Breed-specific legislation

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Breed-Specific Legislation or BSL is a law, ordinance or policy which pertains to a specifically named animal breed or breeds, but does not affect any others. The term was coined to describe laws affecting dog breeds; it has yet to be seen whether its use will cover other domesticated animals as well. Legislation targeting a particular group or class of dogs, such as anti-fighting dog legislation, is also called BSL. BSL broadly falls into two categories: laws designed to restrict or eliminate “dangerous dogs”, and laws designed to reduce the general dog population.

Because of the emotionally-charged nature of pro and con arguments, it is difficult to find discussion of BSL framed in neutral terms. Indeed, the inherent neutrality of the term itself could be called into question, a it would seem to have been coined by dog proponents, particularly the owners of targeted breeds (inasmuch as legislators would not be likely to describe the laws in such terms), although the phrase is now widely-used.

Proponents of BSL usually cite the need to protect the public from dog breeds believed to have inherent tendencies to aggressive behaviour. Others believe that BSL will help eliminate irresponsible dog breeding, and thereby reduce the number of unwanted dogs, particularly mongrels.

Dog fanciers groups almost always oppose BSL. They have proposed alternatives aimed at protecting both society at large and the individual dog breeds. Suggested alternatives to Breed-specific legislation are designed to target the owners of specific breeds, rather than the dogs themselves. Some recurring suggestions are:

  • enforce current laws consistently and effectively
  • establish strict penalties for irresponsible dog owners
  • require owners to demonstrate effective control of their dogs

Some examples of BSL

  • Restrictions on or the prohibition of ownership of American Pit Bull Terriers in some municipalities of the United States and in Queensland, Australia (on the basis that American Pit Bull Terriers are inherently dangerous)
  • Proposed legislation in some Australian states that would prohibit the breeding of any breed of dog not recognized by the Australian National Kennel Council, or restrict or prohibit the propagation of some breeds. (on the basis that it would eliminate backyard breeding and so reduce the unwanted/abandoned dog population, and also that it would eliminate the breeding of inherently dangerous dog breeds.)
  • Bans on the transporting of some breeds by some airline carriers during the 1990s, presumably based on fears of biting incidents and lawsuits.
  • Higher insurance premiums for homeowners keeping some breed of dog, presumably based on fears of biting incidents and lawsuits.
  • A ban on the importing of the German Shepherd Dog into Australia for a large part of the 20th Century (on the presumption that German Shepherds were inherently dangerous)
  • The requirement that Greyhounds wear muzzles in public in some Australian states (on the presumption that racing Greyhounds are trained to hunt and kill small animals and therefore pose a danger to other domestic animals)

Opponents of such legislation believe that instances of bad dog behaviour are in general an issue of irresponsible human ownership rather than inherent dog nature. They assert 1) that it is often difficult or impossible for the average person to identify dog breeds correctly, particularly following a dog attack, making data on dog bite incidents suspect 2) that some of these policies have been randomly or illogically thought out, and are often implemented and enforced capriciously or inconsistently.

BLS opponents suggest that acceptable, fairer and more useful alternatives to Breed Specific Legislation would include the consistent enforcement of existing dog laws, or the creation of new breed-wide regulations or requirements where needed.

The owners of breeds not affiliated with all-breed clubs, and the owners of breeds-in-development are concerned about BSL that affects breeding.