Dog breed specific legislation: It just doesn’t work -- a student perspective

Ed Note: We’re pleased to publish the article below from Tori Blakeney, a senior at Capital City Public Charter School. Tori wrote the article for a school project and Petworth News offered to publish the article to help promote the topic of dog breed legislation, and give Tori an opportunity to reach a wider audience.

I am an owner of two pitbull: my girl’s name is Precious and my boy’s name is Max. I love them both so very dearly and can't imagine being without them. It saddens me to know that there are laws that are intended to protect people but are hurting animals and pet owners.

Growing up, I have always had a pitbull by my side. Since I was a baby, my dad has owned pitbulls and would breed them to help support the family. I guess in a way you could say I grew up biased, but I also grew up with first-hand knowledge of this breed.

Around the age of 10 I owned a pitbull named Diamond. She was all white with tan spots around her torso. She was the sweetest and most well-disciplined dog I ever met. She always stayed with me and guarded me no matter the situation. She was one of my favorite pits that I ever had. What people fail to understand is you fear what you don’t know, and when you do learn more, it's not as scary as you think it is. Unfortunately, people's lack of knowledge about the history of this breed has led to unfair and ineffective legislation that has targeted pitbulls.

Over the course of time, pitbulls have been mistakenly perceived as violent and dangerous. Since the breed first started in the early 1800s in the United Kingdom, pitbulls were trained to be fighting dogs. Primarily, breeders crossbred Bulldogs and Black and Tan Terriers to be strong and quick so that they would be good at fighting rats and other dogs. Now, many pitbulls use their strength to help society as police dogs or service dogs.

Breed specific legislation was first introduced in the United Kingdom when the Dangerous Dog Act was passed in 1991. Breed specific legislation restricts residents from owning particular breeds of dogs. This act targeted four dog breeds: the Dogo Argentino, the Fila Brasileiro, the Japanese Tosa, and the American Pitbull Terrier. All of these dogs had a history of dogfighting, and, as a result, were viewed as dangerous. Because of this history, stereotypes and fear distorted the image of this loving breed.

Breed specific legislation traveled to the United States, and now many cities around the country, including Denver, Colorado, Prince Georges, Maryland and Midfield, Alabama have passed restrictive legislation. These cities are discriminating against their residents who want to own a particular breed of dog. Pitbull owners could risk the seizure of the dog, a fine up to $500 or imprisonment up to 30 days.

I know if we had give our dogs away to the government, it would break my heart. But there are people other than myself who need them, such as people with disabilities or special needs. For example, Lennox was a service pitbull who helped a disabled girl named Brooke cope with her disabilities, and eventually became her best friend. Because of Breed Specific Legislation, Lennox was locked in a cage for two years for no reason other than her breed. Because of these two years of separation from her service animal, Brooke has missed many days of school due to “suffering health and unneeded stress caused by missing her dog.” Not only was this child affected by not having her service dog to assist her but from being emotionally detached from her friend.

Breed specific legislation is unfair because dogs become aggressive based on how they were treated not because of their breed. President Obama issued a statement in 2013 that opposed breed specific legislation arguing that “bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources. And the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.”

Any dog, no matter the breed, could become a threat, but only pitbulls are targeted by breed-specific legislation and that's highly unfair. Breed specific legislation is based on the stereotype that pitbulls are more likely to bite than other breeds. According to Shakira Richardson from the DC Department of Health Animal Services Program, the chihuahua and golden retriever are the most common biting dogs, but they don’t seem to be discriminated against.

Being an owner of two pitbulls, I find it heartbreaking that people cannot accept these dogs. Pitbulls are caring, protective, and gentle to human beings. The only way that they would ever show any type of aggression is if it was triggered by how people treat them or react to them. If a person shows fear, the dog is more alert than it would be if the person were calm. So if an owner shows signs of fear or stress, then the dog will move into a protective mode. They are no different than a parent trying to protect their child. The only difference between the human and the dog is that people have resources to use to extinguish the threat. And what do dogs have? They just have us as advocates.

To help pitbulls, people started agencies to advocate for the safety of pitbull, such as the Best Friends Animal Society, and the Humane Society of America. These organizations have been around for years to help bring awareness to animal abuse, breed specific legislation, and other animal rights issues.

You can use this breed specific legislation map if you want to find out if your city or state has a BSL law put in place, and what type of law. You can help stop BSL by starting a petition or going to your local representative and discuss what you believe should be done. If you live in an area where BSL doesn’t affect you then you can donate to an association such as the Humane Society, ASPCA, and many more to help all pitbulls.

Everyone deserves equality, even pitbulls, and it is not our place to discriminate because of fear.

About the Author

My name is Tori Blakeney. I am 17 years old and I am from Washington DC. I am the youngest of three kids and the only girl.

I am a senior at Capital City Public Charter School, and am attending Old Dominion University to major in Exercise Science and Kinesiology to become a physical therapist.

I wrote this article for Senior Expedition, year-long class where we write a 15-20 page paper about a topic of our choice. I chose breed specific legislation and how it affects pitbulls because I have a personal connection since I own pitbulls, and believe that breed specific legislation is discriminatory towards an misunderstood breed.