Breed bans hit court opposition; anti-tethering laws gain favor
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
TOLEDO, TIPTON (Pa.)–A three-judge panel of the Ohio Sixth
District Court of Appeals on March 3, 2006 struck down as
unconstitutional both the Toledo ban on pit bull terriers, in effect
for more than 20 years, and the parts of the Ohio Revised Code on
which the ban was based.
The 2-1 opinion, written by Judge William Skow with assent
from Judge Arlene Singer, reversed a 2004 ruling by Toledo Municipal
Court Judge Francis Gorman.
Lucas County dog warden Tom Skeldon reluctantly instructed
his staff to stop citing Toledo residents for possession of multiple
pit bulls, not carrying dog bite liability insurance, and not
keeping pit bulls under close control.
“We’re not in the pit bull business any more. We’re not in
the vicious-dog business any more,” Skeldon told Erica Blake of the
Toledo Blade. “They’ve taken away our ability to enforce
containment, whether of a German shepherd or a pit bull, whether
the dog has bitten someone or not.”
The verdict came three days after two dogs of banned breeds, an
American bulldog mix and a Presa Canario, mauled Nicole Brown, 12,
of Oregon, in Toledo.
The Ohio verdict, opposite to a 2005 decision by the
Colorado Supreme Court, is not a direct precedent for other states,
carries less weight than the Colorado ruling, and will be appealed,
pledged acting Toledo law director John Madigan.
Colorado 18th Judicial District Judge Michael Spear on
February 8 invoked the Colorado Supreme Court ruling in
dismissing–for the second time–a lawsuit brought by Khristina
Villani of Brighton, who sought to overturn a pit bull ban that took
effect on February 1 in the city of Aurora. Brighton owns property
While the Ohio verdict is appealed, however, it may inhibit
the passage of other breed-specific legislation.
But that might increase support for anti-chaining laws, an
increasingly popular alternative approach to preventing dog attacks.
The four most common factors in life-threatening and fatal
dog attacks, according to research posted by the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control & Prevention, are that the dog is unsterilized, the
victim is a child, the dog is a pit bull, and the dog is either
tethered or has a history of usually being tethered.
Ironically, many communities still have public safety
statutes requiring that dogs be kept fenced or tethered. Until under
20 years ago most humane societies promoted tethering as a
second-best alternative to fencing, as part of their effort to
discourage petkeepers from letting animals roam at large.
Unsterilized male dogs have been known to be more aggressive,
and female dogs with litters have been known to be more reactive,
since Biblical times. Licensing ordinances that set lower fees for
sterilized dogs already exist in most of the U.S., and many
jurisdictions have additional legislation to try to boost the
Children are the victims of about three out of four dog
attacks. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention analysis
holds that this is primarily because children spend the most time
close to dogs, and are less experienced than most adults at knowing
when a dog may bite. Many bite prevention programs already target
children, but some of the common tips can be misleading with pit
bulls, who have been bred in part to exhibit behavior that may
deceive foes in a fight, and have often had their ears and tails
cropped to further obscure their body language.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported in a
1991 study that tethered dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than
dogs who roam free. Tethering tends to increase dogs’ territoriality
and likelihood of delivering a reactive bite, since a tied dog
cannot run away from a perceived threat.
Further, the tether often trips the attack victim, enabling the dog
to maul a person who otherwise might escape unharmed.
Since January 1, 2005, the ANIMAL PEOPLE files indicate,
tethering has been a factor in 55 of 174 life-threatening or fatal
dog attacks in the U.S. and Canada of which we have record (32%),
but was involved in only four of 35 cases abroad (11%), where dogs
are much less often tied.
Tethering was also a factor in eight of 31 dog-shootings by
U.S. police (26%).
In some cases dogs usually kept tied attacked people and/or
were shot after escaping. In others, the dogs attacked while tied.
Until 2005, the ANIMAL PEOPLE files on dog attacks were not
logged in a way that left tethering history easily accessible, but
the breed-specific log of life-threatening and fatal attacks goes
back to September 1982. Through March 2006, 2,081 dog attacks in
the U.S. and Canada qualified for listing: 1,027 by pit bull
terriers (49%), 399 by Rottweilers (19%), 2% by pit/Rott mixes,
and 323 by the seven next most often involved breeds combined: wolf
hybrids, German shepherds and their close mixes, chows, Akitas,
huskies, and boxers.
Just 10 breeds and their close mixes accounted for 86% of all
life-threatening and fatal dog attacks. Among those breeds, only
German shepherds and their mixes have consistently ranked among the
10 most popular. Pit bulls, now a “top 10 breed,” for the first
time ever, appear to have increased from less than 1% of the U.S.
dog population for most of the 20th century to nearly 6% now.
Accompanying the six-fold increase in the number of pit bulls
has been an eight-fold increase in the number of human deaths and
maimings by pit bulls.
Breed-specific legislation, long opposed by the American
Kennel Club, the American SPCA, and the Humane Society of the U.S.,
is no longer actively opposed by HSUS, and has won support around
the U.S. and Canada. According to the AKC, 37 jurisdictions in 17
states were considering breed-specific ordinances as of mid-March
The American Canine Foundation, which backed the Toledo
lawsuit, in early March 2006 served notice of intent to sue seeking
to overturn a breed-specific ordinance adopted on February 22, 2006
in Auburn, Washington. The Auburn ordinance lists 12 breeds in all:
pit bulls, 10 closely related “fighting” breeds, and Akitas.
The most sweeping pit bull ban to date was enacted in 2005 in
Ontario, Canada, covering the entire province, but “Toronto will
not fully enforce the ban unless the prov-ince helps to pay the
costs,” Toronto Star reporter Paul Moloney disclosed on March 23.
“The city budget committee did not support an animal services
department request for funds to hire 10 more animal control
officers,” whom the city claimed would be needed.
“If the province wants a higher standard of enforcement,
then we need money,” said budget committee vice chair Joe Mihevic.
“It’s our hope that costs will not increase significantly
because we expect citizens will comply with the law,” returned
Ontario Ministry of Justice spokesperson Brendan Crawley. “They will
keep their pit bulls muzzled and leashed, they will get their pit
bulls neutered, and therefore we don’t anticipate costs will increase
Anti-tethering laws have contrastingly met little opposition
since 2003, when Connecticut became the first state to enact an
anti-tethering law. Most recently, the Fort Lauderdale city council
voted unanimously on March 22, 2006 to follow Hollywood, Dania
Beach, Pembroke Park, and Hallandale Beach in banning prolonged
tethering, at request of the Broward County Humane Society and
Mothers Against Dog Chaining.
Bloomington, Indiana banned prolonged tethering in February 2006.
“There are currently at least 80 cities, counties, and
states in the nation with laws banning or limiting chaining,”
according to Tammy Grimes, of Tipton, Pennsylvania, who founded
the anti-tethering group Dogs Deserve Better in 2001.
Mothers Against Dog Chaining, empowering mothers whose
children have been hurt by tied dogs to testify against tethering,
is a project of Dogs Deserve Better. Grimes, who is also associate
web producer for ANIMAL PEOPLE, is now organizing an online support
group for bereaved members.
The most prominent Dogs Deserve Better activity since 2002
has been Have A Heart for Chained Dogs Week, in which anti-chaining
activists raise public awareness by delivering Valentines, treat
coupons, and brochures to chained or otherwise closely confined
dogs. A record 5,277 Valentine packets were delivered in 2006, to
dogs in 46 of the 50 states and many dogs in Canada.
A third approach to trying to reduce dog attacks is raising
the penalties for keeping dangerous dogs. Recent pit bull attack
fatalities helped higher penalties to clear the Oklahoma house on
March 2, and the Virginia senate on March 8. However, stiffer
penalties tend to discourage keepers from acknowledging dogs who
attack. Further, penalties for keeping a dangerous dog usually
apply only after someone is injured.