Monday, February 2, 2009

BSL: The Effects of Zero Tolerance Mentality

BSL: The Effects of Zero Tolerance Mentality

This week in a unanimous vote, the city of Lancaster, California passed a breed specific legislation (BSL) ordinance requiring all owners of pit bulls, Rottweilers, and mixed breed dogs deemed “potentially dangerous” to:

Have microchip implants and vaccinations at the owner’s expense.

Be kept indoors or in a securely fenced yard or enclosure constructed at the owner’s expense.

Wear a muzzle and a 4-foot-long leash held by a controlling adult when taken off the owner’s property.

Complete an approved obedience course at the owner’s expense.

Be spayed or neutered at the owner’s expense.

Be covered by liability insurance valued at $300,000 per occurrence obtained at the owner’s expense.

Owners who do comply could find themselves facing the impoundment of their pet, and they may be required to pay a $500 to $1,000 fine plus other costs, obtain a $300,000 liability insurance policy, or possibly FORFEIT THE RIGHT TO OWN ANY DOG for up to three years. If animal control determines that an impounded dog is too dangerous to be returned to their home, it will be destroyed without the possibility of appeal on behalf of the family. As a responsible dog owner, I do not have much contact with animal control officers, but the encounters I have had do not lead me to believe they are qualified to make such a determination.

Don’t get me wrong, I support many of those things to be done by responsible families of ALL dogs, but this ordinance targets two specific breeds and allows for personnel untrained in canine behavior to determine a dog’s temperament. Also, I think that we can agree that spaying and neutering of dogs and cats is the best way to reduce the pet overpopulation, but breed specific legislation is discriminatory and wrong. Just because a dog has the lineage of a certain breed does not mean that they are mean, evil, vicious, or bad. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Mastiffs, and other large breed dogs are no more likely to be “dangerous” than a Shih Tzu, Poodle, or Pomeranian. Any behaviorist, trainer or other dog professional can tell you that the environment a dog is raised in has far more to do with their temperament than their breed. In fact, the most vicious and dangerous dog I have ever encountered was a Spitz, and they are not much larger than a Chihuahua. This ordinance punishes the dogs unfortunate enough to not know any better, rather than the people who allowed their dogs to remain ignorant of how to act in a civilized dog community.

The council noted that the SIZE of the dog was why certain breeds were targeted, due to the severity of injury they could cause. Councilwoman Sherry Marquez said, “You can kick a vicious Chihuahua out of the way. You can’t kick a vicious Rottweiler out of the way.” The mayor of the town, R. Rex Parris admitted, “We are doing this to deliberately harass a certain group of people because that’s what the citizens want us to do.” He also noted that the ordinance was unfair, but he was willing to “bear the weight of it,” citing the city’s inability to control gang activities as the motivation for the breed discrimination ordinance.

So, I gather from their remarks that they are unable to control a gang problem, and due to the popularity of certain breeds of dogs with gang members, they are punishing all responsible families who happen to own the discriminated breeds, as they intend to harass suspected gang members seen with a Rottweiler or a pit bull. I see some flaws in their logic, as they are attempting to cure the problem by addressing symptoms, rather than the disease. I am not a doctor, like some of my fellow writers on United Liberty, but I am pretty sure that is not how you treat anything. They are trampling on the rights of everyone in an attempt to single out a few bad apples in the community. Councilman Ed Sileo was quoted as saying, “It’s not perfect. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution.” Despite the flaws in the legislation, it was passed unanimously and deemed a “good start.”

Rather than addressing some of the causes for gang activity, they are using the ordinance to harass anyone found with a restricted breed. Mayor Parris notes in the interview with KTLA in the video above that his intent has little to do with dangerous dogs, but with harassing people seen with the dogs. Rather than be held to the Fourth Amendment, police will be able to stop anyone in possession of a pit bull or Rottweiler (or any other “dangerous” breed) with no other cause. They can then use the “probably cause” to search for contraband with greater ease than they currently can. It makes for an interesting “Papers, please,” especially in cases where it is impossible to tell if a dog is intact.

Many cities and towns had laws that prevent or severely restrict the presence of certain breeds of dogs. This is due to a preconceived notion that these breeds are inherently evil, aggressive, or vicious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not list dog bites in their handy Topics menu just “above the fold,” nor anywhere on their main page. They also note on their “Dog Bite” page, that of the 4.7 million bites annually, only about sixteen, or .00002% of total dog bites, result in death. Due to the low number of incidents, they can not determine a breed’s likelihood for being vicious.

The biggest problem I find with their ordinance is that it severely restricts these breeds of dogs, targeting a group of people that are living a life in blatant disregard for the laws that currently exist. Why would a new law matter to them? Essentially outlawing them will drive the gang members to keep them from socializing their dogs, keep them from visiting the vet for medical attention, keep them from attending training to correct bad behavior, and keep them tied down on chains in the backyard.

As the councilmembers noted, this is just a start. It starts with pit bulls and Rottweilers, and then it moves on to German Shepherds and Akitas. No one speaks up, and before you know it, they are outlawing Poodles and Chihuahuas.

Punish the deed, not the breed.

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