Editorial feature: Putting a practical face on breed-specific legislation

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2005:

On Sunday, November 27, 2005, surgeons Jean-Michel
Dubernard of the Hopital Edouard-Herriot in Lyon, France, Benoit
Lengele of Belgium, and Universite de Amiens chief of face and jaw
surgery Bernard Devauchelle collabaorated to perform the first-ever
partial face transplant. Taking the nose, lips, and chin of
brain-dead organ donor Maryline St. Aubert, 46, of Cambrai, the
team restored the most prominent features of Isabelle Dinoire, 38,
who in May 2005 was severely mauled by a Labrador retriever she had
recently adopted from a pound near her home in Valenciennes.
The pound dog involved in that case was neither a pit bull
terrier nor a Rottweiler, both breeds continuing to glut U.S.
shelters at a rate exceeding by more than fivefold their proportion
in the pet population. Nonetheless, the French face transplant
helped to focus attention on the increasingly vexing question of what
to about dogs who are easily capable of killing or maiming someone
with their first-ever bite.
ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton has since September 1982
maintained a breed-specific log of life-threatening and fatal attacks
by dogs kept as pets. Guard dogs, fighting dogs, and police dogs
are excluded. As of December 6, 2005, 2,048 attacks had qualified
for listing, including 318 since the January/February 2004 edition
of ANIMAL PEOPLE editorially called on lawmakers to “Bring breeders
of high-risk dogs to heel.”

Of the 318 most recent attacks, 210–two thirds–were by pit
bull terriers, resulting in 21 deaths and 113 maimings, defined as
loss of a limb or permanent disfigurement. Rottweilers, next most
dangerous, account for 25 attacks, five fatalities, and 14
Overall, pit bull terriers accounted for 1,013 attacks, 91
deaths, and 557 maimings. Rottweilers were responsible for 392
attacks, 52 deaths, and 213 maimings.
After Rottweilers, the most-listed breeds were wolf hybrids
(69 attacks), German shepherds (59), chows (48 ), Akitas (47),
and pit-Rott mixes (39).
Pit bulls, Rottweilers, and their mixes, excusive of dogs
trained to fight, accounted for 71% of the total life-threatening
attacks, 65% of the attacks on children, 62% of the fatalities,
and 69% of the maimings.
In all, 81 breeds or known mixes have qualified for listing,
but 64 breeds were involved in fewer than 10 incidents each.
Labradors, the most popular breed, had been involved in 24
incidents, resulting in one death and 19 maimings–but mixes of pit
bull with Labrador were responsible for 15 incidents, three deaths,
and eight maimings.
ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out in January/February 2004 that
opponents of breed-specific legislation have in effect put all large
dogs at risk of the death penalty. Because some leading humane
societies still insist that all dogs are created equal, much of the
insurance industry refuses to insure any big dog, reducing the
numbers of adoptive homes available to all big dogs, not just pit
bulls, Rottweilers, and their mixes.
Because some of the leading U.S. humane organizations also
persist in conflating bite frequency with actuarial risk, which is
the amount of damage done per incident compared to the population
involved, shelties and Jack Russell terriers are at times redlined
right along with pit bulls and Rottweilers, whose bite frequency is
average but whose actuarial risk is more than 3,000 times higher than
that of the average dog.
The most penalized victims are pit bulls and Rottweilers
themselves, who continue to be bred and sold as disposable
commodities. Pit bulls in particular are demonstrably neglected,
abused, and dumped more than any other breed, even if not disposed
of in fighting or fight training. An ANIMAL PEOPLE spot-check of
shelters in 23 cities in June 2004 indicated that as many as 2.3
million of the 8.8 million dogs killed in shelters in 2004 were pit
bulls–and there is no hint that the pit bull toll declined in 2005.
ANIMAL PEOPLE two years ago asked lawmakers to discourage
breeding pit bulls, Rottweilers, and any other dogs of demonstrably
high actuarial risk, to help the tens of thousands of other large
dogs in shelters find homes, to help those now in homes to stay
there instead of becoming uninsurable, and most of all, to keep
future generations of high-risk dogs from ever entering shelters or
abusive situations, by keeping them from being born.
More has happened on the dog-related legislative front in the
two years since then than in the preceding 20 years, most notably in
California, Colorado, and Ontario, Canada.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on October 7, 2005
signed into law a bill by state senator Jackie Speer (D-Hillsborough)
that allows local governments to enact breed-specific dog
sterilization ordinances–exactly as some were doing in 1989, when
humane societies opposed to breed-specific regulation joined with dog
breeders in pushing a bill banning breed-specific ordinances through
the state legislature.
Opponents of the Speer law immediately promised legal
challenges to it, and began petitioning to try to repeal it, but
cities including San Francisco and Sacramento rushed to pass
breed-specific ordinances before January 1, 2006, the first day
that the new law allows such ordinances to take effect.
Responding to the June 2005 fatal mauling of Nicholas
Faibish, 12, whose mother shut him in a basement while allowing two
pit bulls the run of their home, the San Francisco city supervisors
on November 15 unanimously required pit bulls and pit bull mixes to
be sterilized, unless the keepers possess a breeding permit.
Violators may be fined up to $1,000. The San Francisco Department of
Animal Care & Control believes that about 7,000 of the estimated
120,000 dogs who live in San Francisco are pit bulls or pit bull
mixes, but they accounted for half of all alleged dangerous or
vicious dog cases reported in 2004, and half of the 800 dogs whom
the department euthanized for cause, in the city which has long had
the lowest rate of shelter killing per 1,000 humans of any major city
in the U.S.
Sacramento County approved a similar ordinance, but extended it to
wolf hybrids as well as pit bulls.
The Los Angeles Daily News editorially asked the Los Angeles
city government to “use [their] new power to rein in violent breeds,”
but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was preoccupied with trying to oust
animal control director Guerdon Stuckey. Stuckey was just the latest
of many animal control directors to lose or give up the job after
coming under aggressive activist attack for allegedly killing too
many pit bulls.
Ed Boks, named to succeed Stuckey on December 16, 2005,
previously headed the New York City Center for Animal Care & Control.
Before that, Boks directed the Phoenix/Maricopa County animal
control department.
Under Boks, the number of animals killed in New York City shelters
fell from an already low 5.4 per 1,000 humans to just 2.6, the same
as San Francisco. More pit bulls were adopted out than dogs of any
other breed–but pit bulls still had a 93% euthanasia rate,
prompting Boks to try unsuccessfully to change their image by
renaming them “New Yorkies.” That experiment lasted less than three
Taking a different approach to the dangerous dog problem,
the Contra Costa County board of supervisors on November 15
unanimously endorsed an ordinance which strengthens conventional
non-breed-specific legislation, and adds a clause prohibiting
convicted felons from keeping any dog who weighs more than 20 pounds.
The latter was inspired by the March 29 mauling of JaQuin Rice Jr.,
11, by two pit bulls belonging to convicted felon Jeff Bray, 28.
Charged initially with owning a dog trained to fight, attack or
kill, possession of marijuana, two firearms offenses, and two
counts of parole violation, Bray in August 2005 pleaded no contest
to one count of allowing a known mischievous dog to run loose causing
serious bodily injury, and one count of firearm possession. How the
new ordinance might have done anything to protect Rice that the
existing laws did not is unclear.
Civil suits in response to pit bull attacks are having a
visible effect in California. In May 2005 Palo Alto Daily News
publisher Diana Diamond excluded pit bulls from “Pet of the Week” ad
space donated to humane societies, largely to avoid liability if a
featured pit bull ever attacks someone.
Underscoring Diamond’s concern, a San Mateo County jury in June 2005
awarded $19,600 to Carrie Russell for the March 2003 fatal mauling of
her American Eskimo dog Puff E. Dog by a pit bull belonging to
neighbors Sylvia and Rodolfo Lopez. The pit bull attacked Puff E.
Dog after escaping from an 11-year-old who was walking him on a leash.
Awards of that size for dog attacks on other animals were
almost unheard of just a few years ago. Since the murder and
manslaughter convictions by jury of Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel
for the January 2001 fatal mauling of San Francisco Diane Whipple,
however, juries have been increasingly often persuaded that the mere
act of walking a dog one may be unable to control constitutes
significant negligence.

The Colorado experience

At about the same time that California cities began enacting
breed-specific ordinances only to be thwarted by the state
legislature, Denver in 1989 banned pit bulls. The ban was
extraordinarily successful: over the next 15 years Denver had no
life-threatening pit bull attacks, no dogfighting cases, and fewer
pit bull impounds than any other U.S. city of comparable size.
Impounds did, however, rise from 103 in 1999 to 652 in 2003,
paralleling the national trend.
In May 2004 the Denver pit bull ban was overturned by state
legislation that forbade breed specific ordinances, but in April
2005 the ban again came into force, after Denver won a court ruling
that the state law infringed rights specifically given to local
governments in the Colorado constitution.
Rescuers began hustling pit bulls out of town, while more
than 200 were either seized or surrendered to animal control during
the next three months and killed. Other communities including
Commerce City and Aurora passed ordinances modeled on the Denver
A reminder of one of the most notorious pit bull maulings
ever came on July 10, when William Lawrence Gladney, 47, of
Denver, was arrested in Memphis and returned to Colorado to face
charges of criminally negligent homicide for the 2003 death of
Jennifer Brooke, 40. Brooke, a horse trainer, was killed by three
loose pit bulls in Elbert County, Colorado. Co-defendant Jacqueline
McCuen is already serving six years in prison for her death.
Gladney was also wanted on federal drug charges, and for questioning
about the October 2004 shooting death of Marlo Earl Johnson, 35, of
Pit bull defenders pointed toward Gladney and McCuen, who
also had an extensive prior criminal record, as the sort of people
who give pits a bad name. Giselle “Jess” Solokoff, 36, however,
was reputedly the “right” sort, having operated Athfar Kennels & Dog
Rescue in Tellier County, Colorado since 1992. On September 6,
2005, Solokoff was cited for misdemeanor cruelty when a veterinarian
reported that she brought him a dog who appeared to have fighting
injuries. On September 21 charges of animal fighting, obstructing a
peace officer, and harassment were added.
“Court records show she has been cited six times this year on
suspicion of allowing a dog to bark and once for having a dog at
large,” R. Scott Rappold of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
“On one occasion in August, she accused deputies of trespassing and
threatened to ‘release the dogs,’ according to the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, she admitted being involved in organized
dogfighting and planned to act as a ‘medic’ at upcoming fights. Her
live-in boyfriend, Damon Bienvenu, 27, is wanted in Louisiana on a
charge of dogfighting, the affidavit states.”
Four pit bulls who were relocated from Denver to Aurora
because of the Denver ordinance on September 11 mauled Jose Simental,
36, and while Simental was hospitalized, mauled their host’s
landlord, Brady Meeks.
That prompted the Aurora city council to emulate the Denver
law–but Renee Denise Muniz, 37, and her daughter Danielle Denise
Carson, 20, kept their three pit bulls, along with two puppies, a
pit bull and a pit/chow mix. On November 2, nine days after the
Aurora ordinance passed, but three months before it was to take
effect, the dogs severely mauled Muniz’s son, Gregg Jones, 10.
Muniz was charged with child abuse, cruelty to animals and unlawful
ownership of a dangerous dog. Carson was charged with misdemeanor
cruelty to animals and unlawful ownership of a dangerous dog.
The Aurora cases point toward the risk of local bylaws merely
moving dangerous dogs from town to town, instead of putting breeders
and fighters out of business.

Looking ahead

Winnipeg, Manitoba, and at least three cities in Ontario
have long had successful breed-specific ordinances, but signs that
dogfighting and pit bull proliferation might be afflicting nearby
rural areas in early 2005 prompted Ontario attorney general Michael
Bryant to seek a province-wide pit bull ban that “grandfathers” pit
bulls already in Ontario, if they are sterilized and are muzzled and
leashed whenever out in public. The Bryant bill passed five days
after three pit bulls rampaged through a residential neighborhood in
Ottawa, the national capital, for the second time in just a few
Strict enforcement of the Ontario pit bull ban was to begin
in August. The first reported prosecution began in Ottawa in late
November, involving a pit bull who allegedly attacked people on at
least two occasions.
Breed-specific legislation of various sorts is reportedly now
under consideration in Chicago, Louisville, and the state of
Massachusetts, among other places. Much of it is essentially
experimental, as lawmakers have little history of relevant
jurisprudence to guide them in drafting successful approaches. No
states, no Canadian provinces before Ontario, and only a handful of
U.S. cities have experience with trying to enforce breed-specific dog
laws. Much of the older breed-specific legislation, moreover,
reflects the values and attitudes of more than 20 years ago, when
more than four times as many dogs were killed in shelters, and
animal control killing was relatively non-controversial.
ANIMAL PEOPLE believes–as we emphasized in January/February
2004–that effective breed-specific legislation must target breeding.
ANIMAL PEOPLE does not favor killing or confiscating pit bull
terriers or any dogs who have authentic homes, although we would
favor confiscating pit bulls and other dogs of “fighting” breeds from
breeders, as well as from people who abuse and neglect them.
ANIMAL PEOPLE believes laws against possession of pit bulls
and other “fighting” breeds will be most effective if enforcement is
triggered by evidence of breeding, sale, or other exchange. The
act of offering animals for sale constitutes an admission both that
the animals belong to the would-be seller and that they are not
considered members of the family.
ANIMAL PEOPLE favors sterilization and micro-chipping
requirements, but effective breed-specific legislation must be
enforceable on sight of the dog, so that if an animal control or
police officer sees a pit bull offered for sale, or outside secure
fencing or adequate restraint, the officer can immediately call for
backup and proceed with an arrest. If sterilization and
microchipping are the only requirements for keeping a pit bull or a
dog of another “fighting” breed, the officer will be exposed to
unnecessary risk in approaching and handling strange dogs in
unsecured locations.
Calling for backup just to check for a microchip is not
practical, but the animal control or police officer who approaches
gang members without backup may be taking a life-threatening
risk–and gang members are the people whose dogs are most likely to
be used in fights, or to attack someone.
ANIMAL PEOPLE does not consider breed-specific legislation a
success if it does not actually stop the reproduction of problematic
breeds, stop dogfighting and speculation on fighting bloodlines,
curtail shelter intakes of pit bulls and other “fighting” dogs, end
shelter killing of dogs of all kinds to make room for the rising
influx of pit bulls, and stop dog attacks on people and other
Success has to be measured by all of these criteria.
Anything that just brings a heap of dead dogs is another
tragic failure–and is basically where we already are.

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