Doberman,
in the ‘90’s it was the Rottweiler, and in the first decade of the 21st Century,
it is the Pit Bull. Kansas City has had a breed ban on Pit Bulls for over
15 years, yet they have not controlled their dangerous dog problems through
confiscation and euthanasia. Breed ban laws rarely assign appropriate responsibilities
where the blame lies: to owners.
The AVMA notes that a dog’s tendency to bite
depends on at least six interacting factors: heredity, early experience,
socialization and training, physical and behavioral health, victim behavior,
and environment. Breed-ban approaches ignore five of the six and are not
likely to result in effective injury control. Banning specific breeds may
give owners of other breeds a false sense of security and decrease their
desire to seek appropriate socialization and training of their pets.
The AVMA recommends the following strategies to prevent
dog bite injuries: 1) enforcement of generic, non-breed-specific dangerous
dog laws, with an emphasis on chronically irresponsible owners; 2)
enforcement of animal control ordinances such as leash laws; 3) prohibition
of dog fighting; 4) encouraging neutering; and 5) school-based and adult
education programs that teach pet selection strategies, pet care and responsibility,
and bite prevention.
Perhaps Manhattan’s most effective steps of action
are not to impose more laws, but to focus on responsible pet care and to
implement bite prevention training in all of our grade schools. Manhattan
is fortunate to have a reasonable set of dangerous dog laws and ordinances.
We do not tolerate dog fighting. Our veterinary community is well-educated
and provides a great source of information regarding physical and behavioral
health of pets. When problems occur, increased responsibility on the part
of pet owners is needed. Bite prevention information and training is
readily available through a variety of sources (e.g., brochures, videotapes,
journal articles). Appropriate education through parental and early-year
school teaching programs will do more to protect our children and citizens
than any number of new laws.