Friday, December 19, 2014

Breed isn’t a factor

12/6/2013

I have been most recently spearheading a campaign to fight the Ottawa pit bull ban, which was written into law about 26 years ago, and hopefully get it replaced with a better, more comprehensive, non breed-specific dangerous dog law that will put more attention on the owner rather than the dog.  We have a big hearing coming up in January for the public to be heard. A new study related to this law will be published soon.

Communities must establish a well-defined procedure for dealing with dogs proven to be dangerous, which includes, if necessary, the destruction of such animals. To be effective, such legislation should not be breed-specific.

I have been most recently spearheading a campaign to fight the Ottawa pit bull ban, which was written into law about 26 years ago, and hopefully get it replaced with a better, more comprehensive, non breed-specific dangerous dog law that will put more attention on the owner rather than the dog.  We have a big hearing coming up in January for the public to be heard. A new study related to this law will be published soon.

Communities must establish a well-defined procedure for dealing with dogs proven to be dangerous, which includes, if necessary, the destruction of such animals. To be effective, such legislation should not be breed-specific.

Breed-specific legislation has been ruled unconstitutional in court venues across the United States on grounds ranging from vagueness, to an infringement of property rights, to equal treatment, equal protection under the law, to lack of due process. In cities where such legislation is permitted, enforcement of a breed-related law is difficult because of inability to accurately identify breeds, unfair negative impact on model citizens and equally model mannerly dogs, and lack of attention to the real issue of dog owner responsibility.

Breed-specific legislation is costly to implement and enforce properly. In 2008, Omaha proposed such legislation that would cost more than a half million dollars to enforce. The United Kingdom’s Dangerous Dog Act, which includes a ban on certain breeds of dogs, is estimated to have cost more than $14 million to enforce between the years 1991 and 1996 (no more recent numbers are available). It has come under fire lately as dog bites (committed by non-targeted dogs) rise despite the ban. Baltimore, Md., estimated (in 2001) that it cost more than $750,000 a year to enforce its breed-specific legislation, and the city still was unable to enforce the law effectively. Even small cities and communities like Ottawa can spend tens of thousands of dollars annually to uphold these rules if they properly enforce them. All this money is spent without any evidence, anywhere, that the breed-specific legislation actually increases public safety.

In fact, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published and will release Dec. 15, the most comprehensive multi-factorial study of dog bite-related fatalities to be completed since the subject was first studied in the 1970s. It identified a significant co-occurrence of multiple potentially preventable factors. It did not use information contained in news accounts as previous studies had. Detailed case histories were compiled using reports by homicide detectives and animal control agencies, and interviews with investigators. These case histories took months and sometimes years to complete long after the news stories had come and gone.

The research project found striking co-occurrences of multiple, controllable factors in each fatality such as no-able bodied person being present to intervene (87.1 percent); the victim having no familiar relationship with the dog or dogs (85.2 percent); the owner of the dog or dogs failing to neuter/spay the dog or dogs (84.4 percent); a victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog or dogs (77.4 percent); the owner keeping dog or dogs as resident or yard dogs rather than as family pets (76.2 percent); the owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog or dogs (37.5 percent); and the owner’s abuse or neglect of dog or dogs (21.1 percent).

Four or more of these factors were present in 80.5 percent of the fatality cases. Breed was not one of those factors. In fact, the study reported that the dog breeds could not be reliably identified in more than 80 percent of the cases. Newspaper articles disagreed with each other and/or animal control reports in a large number of the incidents. In only 45 (18 percent) of the cases, the researchers could make a valid determination that the animal was a specific breed. Out of those 45, incidents 22 different breeds were reliably identified. You can read more of the National Canine Research Councils summary on a link on the “Don’t Bully My Breed - Ottawa, KS” Facebook page.

The previous studies on dog bite-related fatalities, which were widely publicized, have been misunderstood and misused to justify single-factor policy proposals such as breed-specific laws, even though the authors of each study did not endorse such policies. Simple failure to produce a reduction in dog bite-related injuries in jurisdictions where pit bull bans have been imposed has caused the support for breed-specific legislation to fade. From January 2012 to May 2013, more than three times as many jurisdictions either repealed such laws or considered and rejected it as enacted it. The House of Delegates of the American Bar Association has passed a resolution urging all state, territorial and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed-specific provisions. In August 2013, the White House came out, citing the views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and published a statement with the headline, “Breed-specific legislation is a bad idea.”

The trend for safer, dog-owner-friendly communities continues to move in favor of multi-factorial approaches focusing on improved ownership practices, better understanding of dog behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs and consistent enforcement of dangerous dog/reckless owner ordinances in communities. This new study and its methodology offer an excellent opportunity for policymakers, physicians, journalists and indeed anyone concerned with the prevention of dog bite-related injuries to develop an understanding of the multi-factorial nature of both serious and fatal incidents, and see an opportunity for real change here in Ottawa as well for the betterment of all of our residents. I thank everyone for the overflowing support we have received in getting these changes made here in Ottawa.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” This statement has given me a lot of motivation to do what is right, and I challenge the rest of you who know it is wrong but choose to say nothing to step up and help us make this right for those who have no voice.

— Jason Berve,

Ottawa

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