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Breaking Down “BSL”

You may have heard the term “breed specific legislation” or the acronym BSL before. But what does it mean? In this blog post, we’re breaking down some of the most frequently asked questions about BSL. Read on to learn about the effectiveness of BSL, which breeds are typically discriminated against through BSL, alternatives to BSL, and LifeLine’s stance on BSL.

But first, what is BSL?

Breed Specific Legislation is defined as a “law passed by a legislative body pertaining to a specific breed or breeds of domesticated animals.” It generally refers to laws pertaining to a specific dog breed or breeds. Within the last few decades, breed-specific legislation has specifically targeted pit-bull type dogs, with the assumption that this particular ‘breed’ is legally vicious or dangerous.

Typically, regulated breeds include pit-bull type dogs. These breeds include American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and English Bull Terriers, or any mix of these breeds. In many areas, regulated breeds also include American Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Boxers Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Akitas, Doberman Pinschers or any mix of these breeds.

Are Breed Specific Laws effective?

There is no evidence that BSL makes communities safer for people or pets. Actually, many studies and organizations have proven otherwise.

Following a study of human dog bite fatalities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to strongly oppose BSL. The CDC noted that, among other problems, there is inaccuracy of dog bite data and visual identification of a breed is virtually impossible.

Also, BSL is costly and difficult to enforce. Best Friends Animal Society created an educational BSL fiscal impact calculator, which estimates the cost of implementing Breed Specific Legislation.

In fact, BSL has a backlash effect which does more to create dangerous dogs than to prevent them. BSL:

  • Drives owners of the dogs farther away from public places and services they need to socialize their dogs and keep them healthy (like spay/neuter and vaccinations).
  • Keeps dogs tethered in backyards and crated in basements, out of the public eye, which can lead to increased aggression in dogs.
  • Creates shame and hardship for dog owners, casts stereotypes and negative perceptions.
  • Forces dogs out of homes and into shelters, taking up kennel space and resources needed by animals who are truly homeless.
  • Condemns dogs impounded due to BSL to death, even when they’ve done nothing wrong.

Which types of laws are considered Breed Specific Legislation?

BSL includes both breed bans and breed restrictions. Breed bans are the out-right banning of a specific dog breed. And doing so requires the city or county animal control and police to regulate owned and stray dogs, targeting dogs with a certain appearance. But with most breed bans, if a dog is of a certain breed, they are killed. Their breed may be determined through visual breed identification or DNA tests.

Breed restrictions include placing mandates on owners of a particular breed. So this could include required muzzling, spaying/neutering, liability insurance, containment requirements, etc.

Both breed bans and breed restrictions target a dog based on their breed, not their behavior.

What are the consequences of BSL?

The community suffers.

BSL has been shown to compromise, not enhance public safety. Because BSL has been proven to be  ineffective, bite reports and fatalities often remain stagnant or can even increase after BSL is passed.

The owners suffer.

Responsible owners of properly supervised and well-socialized dogs who fall within a targeted breed are required to follow local breed laws, despite their dog’s behavior. This can lead to housing issues, legal fees, or even surrendering of the animal to a local shelter.

The dogs suffer.

Breed bans and restrictions can make it nearly impossible to keep a certain breed of dog. As this type of legislation continues, it practically ensures the killing of, otherwise adoptable, dogs by shelters and humane societies.

What is LifeLine’s stance on BSL?

LifeLine Animal Project mirrors the policies and guidelines outlined by our partner, Best Friends Animal Society. We believe in policies that promote and enable responsible dog ownership and regulate a pet based on their behavior, not their breed. So, we encourage community-based programs and resources, which aim to enable responsible dog owners to own whatever type of dog they choose, while prohibiting reckless owners from harboring dogs. As stewards for public safety, is it a top priority to keep our communities safe for animals and people alike.

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What are the alternatives to Breed Specific Legislation?

Community-based initiatives and legislation that promote responsible pet ownership are effective in reducing dog bite cases and deaths.

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.
  • 78% of the owners did not maintain their dogs as pets.

These community-based programs have been proven effective to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate, fatal dog attacks:

  • Low-cost spay/neuter programs.
  • Bite prevention courses in schools and community centers.
  • A community-based approach to animal control.
  • Responsible pet ownership classes.
  • Community resources for those pet owners in need.
  • Resources for those looking to rehome their pets.

And these legislations have been proven effective to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, fatal dog attacks:

  • Laws that promote responsible pet ownership and hold the owner accountable for their pets and their pet’s behavior.
  • Anti-tethering and chaining laws.
  • Fines for dogs at-large.
  • Restricting reckless owners from harboring dogs.
  • Regulations based on a dog’s behavior, not it’s breed.


How is LifeLine promoting responsible pet ownership?

Over the last few years, we’ve worked closely with both Fulton and DeKalb County to redefine the county Animal Ordinances. We’ve added harsher penalties for animal abusers, while making tethering and chaining dogs illegal. And, these ordinances were revised to define a vicious or dangerous dog by its behavior, not its breed.

Also, our Healthy Pets events and low-cost LifeLine Spay & Neuter Clinics provide resources to those who need it the most. And our goal is to reduce pet overpopulation, while keeping loved pets in their homes and out of the shelters.

Although Atlanta is getting safer each year, there is still so much work to be done. Our Atlanta county shelters receive an average of 40 – 60 pets per day. But here’s how you can help:

  • Bring outdoor pets inside. Outdoor, roaming dogs can not only become a danger to the community, but they’re also in danger of outside elements, including other people and other animals.
  • Call your local animal control. If you see a dog being tethered, roaming the streets or causing harm, please call your county animal control immediately.
  • Speak with your neighbors about what responsible dog ownership looks like. Here is a helpful resource guide.
  • Invite LifeLine to speak to your school, neighborhood association, or any other community forum to provide education on a variety of topics, including bite prevention, safety and community resources.

Here are more ways in which you can help:

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