American Humane Association, which has been working to protect the nation’s children and animals for 136 years, applauds President Obama for joining a growing chorus of animal-friendly groups including American Humane Association that are opposed to breed-specific legislation (BSL) and have been calling for an end to the banning or restriction of specific types of dogs based only on their breed.
This is a great week for America’s — and humankind’s — best friends. Not only is there a new dog in the White House, but the President has made it a new day for dogs by opposing unjust and ineffective laws that ban or restrict certain types of dog based only on breed. Fact is, there is little evidence that supports breed-specific legislation as an effective means of reducing dog bites and dog attacks. On the contrary, studies have shown that it is not the breeds themselves that are dangerous, but unfavorable situations that are creating dangerous dogs. The support of the administration on this issue is a step forward in addressing the true issues and improving the safety and welfare for both people and the animals they love.
Legislation targeting specific breeds simply does not work because dog attacks result from multiple factors, not just a simple breakdown of breed culpability. Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association and The National Canine Research Council, as well as independent researchers, all agree that BSL is not productive. On top of this, a recent scientific study shows that breed identification is often difficult, compounding the problem.
There are, however, four key points that could reduce the number of dog attacks:
Children are statistically the most at risk for dog bites. Unsupervised newborns were 370 times more likely than an adult to be killed by a dog. Eighty-two percent of dog bites treated in emergency rooms involved children under 15 years old. Adult supervision plays a key role in prevention. Children who understand how to act around dogs, how to play with dogs, when to leave dogs alone and how to properly meet a dog are much less likely to be bitten. By educating children at home and in school, we can drastically reduce the instances of dog bites.
Communities can greatly reduce the number of dog bites by enacting stronger animal control laws and by providing better resources for enforcing existing laws. Examples include leash, animal-at-large and licensing laws, as well as mandatory spay/neuter laws for shelters. Additional measures include increasing and enforcing penalties for violations, targeting chronically irresponsible owners, imposing serious penalties for bites that occur in the context of another infraction (particularly a violation of leash laws) and prohibiting chaining or tethering for excessive periods of time. Chaining and/or neglect results in anxious, lonely, bored, under-stimulated, untrained, unsocialized, isolated dogs that are much more likely to react aggressively because of their fear. However, enacting more laws and strengthening laws are not the only answers. Animal control facilities are already underfunded and understaffed, which makes enforcement of existing laws difficult. It is essential that legislators recognize the value of and need for animal control facilities and officers, and provide them with increased financial support and staffing to enforce these laws. American Humane supports the enactment and enforcement of dangerous-dog laws that are breed neutral and identify dangerous dogs based on actions — not on breed. Good dangerous-dog laws involve a hearing after a dog has bitten or threatened a person or another animal. If the dog is found to be dangerous, the dog’s owner can be required to meet a variety of requirements, such as having the dog neutered, muzzled at all times when off the owner’s property, always on a leash, confined to the owner’s yard, microchipped, etc.
Spaying and neutering
Unneutered male dogs are more than twice as likely to bite than neutered dogs, while female dogs in heat or nursing are much more dangerous than spayed females. The behavior of intact animals can be unpredictable. Talk to your veterinarian to schedule an appointment, or contact your local humane organization or animal shelter for information on low-cost spay/neuter assistance. If your community does not provide low-cost services, encourage your legislator, local animal shelter or veterinarian to consider the option as a public-health service. Get more information on spaying and neutering.
Better bite reporting
Researchers agree that better statistics on dog bites could greatly improve our ability to firmly identify the factors that should be the primary focus for improving public safety. Research to date is primarily based on incomplete police and hospital records, as well as newspaper articles. Incomplete data includes failure to record the location of bites, age and sex of the dog, age and sex of the victim, circumstances surrounding the bites and accurate breed identification.
Dogs left on their own may feel uncertain and defensive, or even overly confident — and this poses risks to the dog, as well as to other people and dogs. The vast majority of dogs involved in attacks are off-leash and unsupervised. Additionally, unsupervised children may innocently wander too close to a dangerous situation. Eighty-eight percent of fatal dog attacks among 2-year-olds occurred when the child was left unsupervised. Supervision of children, especially around dogs, is one way to help ensure they are safe.
Train and socialize your dog:
Be sure your dog interacts with and has good manners around all members of the family, the public and other animals. Basic training is as important for the owner as it is for the dog, and socialization is the key to a well-adjusted adult dog. It is essential that puppies between 8 and 16 weeks old be exposed to a variety of people, places, dogs and other animals. As dogs age, do your best to continue their exposure to these things to ensure that they are well socialized throughout their lives.
Restrain your dog:
Dogs that are allowed to roam loose outside the yard may perceive the entire neighborhood as their “territory” and may defend it aggressively. By obeying leash laws and taking care to properly fence your yard, you will not only be respecting the laws in your community, but you will also be keeping your dog safe from cars, other dogs and unforeseen dangers.
Unchain your dog:
Chained dogs are nearly three times more likely to bite. Tethering or chaining dogs increases their stress, protectiveness and vulnerability, thereby increasing the potential for aggression. Fencing is the better solution.
For thousands of years, dogs have been our best friends. Eliminating breed-specific legislation is one way of showing that we can be their best friends, as well. We are very pleased to have the President and the Administration take this vital step in opposing BSL.