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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Posted on 10/11/2012 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

Legislative Update:
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Although the proposed USDA/APHIS rule changes took the forefront this summer with regards to legislative action, it certainly has not been the only issue to take the stage. Breed specific legislation is still alive and the fight continues, and a few key battles over hunting rights are continuing. However, it seems that the USDA/APHIS changes got the attention it deserved. At last check, well over 15,000 comments had been submitted.

While I obviously could not read them all, from skimming through the comments it seemed there were more against the regulations, and the few I read that supported the changes were either form letters or insane AR ramblings. I did not read many coherent or original comments in support of the changes. It was quite heartening to see how many dog owners (and other small animal owners, for that matter) did their part and took the time to voice their opposition to these overbearing rule changes. To all of you who did - a huge, heartfelt thank you!

Breed Specific Legislation
In the realm of BSL, there has been both good news and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The city of Miami has had a 23-year ban on Pit Bulls that was finally brought to a vote by the citizens in early August. Sadly, the vote was an epic fail. It seems too many Miami residents buy into the myths and mania surrounding Pit Bulls, and the measure failed. The long-standing ban will remain in place for now.

More bad news was handed down by a court in Maryland. In April of this year, the Court of Appeals of Maryland made a ruling that in essence declared Pit Bulls and mixes thereof as dangerous dogs. The April ruling held that an owner or landlord is automatically liable for bites committed by a “pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix” kept on premises that the owner or landlord has control over.

When the court refers to the landlord’s control, they mean that they have the right to prohibit such dogs on leased premises. This ruling not only declares Pit Bulls as dangerous dogs, but imposes new liability on landlords. However, in August the court reconsidered and revised their ruling insofar as what dogs it applies to. The court removed “cross-bred pit bull mix” from the definition so that the holding only applies to “pit bulls that are not crossbreds.”

The main reasons given by the court were twofold. First, that there was never any claim in the case in question that the dog that attacked was anything other than a Pit Bull. Second, the court conceded that there is no clear definition of what “crossbred” really means. While the court conceded that “crossbred” is unclear, they failed to elaborate what Pit Bull means. No clarification has been given on how you determine what a non-crossbred Pit Bull is. Is it a pedigreed registered dog, and if so, what breed or breeds fall under the definition of Pit Bull? Is it a dog that appears to be all Pit Bull, and if that is the case, how is the lack of crossbreeding proven without a doubt? The ruling leaves a huge gray area that really can’t be clarified. In response to this recent ruling, many landlords are refusing to allow Pit Bulls, and many dog owners in Maryland are faced with some seriously tough decisions.

Now on to the good news! First, following in the wake of Ohio overturning its state-level BSL, cities and municipalities within the state that had BSL in place have been dropping it like crazy. Ohio is well on its way to becoming one Pit Bull friendly state.

Most recently, the American Bar Association passed a resolution that urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies to adopt breed-neutral dangerous dog laws. While this is not an actual law, the American Bar Association is a well-respected organization for lawyers; in the past, resolutions and sample legislation have been later implemented for actual legislation.

This resolution was not reached lightly, and very well-thought-out reasoning is laid out in the official report. The report states in the introduction that currently, 12 states prohibit “panic policymaking” by disallowing breed specific laws, and that the only state that had any BSL, Ohio, has repealed it. The primary reason given for urging an end to all BSL is the notion of the violation of due process. As it’s nearly impossible to narrowly define what dogs are included in these laws, and just as impossible to positively identify the dogs, these laws with their vague standards do not put people on proper notice as to whether or not the law affects them. The vague standards lend too much discretion to officials, which leads to subjective and arbitrary enforcement, yet another violation of due process.

Another factor for the recommendation was economics. These laws are incredibly expensive to enforce. A task force was created in Prince George County, Maryland, to evaluate their ban. The task force found that it cost around $560,000 over a two-year period to enforce the ban! The task force recommended repealing the ban, but that has yet to be done. The report also demonstrated how ineffective BSL is at improving public safety.

The UK has banned Pit Bulls since 1991, and one study has shown that the ban has had no effect whatsoever on stopping dog attacks. The same result was reached in a study on the 15-year ban in the Netherlands, and the study led to repeal of the ban. Twenty years after the creation of the pit bull ban in Denver, the director of Denver Animal Control has admitted that he is unable to say with any certainty whether it has made Denver any safer. Not to mention the negative impact on individual dog owners who must deal with BSL - whether facing a terrible decision if a dog is deemed illegal under a breed ban, attempting to comply with costly requirements where the breed is restricted, or attempting to pass through a city with a ban - the burden placed on these owners can be immense. The report urged that breed neutral laws be passed in place of BSL to “ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both individual dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed-discriminatory/specific provisions.”

Those of you residing in California are probably aware of Senate Bill 1221. This bill will ban using hounds to hunt bobcats and black bear in the state of California. While our friends at the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance fought hard on this one and enlisted many of our UKC hound owners in California, that’s a tough state to battle the AR. The bill has passed and simply awaits the governor’s signature. The governor has until September 30 to sign the bill. The usual garbage and lies were put forth in the campaign for this legislation: that hunters use hounds because they’re lazy, it’s cruel to the bear and bobcats, and that it’s cruel to the hounds as well. It appears the legislators in California ate that pack of lies up and chose to believe the AR rather than the real experts - the hound owners themselves!

The most recent issue that’s making headlines is hunting wolves in Wisconsin. Earlier this year, wolves were removed from the endangered species list. It’s now up to each individual state to regulate wolves and handle hunting. Minnesota has set their wolf season to start November 3 and will allow 400 wolves to be taken. Michigan has yet to set a wolf season, but plans to do so. Wisconsin has set a season to begin on October 15, with an allowance of 201 wolves.

The Wisconsin DNR has so far received more than 18,000 applications for permits and will issue 2,000 or fewer in a drawing. However, a lawsuit has been filed by a coalition of humane societies, such as the Wisconsin Humane Society, the Fox Valley Humane Society, the Northwood Alliance, and the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, to stop the state’s wolf hunt. These groups weren’t able to keep wolves on the endangered species list, so now they’re trying another tactic.

The wolf hunt in Wisconsin would permit the use of dogs, and would be the only one in the nation to do so. This is the thrust of the AR’s lawsuit: that there will be an “unsafe proximity between dogs and wolves.” The lawsuit claims that the DNR failed to create regulations that would help prevent the inhumane and cruel deaths of hunting dogs in confrontations with wolves. Aren’t these the same groups that typically hate the hunting hounds and want to protect the poor predator?

Their lawsuit proposes, in the alternative to stopping the hunt completely, restrictions such as requiring the use of leashes, breed restrictions and special licensing that would require training for hunters who use dogs. Some of the allegations contained in the amended complaint are pretty outrageous, to the point of being laughable. My personal favorite is their claim that hunters are going to adopt dogs from local shelters to “bait” the wolves with. Are you kidding me? There is absolutely no factual basis for this insane allegation, and it just shows how crazy the AR’s can be in their quest.

Another allegation is that using dogs to hunt wolves will drive wolves onto farms and will result in more livestock depredations. The logic in these claims is just astounding. The whole point of having a hunting season on wolves is to reduce the overpopulation, and thereby reduce the increasing number of livestock depredations. Scarily, the judge presiding over the case must have been listening to some of this nonsense. At press time, the judge has issued a temporary injunction halting the use of dogs until he makes a final ruling on the case. UKC will continue to closely monitor the case.