Laws pre-empting breed-specific ordinances pass––but polls tilt the other way

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July-August 2013:

HARTFORD,  RENO,  PRESCOTT,  CALGARY–Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy on May 24 and June 6,  2013  endorsed into law bills that prohibit municipalities from passing breed-specific dog ordinances.  A similar bill passed both houses of the Rhode Island legislature between May 27 and July 2,  but had not yet been signed by Governor Lincoln Chaffee when ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press two weeks later.  

Chaffee received appeals to veto the bill from public officials in Pawtucket and Central Falls,  which have pit bull bans,  and Woonsocket,  where a proposed pit bull ban was advancing.

“This was a tool to keep the dogs from being abused and to keep them out of the wrong hands,”  Pawtucket animal control officer John Holmes told Russ Olivo of the Woonsocket Call. “Now if this law comes to pass I’m afraid we’re going to go backwards.  We’re going to see more pit bulls and we’re going to have more euthanizations.”

The Nevada,  Connecticut,  and Rhode Island bills,  like a similar bill passed in Massachusetts in 2012,  were rushed to passage in the last days of their respective state legislative sessions,  with minimal publicity and public debate.  Fifteen states now ban breed-specific ordinances,  including California,  Illinois,  Texas,  and Ohio.

State Farm Insurance on May 17,  2013 disclosed that California,  Illinois,  Texas,  and Ohio rated first through fourth in insurance claims paid for dog attacks in 2011.  State Farm paid $20.3 million to 527 victims in California, $10 million to 309 victims in Illinois,  $5.1 million to 219 victims in Texas,  and $5.4 million to 215 victims in Ohio. The numbers of victims in California were 30% greater in 2011 than in 2010.  The payout in California increased 31%, State Farm spokesperson Eddie Martinez told Sue Manning of Associated Press.  A rival firm,  Farmers Group Inc.,  in February 2013 notified shareholders that it would no longer insure pit bulls,  Rottweilers,  and wolf hybrids under homeowners and renters policies in California.

Nationally,  said Insurance Information Institute representative Loretta Worters the insurance industry paid dog attack victims $479 million in 2011,  up 15% from $413 million in 2010,  and up by more than half since 2006.  

The numbers of attacks and amounts of payout increased twice as fast in states that prohibit breed-specific ordinances.

The Nevada and Connecticut laws banning breed-specific ordinances were passed shortly before new public opinion data showed increasing support for breed-specific legislation to reduce pit bull attacks. “69% of Americans are ‘dog people’ but one fifth want a ban on pit bulls,”  headlined “Latest Findings,  Life & Omnibus Research” blogger Kate Palmer of the YouGov opinion polling firm on June 17,  2012,  but the YouGov data was actually stronger than that.  

Dividing the public between self-defined “dog people” and non-“dog people,”  YouGov found that 50% of all “dog people,”  52% of all adults,  and 60% of non-“dog people” favor either strict regulation of dangerous dog breeds or outright bans.  

Asked which breeds should be banned,  if some were,  88% named pit bulls,  51% named Rottweilers,  and 24% named Dobermans.  Since 1982,  pit bulls have killed 259 of the 511 Americans and Canadian victims of fatal dog attacks,  Rottweilers have killed 84,  and Dobermans,  who are approximately as numerous as Rottweilers,  have killed seven. 

An online survey of 5,015 adults conducted the same week by SF Gate columnist C.W. Nevius found that 81% favored banning pit bulls as “a menace to children.”  Only 19% agreed that pit bulls “are not any more dangerous than other breeds.”

In Prescott,  Arizona,  Yavapai Humane Society executive director Ed Boks during the last week of May asked readers of his weekly column in the Canarsie Courier,  “Should a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance for pit-bulls be considered as a strategy for ensuring our community remains among the safest in the nation for companion animals?”

Wrote Boks,  “The question was prompted by both my love for pit bulls and these facts:  pit bulls account for 51% of all dogs rescued and 47% of all dogs euthanized at the Yavapai Humane Society.  There were 82 responses to the query.  Eighty-two percent favored a mandatory pit-bull spay/neuter ordinance in our community.  Twenty-one percent felt mandatory spay/neuter for all dogs and cats should be required.

Four people favored banning pit-bulls altogether.  Four people felt spay/neuter ordinances are ineffective.  They failed to notice the success in San Francisco,  where in just eight years there was a 49% decline in the number of pit-bulls impounded,  a 23% decline in the number of pit-bulls euthanized,  and an 81% decline in the number of pit-bulls involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks.

Pledged Boks,  “The Yavapai Humane Society will submit this data to local officials asking that a committee be formed to help draft an ordinance that reflects our community’s exemplary humane standards for animal welfare.” Previously heading the animal control agencies serving Phoenix,  New York City,  and Los Angeles,  Boks had opposed breed-specific legislation.  As director of the New York City Center for Animal Care & Control,  Boks in January 2004 briefly tried to boost pit bull adoptions by renaming them “New Yorkies.”

Calgary,  Alberta,  Canada,  in 2006 rejected calls for breed-specific legislation,  in favor of a “responsible pet ownership” bylaw that promised to prevent dog attacks by building on more than 30 years of unique success in selling dog licenses.  Under the 2006 bylaw,  Calgary pushed licensing compliance above 90%,  more than four times the average for the U.S. and Canada,  but dog attacks increased from 58 in 2009 to 102 in 2010,  127 in 2011,  and 201 in 2012,  Sherri Zickefoose of the Calgary Herald reported on May 21,  2013. 

Wrote Zickefoose,  “Last year, more than 70% of reported dog bites came from bigger and medium-sized dog breeds such as bullmastiffs,  boxers,  German shepherds, Rottweilers and pit bulls.  In Toronto,  by contrast, covered since 2006 by Ontario provincial legislation prohibiting pit bulls,   reported dog bites fell 32% in four years, from 486 to 329. 

“An online poll last month done by Leger Marketing for Postmedia News showed 48% were against breed bans, 40% backed them and the rest were undecided,”  Zickefoose noted.  But the Leger Marketing poll apparently did not ask about breed-specific restrictions short of outright prohibition.

Winnipeg,  Manitoba,  banned pit bulls in 1990.  Three other Manitoba cities adopted similar bylaws much more recently.  University of Manitoba researcher Malathi Raghavan reported in 2012 that the passage of the bylaws preceded a 20% drop in dog attacks. 

Parts of Manitoba that allow possession of pit bulls and similar breeds have continued to have serious attacks, including the mid-May 2013 mauling of a two-year old boy by a neighboring family’s Rottweiler on the Bloodvein First Nation,  north of Winnipeg.  Royal Canadian Mounted Police dispatched the Rottweiler,  while the victim was airlifted to Winnipeg for treatment.  

Two girls,  12 and 14,  from the family who had kept the Rottweiler were on June 6,  2013 charged with arson for allegedly burning the home of the victim’s family to the ground in alleged retaliation for the loss of their dog. —Merritt Clifton

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