Canine Legislative Conference Comes Down Hard Against Breed Bans



      Chicago, IL. Chicago Aldermen Shirley Coleman and Eugene Schulter were among those who attended the 2006 Canine Legislation Conference, August 19 and 20 at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago’s Loop. The focus of the conference was breed specific bans.

      “What we tried to do in the City of Chicago was to create a model for other cities, showing that a more thoughtful response addresses public safety than banning a breed,” Schulter said.

      The response he’s referring to is an alternative to breed specific legislation (BSL), which was called for by another Alderman Ginger Rugai following a dog attack last November in Cary IL, which is in McHenry County Northwest of Chicago. Three pit bulls mauled and severely injured 10-year old Nick Foley, and landed five others in the hospital, including the dogs’ owner.

      Coleman agreed with her city council colleague, “The first reaction is to ban a breed. We want to do the right thing for our constituents. And there is a feeling out there that pit bulls are most responsible for the problems because they are pit bulls. Today, I know that is a misconception.”

      That misconception has spread across America. Ledy Van Kavage, legislative chair at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) maintained much of the problem is media bias. “It’s odd how the media years ago had no problem with (U.S.) Presidents having pit bulls, or Petey on ‘The Little Rascals.’ It’s interesting how pit bull attacks today always make the papers. And they don’t refer to it as a dog attack but rather a pit bull attack. When other dog breeds attack, the chances of it making the papers aren’t as great. And if it does (make the papers), the headline doesn’t say Golden Retriever attack, but merely says ‘dog attack.’ So, the urban legends begin. And the impact is really serious.”

      Janis Bradley, author of “Dogs Bite But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous,” (James & Kenneth, Berkeley, CA; 2005; $14.95) said “If there are four auto fatalities on a given morning in a large city, it will make the morning news but mostly it’s an item that makes the traffic report, so people can avoid the traffic back up. Can you imagine the national news headline if one dog killed four people? It’s an event that never has happened, and is never likely to. Because the truth is that dog fatalities by any breed are so rare, even statistically insignificant, with 12 to 20 deaths (annually).”       

      Bradley, who is also a dog trainer at the San Francisco SPCA Academy of Dog Trainers, says you’re five times more likely to be killed by lightening (than by a dog) and four times more likely to be killed by a fork lift truck. Even if you don’t have a dog, you’re likely to encounter dogs, many of us will never see a forklift truck – yet they’re statistically more likely to cause a death. A child’s own caretaker is 80 times more likely to kill their own child, compared to a dog. And no one is trying to ban parents.

      Van Kavage said that Allstate insurance has a ban against eight breeds (if you apply for homeowners’ insurance). This ban is based on urban legend rather than true actuarial facts, which is how the insurance industry is supposed to make decisions.

   Van Kavage pointed out that of the fatal dog attacks in 2005, 81 per cent of the dogs were not pets per se; they were guard dogs or used by gangs.

       Coleman, whose ward is on Chicago’s south side in a generally less than affluent area, conceded breed specific bans sometimes happen out of desperation. “Public officials don’t know what else to do. We realize there are bad people out there, and the gangs. We’re under pressure to do something.” 

      Under that pressure ‘to do something,’ is the explanation why Coleman and Schulter created a Committee of local dog experts to craft an alterative plan to BSL. “Our goal was to find a way to enhance public safety without a targeting a breed,” said Schulter. “Certainly, any individual dog under the right circumstances can be a problem.”

      Jeff Armstrong’s son was attacked by a Rottweiler a few years ago. Armstrong, who works in the printing business and is in Melrose Park, IL, said his family has never had a dog. He recalled, “The community’s response at first was to ban Rottweiler’s; and believe me I wanted revenge too. But when my son recovered, I was surprised to see him with a friendly Rottweiler. I thought, well, ‘they’re obviously not all vicious.’ I did some homework, and I learned that, of course, the problem isn’t about all Rotties, or all pit bulls, it’s about the people who have the dogs.”

      Armstrong went on to create legislation in Illinois (known as Ryan’s Law, named after his son) to on one hand enforce harsher penalties for anyone with a dangerous dog, but also to outlaw breed specific bans. Armstrong is also the founder of Parents Against Irresponsible Dog Owners.

      Van Kavage and the ASPCA strongly supported Ryan’s Law. “We do want dangerous dogs off the streets. But we also know canine profiling laws (she’s referring to BSL) do not work to do anything, except cost taxpayers money.” For example, fighting BSL in Prince George’s, County, MD cost the local government, $560,000. And gradually courts are beginning to find BSL unconstitutional. Local taxpayers, of course, pay for those court cases.

      Van Kavage adds, “I wish the press would cover how in some communities after BSL is passed, officials actually confiscate dogs. These are dogs without any history of provocation; they’re just profiled and guilty by association. The price they pay is their life. I mean they’re killed. Can you imagine this happening to your dog?”

      While BSL is being discussed at major dog trainer and veterinary conferences, this is the first time ever an entire conference has been devoted to the issue. The conference was sponsored by New Leash on Life Chicago, and cosponsored by Kansas City Dog Advocates, and others.