It's no secret that larger, metropolitan cities in the United States are faced with a roaming dog problem, including many of our neighborhoods in Atlanta. Some of these dogs are strays and some are owned, but all have one thing in common: they are usually uncared for, unsocialized and they sometimes pose a threat to public safety.
The recent fatal attack on a child in Atlanta devastated our city, and we are all searching for solutions to prevent this from ever happening again. Often after a tragedy, there is a knee-jerk response to demand immediate change as a community reacts to the events. Some have suggested the idea of passing Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), but BSL legislation in other cities has been proven ineffective and a death sentence for many innocent dogs.
Breed specific legislation (BSL) is a law passed by a legislative body pertaining to a specific breed or breeds of domesticated animals. In practice, it generally refers to laws pertaining to a specific dog breed or breeds. In the last few decades, breed-specific legislation has specifically targeted pit-bull type dogs, under the assumption that this particular “breed” is legally vicious or dangerous. Neglected, abused and mistreated dogs can be dangerous, but this isn’t limited to a particular breed based on physical traits. There is no evidence that BSL makes communities safer for people or companion animals. In fact, many studies and organizations have proven otherwise, including the CDC, the American Kennel Club and the ASPCA. Click here to learn more about BSL.
So, what makes dogs bite? Numerous studies, including one by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, show that majority of dog bites and fatalities happen in the lowest income areas of the U.S. And studies exploring why low-income neighborhoods have the highest number of dog bites have found that the majority of dogs in these neighborhoods are “resident dogs,” who live on the property in relative isolation without integration into the family social unit. In contrast, the study found that the majority of dogs living in more affluent areas are “family dogs,” who receive daily, positive interactions with people.
Additionally, according to the National Canine Research Council, in fatal dog attacks in the United States, 97% of the owners did not spay or neuter their dogs, 84% of the attacks involved reckless owners and 78% of the owners did not keep their dogs as pets or socialize them.
These and many other studies have concluded that socialization by humans, not breed, is the key determinant of whether a dog will become prone to violence.
So, what can be done to prevent dogs from attacking? A multifaceted approach seems to work best. One part of that approach is to restrict reckless owners from owning dogs. Some cities, such as St. Paul, Minnesota, and Tacoma, Washington, have ordinances restricting pet owners who have been cited for animal abuse or neglect more than once from ever owning another dog. We also need to better enforce our anti-tethering laws. Dogs are not meant to be tied up in a yard with little interaction; they are social animals that require affection and love.
Since there is a correlation between states that have strong animal protection laws and lower incidences of dog bites, another part of the solution involves strengthening animal protection laws. Below are state 2014 rankings of animal protection laws. Georgia is in the lowest tier.
Other methods that have proven effective to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, fatal dog attacks involve implementing: low-cost spay/neuter programs, responsible pet ownership classes that focus on socializing the dog, bite prevention courses in schools and community centers, a community-based approach to animal control and access to resources such as veterinary care for those pet owners in need.
LifeLine Animal Project has been offering free spay/neuters, vaccines and microchips through our Healthy Pets events in Fulton and DeKalb Counties for years. We operate two LifeLine Spay & Neuter Clinics that provide affordable services for our city and are the largest provider of spay/neuter resources in Georgia. We also focus on education in schools and neighborhoods about anti-tethering restrictions, bite prevention and more.
If Atlanta is going to create safer and more humane communities, we need to invest in programs and take a more holistic approach in solving the problem. Unfortunately, the per capita amount of public funds spent on shelter animals in Atlanta is a little over $2 per citizen, however the national average is $8. Cities mirroring Atlanta's population size spend anywhere from $11 to $16 per citizen. We need to invest more in animal services, strengthen our animal welfare laws, educate communities in need on proper pet care, and make low-cost spay/neuters and affordable veterinary care accessible to all.
Over the last few years, LifeLine has worked closely with both Fulton and DeKalb County to redefine the county Animal Ordinances to include harsher penalties for animal abusers, while making tethering and chaining dogs illegal. These ordinances were revised to define a vicious or dangerous dog by its behavior, not its breed.
Our Atlanta county shelters receive an average of 40 - 60 animals per day, which means we need your help to:
- Ensure the animals in your home and in your community are spayed and neutered. Learn more about LifeLine’s Spay & Neuter Clinic here.
- Bring outdoor pets, inside. Outdoor, roaming dogs can not only become danger to the community, but they are also in danger of outside elements, including other people and other animals.
- Call your local animal control immediately if you see a dog tethered, roaming the streets, or causing harm.
- Educate your neighbors on what responsible dog ownership looks like. Here’s a resource guide to help.
Please help LifeLine make our city a safe place for humans and animals.