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July Legislative Update
Posted on 07/09/2011 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

Legislatures across the country have been mostly preoccupied with budget issues, so it’s been relatively quiet on the dog law front. There still has been some action, and this month’s column provides highlights on some of the bills on the forefront.

Last month my column covered the ‘puppy mill bill’ in Texas. I warned that these bills will be popping up all over the country soon, and if one can get passed in Texas, that sets a bad precedent. As of press time, the bill has passed, with some amendments, and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. Scary, right? While the bill has been slightly improved by the changes, it’s still not a good law.

One of the most significant changes is the definition of a dog breeder that would fall under the purview of this bill. Previously, a commercial breeder was defined as a person who possessed 11 or more intact females. The definition has been further expanded to a person who: 1) possess 11 or more intact females, and 2) is in the business of breeding the animals for sale, and 3) sells 20 or more animals a year. It’s still not an ideal definition, as plenty of responsible dog breeders will fall into this category, but a slight improvement on the previous definition. The bill has still retained a presumption of use for breeding clause, which means each intact female owned will be presumed to be used for breeding, and it’s unclear how you are to prove otherwise.

Another slight improvement to the bill is that exemptions for certain dogs have been added. Breeders of herding and hunting dogs will be exempted if the dogs are bred with the intent to be primarily used for those activities. The amendment also provides an exemption for dogs “competing in field trials, hunting tests, or similar organized performance events.” It’s very unclear what “similar organized performance events” entails; does it refer only to other types of hunting events, or is it so general it includes ALL performance events, such as dock jumping and agility? No mention is made anywhere in this new amendment for conformation (dog show) events.

The entire exemption section, while a slight improvement on the former law, is convoluted and poorly written. It states that people who breed dogs for these purposes (hunting, herding, trials) for personal use will be exempt from the breeder law. It goes on to state that they may also sell dogs, and that intact dogs used for the specified purposes will not be counted for determining the number of intact dogs. However, if there are other dogs on the premises not used for the exempted purposes, the exemption does not apply to them, and the breeder still could fall under the law.

The bill still allows for wide open criminal background checks for breeders. Personally, I think if the legislature finds a criminal background check absolutely necessary, then it should be narrowly tailored to only include checking into animal-related crimes. Other crimes are irrelevant. A public database for disciplinary action taken against breeders is still provided for in the bill, which could easily be used for smear campaigns against breeders if every little complaint or investigation is made public. The inspection requirements have changed as well. Previously, inspections were permitted to be made unannounced and private residences were included. The inspections section has been amended to require that breeders “must be given a reasonable opportunity to be present during the inspection.” However, inspectors are still given an out and may conduct an inspection without notice “if necessary to adequately perform the inspection.” While inclusion of private residences has been narrowed to “access animals or other property relevant to the care of the animals,” it’s still unacceptable and most likely unconstitutional.

Though the current version of this bill is a slight improvement from the original, it is still far from acceptable and will still negatively impact many responsible breeders. I could potentially accept defining a commercial breeder by the number of puppies sold a year, but 20 puppies a year is far too low of a threshold. For many dog breeds, that could be less than 2 litters. It’s good that the bill has been amended to include some exemptions, but the exemptions are limited and unclear. “Performance events” must be clarified and ALL show and working dogs should be included in the exemption. Finally, permitting a warrantless search of a breeder’s private residence is just plain wrong, and I can’t believe it’s being permitted in TEXAS! Aren’t we talking about the state where not so many years ago you could defend your property with deadly force? Like I said, if a bill like this can pass in Texas, it can get through anywhere, so to the rest of the country, you are on notice!

Breed specific legislation in Saginaw, Michigan

A few columns back I mentioned the proposed BSL in Saginaw, which is some of the worst legislation I have ever seen written. Frighteningly, the ordinance has passed and will take effect in June. It’s a perfect illustration of why dog owners of all breeds should support ‘pit bull’ owners as the disease of BSL can spread beyond ‘pit bulls.’ I won’t even go into the myriad of problems that BSL creates (enforcement, breed identification, etc.) as it has been hashed out plenty in my column in the past. I will point out that this is the most uncooperative bunch of legislators I have come across and was very disappointed in how much they chose to ignore the opposition in this matter. Multiple citizens spoke at council meetings, many petitions were signed, tons of letters sent to council members; yet it was clear that the council made up its mind regardless of input from citizens. I guess they will find out the hard way why these laws don’t work in attempting to enforce this idiotic ordinance.

When this ordinance was initially proposed, it was going to include potentially 10 breeds. It has now been reduced to 5 breeds that will be updated annually and thus will not actually be listed in the ordinance. The list will be posted on the government website, which does not, in my opinion, constitute proper notice to dog owners. The list of breeds is allegedly a reflection of the top 5 breeds or mixes attributed to bites. The 2011 list is as follows (a direct quote from the website and unedited by myself):

Pit Bull
German Shepherd
Bull Mastiff
Presna Canario

In my following of this moronic ordinance, I came across a very interesting bit of information. A citizen that made a personal appearance at a Saginaw City Council meeting spoke out against the Council and their refusal to produce drafts of the ordinance at its early stages or bite statistics they were using. (*I can relate to her on this matter; I first got wind of the ordinance in February and was NEVER given a draft of the ordinance until it was published on the website.) She went to Saginaw Animal Control and was advised by them that the top four breeds for bites were: Pit Bulls (and mixes), Labradors, unknown German Shepherd-mixes and Rottweilers. Very interesting!! My question is, if the true objective of the ordinance is to protect the public from dog bites, why aren’t Labradors on the list?

Dogs that are classified dangerous under this ordinance or could be one of the ‘dangerous’ breeds must have a special license and owners must post a sign on the premises. ‘Dangerous’ dogs may not be tethered and have strict confinement rules. Violation of the ordinance is a civil infraction with fines anywhere from $100.00 to $400.00. Tacked on to the BSL are some other basic laws (keep in mind the city didn’t even have a basic leash law prior to this—they went from no dog laws to BSL!!) including a leash law, confinement requirements, and rules on tethering dogs. Dogs may only be kept on tethers within a fenced yard. Worst of all, the Council members snuck in a limit on ownership! Citizens of Saginaw may now only own up to three dogs. Current dogs over the limit will be grandfathered in, but the ordinance does not provide for any kind of process for future limit violations. It will be interesting to see how long this fiasco and disaster of an ordinance lasts.

Statewide BSL introduced in Michigan

House Bill 4714 was introduced on June 7 by Representative Bledsoe. This bill contains an all-out ban on ‘pit bulls,’ and if it somehow succeeds, would be the only state-level ban on ‘pit bulls’ in the nation. The bill contains the usual definition of pit bull, including American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and any mix thereof. Both AKC and UKC standards are referred to for identification of these dogs. In one year from enactment of this bill, no breeding or selling of ‘pit bulls’ would be permitted. In 4 years, all existing ‘pit bulls’ would have to be sterilized. In 10 years, it would be illegal for anyone to own or possess any ‘pit bulls.’ This heinous bill would be a disaster to APBT owners in the state of Michigan, and to all ‘pit bulls’ in the state. PLEASE contact Michigan Representatives and urge them not to support this legislation! A list of Representatives may be found here: http://www.house.mi.gov/replist.asp

Some Good News!

Remember Proposition B in Missouri last year, that was basically bought from voters by HSUS? In case you don’t, Prop B was a very restrictive breeder bill that was called a ‘puppy mill’ law to hoodwink voters into thinking it was something warm and fuzzy and saving puppies. In reality, Missouri already has breeder laws in place that had more severe punishments—better enforcement of those laws would have a more significant and positive impact than Prop B. Unfortunately, most likely due to the millions HSUS spent on ads with sad-eyed puppies, Prop B barely passed. Looking at the demographics, rural voters failed Prop B and it was in the big urban populations that it succeeded.

Prop B was recently amended by Senate Bill 161. While the law still applies to anyone who owns 10 or more intact female dogs over 6 months old, the previous 50 dog limit on dog ownership has been removed. The definition for “sufficient housing” has been re-worked to more sensible and realistic requirements, and arbitrary temperature provisions have been removed. The amendment has created actual crimes for certain violations and created a new crime of “canine cruelty” for serious repeat offenders. The amendment goes on to make new rules and regulations for kennel construction. These new amendments make the law more sensible and applicable.

A new bill has been proposed in New York that would prohibit insurance companies from insurers from canceling, refusing to issue or renew, or charging higher premiums for homeowners' insurance based on the breed of dog owned. New York already has a state law that prohibits breed specific legislation, and this bill would further strengthen that. The justification behind the bill reasons that if a dog attacks or bites, that would be a legitimate basis for raising premiums, but charging more to owners simply because of the breed of dog they own is unacceptable and baseless. It even goes so far as to state that these same dogs being discriminated against may have even saved insurance companies money by preventing burglaries in the home. The justification for the bill specifically states:

      This bill would uphold the sanctity of the law by ending the discrimination of homeowners based on the breed of dog that they own. As an equal and fair society, it is key that we amend the insurance law to protect the interests of both homeowners and their kind-hearted companion animals.
This is a wonderful bill that I think we should all support. Let’s hope it passes and sets an example for other states.

Finally, Cleveland, Ohio has lifted its breed specific wording in the city’s dangerous dog ordinance. Formerly, the ordinance included ‘pit bulls’ in the vicious dog definition. That language has now been removed, and this is a victory that should be celebrated. The Councilman who introduced the amendment, Matt Zone, stated: “Our previous law clearly targeted one breed, pit bull, as a vicious animal. The breed of a dog is not an indicator of its personality. Any dog who is poorly trained and neglected, can be vicious and a threat to our community. These revisions shift the focus from the type of dog, to its behavior and neglectful actions of its owner.” A breed neutral dangerous dog ordinance will be much more successful in protecting the community while at the same time protecting responsible pit bull owners. John Baird, Chief Animal Control Officer for the City of Cleveland, said it best: “There are many responsible owners with good pit bulls. In my years of experience it has become more difficult to identify, with certainty, if a dog is indeed a pit bull. Any dog can be vicious. I feel these revisions are fair and appropriate for our community.” Please contact Councilman Zone and thank him for spearheading this wonderful and sensible amendment. Councilman Zone may be reached at: council15@clevelandcitycouncil.org. Thank you, Cleveland City Council!