There seems to be no end to the debate on Pit Bulls. One side claims they are a dangerous menace with no place in modern day society. Whereas the advocates for Pit Bulls claim the polar opposite and neither side is backing down. In fact, I do not believe this argument can be resolved in a manner in which both sides are satisfied. Unless, of course, there is a collaborative effort in the creation of a new BSL (Ban-Specific Legalisation).
We Start With an Example for Dissection and Analysis
I will be using an actively enforced BSL from Miami-Dade County, Florida as our example. Let us begin with Legislative Intent. This is where they explain what the laws aim or intentions are.
Section 5-17. This article is intended to utilize the authority and powers of Miami-Dade County in order to secure for the citizens of this County the protection of their health, safety, and welfare. It is intended to be applicable to dogs which are commonly referred to as “Pit Bulls” and which are defined herein. This article is designed to regulate these Pit Bulls and to ensure responsible handling by their owners through confinement, registration, and liability insurance. The unique history, nature, and characteristics of pit bull dogs have been determined to require the special regulations and provisions contained in this article which the County Commission hereby finds reasonable and necessary.
Both sides can agree on the opening statement because safety affects all parties involved. However, here is where the dissension begins. “applicable to dogs which are commonly referred to as “Pit Bulls” and which are defined herein.” Upon reading this, I find it to be lacking in terms of specifics and leaves too much to one’s own interpretation.
Methods Used for Identification are Not Definitive or Scientifically Specific
This leads to our next section, Section 5-17.1, Definition and identification of a pit bull dog. I will cover the four subsections briefly to gauge the areas of most concern.
Section 5-17.1. The term “pit bull dog” as used within this article shall refer to any dog which exhibits those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club for American Staffordshire Terriers or Staffordshire Bull Terriers; or substantially conform to the standards established by the United Kennel Club for American Pit Bull Terriers.
The Standards of the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club referred to in the above subsection, are attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference as “Exhibit A”. This shall remain on file with the Animal Services Division of the Public Works Department of Miami-Dade County.
Too Many Judgement Calls Lead to Inconsistencies Across the Board
Again, the wording implies an on the spot judgment call. This may or may not be accurate and whereas in that lies the problem. No law should hinge on an overly simplified judgment call. Especially by someone who is ill-equipped to make such a judgment.
I am not bringing into question anyone’s ability to do their job. However, I am simply stating that a person usually has a particular job because they are qualified to do it. Case and point, a person may play video games for 20 years, but that does not qualify them to make a video game. Without training and or education in the fields of coding and or design, they are simply not qualified.
This is another sticking point for change in the way current BSL is being implemented. These pieces of legislation are beginning to carry some very stiff penalties and their enforcement should depend on reliable implementation.
To Achieve Compromise, You Need to Find Common Ground
The common ground I refer to is a fair and unilaterally understood system. One that is based on facts and not a biased opinion. The first order of business should be the language used in this legislation.
Pit Bulls are not the only breed of dog that is capable of significant bodily harm or death. The term Pit Bull should be acknowledged for what it actually is. A term. The dogs that are being round up and labeled as the same “breed,” is inaccurate and misleading.
This blanket labeling of dogs is the first item that needs to be addressed. The second order that warrants your attention is the name of the legislation itself. I propose a change from Breed-Specific Legislation to Ban-Specific Legislation.
A Change in Philosophy is Step One in a Change for the Better
A simple change from breed to ban would bring about a change in philosophy as well. Whether you are scouring the internet for research or speaking to a veterinarian in person, there seems to be complete agreement.
The dogs are not the problem, it is the owners along with various factors that contribute to these attacks. By focusing on a ban list and not an unreasonably short breed list, you would make the owners the target and not the dogs specifically.
Specialists in Animal Behavior agree with this assessment and their findings should be consulted when making such legislation. However, you must keep in mind that some individuals will never change their minds or viewpoint. This I know and change rarely comes easily, if at all. Nonetheless, Pit Bull owners have to try.
We Need Collaboration to Get This Right
The final two subsections of this part of the BSL addresses the proof needed to enforce necessary action. This, of course, is the part where they basically tell you that the dog you own is a Pit Bull because their descriptives are final.
Technical deficiencies in the dog’s conformance to the standards described in subsection (b) shall not be construed to indicate that the subject dog is not a “pit bull dog” under this article.
Testimony by a veterinarian, zoologist, animal behaviorist, or animal control officer that a particular dog exhibits distinguishing physical characteristics of a pit bull shall establish a rebuttable presumption that the dog is a pit bull.
It Really Isn’t What You Know, but Rather What You Can Prove
Both in common law and in civil law, a rebuttable presumption is an assumption made by a court. Presumptions of this nature are taken to be true unless someone comes forward to contest it and prove otherwise.
However, there is no mention of a DNA testing standard, nor are there provisions made to accommodate such a request. Which means that the dog’s owner would be responsible for providing proof to dispute the claim against their dog.
This is another area that needs attention. There are too many examples of dogs looking similar but are not the same breed. To obtain the necessary proof may be possible, provided the owner can afford the tests and is allowed the necessary time to obtain one.
Is Continuous Confinement Humane?
The following section of the BSL covers confinement restrictions for Pit Bulls. Again, there are a total of four subsections. Within these subsections are the detailed confinement responsibilities of Pit Bull owners.
Sec. 5-17.2. – Confinement of pit bull dogs. Subsection (a). Because of the pit bull dog’s inbred propensity to attack other animals, and because of the danger posed to humans and animals alike by a pit bull dog when running loose or while naming together in a pack, pit bull dogs must at all times be securely confined indoors, or confined in a securely and totally enclosed and locked pen, with either a top or with all four (4) sides at least six (6) feet high, and with a conspicuous sign displaying the words “Dangerous Dog.”
Subsection (b). At any time that a pit bull dog is not confined as required in subsection (a) above, the dog shall be muzzled in such a manner as to prevent it from biting or injuring any person or animal, and kept on a leash with the owner or custodian in attendance. Provided, however, that no pit bull dog may be walked within fifty (50) feet of any public school ground nor enter onto such school ground.
The language in subsections (a) and (b) are very direct as well as inaccurate. The sentence, “Because of the pit bull dog’s inbred propensity to attack other animals and because of the danger posed to humans and animals alike”, is an unsubstantiated claim.
At the Very Least, Our Laws Need to Derive From Actual Facts
The professional community refutes these claims. Animal behaviorist outright dispute this claim and veterinarians echo this sentiment.
In fact, the findings indicate that this is completely false. Here are statements from the ASPCA on the subject of specific breed predisposition. “It’s neither accurate nor wise to judge a dog by their breed.” “Far better predictors of aggressive behavior problems are a dog’s individual temperament and their history of interacting with people and other animals.”
The new BSL should focus on correcting this error. If we can get a fundamental shift in the way a dog’s behavior is viewed, then a new more effective BSL is possible. Supporters of the current BSL model believe that Pit Bull owners do not feel that there is a need for any legislation. However, that is simply not true.
There is a Need for Legislation, it Just Needs to be Effective and Fair
The final two subsections of Sec. 5-17.2 are used to outline the allowed exceptions to the rule.
Subsection (c) states, an exception to these confinement requirements is hereby provided for any pit bull dog in attendance at, and participating in, any lawful dog show, contest or exhibition sponsored by a dog club, association, society or similar organization.
Subsection (d) states, an exception to these confinement requirements is hereby provided for any pit bull dog when the dog is actually engaged in the sport of hunting in an authorized area and supervised by a competent person.
If We Cannot Change the Negative Stereotype of the Pit Bull, All Dogs Suffer
As I was reading the last two subsections, for a moment, I thought I was reading about a volatile uncontrollable weapon. I am sure we are still talking about dogs, but it sounds like the author of this piece of legislation forgot that.
With these stiffer penalties, you can receive fines as well as time in prison.
“Legislation with Teeth”, is the new catchphrase. If pun was the intent, it is no laughing matter. I have two recent Pit Bull incidents involving extreme violence, that I believe is a precursor of things to come.
If Punishment Fits the Crime, Shouldn’t there First be a Crime?
This is the overwhelming question in these two incidents and the answer apparently is, “no crime required.”
Meet Alphonso McCloud and his wife Stanyelle Miles-McCloud. They went from honored US Army Veterans to felons. When you first hear this, you might not consider it a tragedy. Maybe somewhat because it involves two of America’s heroes.
However, I am sure you are thinking, “What bank did they rob?” or “Did they kill someone?” You would be wrong on both accounts. They are guilty of owning a Pit Bull that mauled their neighbor.
Should Responsibility Cost Someone Their Freedom?
Alphonso McCloud and his wife, Stanyelle McCloud, face serious charges. This stems from the serious bodily injury of their neighbor by their Pit Bull. Their Pit Bull Bully attacks Doris Mixon Smith on March 6, 2017, while she was gardening in her yard.
The attack was so vicious, that the Pit Bull pulled off her arm just below the elbow and mangled her face. The 73-year-old stated in court, “As a Christian, I have to forgive you, but tell, me, how can I forget?” she said. “I can no longer tie shoes, fasten my earrings, or dress myself.”
This was indeed a horrible incident and no one is overlooking that fact. Nevertheless, the question I have is, “Was this a Crime?”
Is it Possible for Justice to Go Too Far?
Alphonso attempts an appeal by addressing the jury. His appeal fell on deaf ears. Afterwards, the jury hands down a four-year sentence. They also gave his wife ten years probation.
This next incident is even more heartbreaking and frightening, for a multitude of reasons.
Meet Sandra Adams, a 70-year-old grandmother from Hartwell, Georgia.
She is a senior citizen and a Pit Bull owner. It is the latter that has her fighting for her life in the Georgia Courts.
A warrant for her arrest and a murder charge is what Ms. Adams faces. This is due to the fatal mauling of her toddler grandson by two Pit Bulls.
The second-degree murder charge prompts her arrest. In addition, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) also charges her with two lesser counts of involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children in the second degree.
Is Capital Punishment Not Too Far Behind?
Upon further research, in the state of Georgia, this carries a possible sentence of life or 30-to-40 years.
At 70-years-old, 30-to-40 years is the equivalent of a life sentence for Ms. Adams. I know that this entire ordeal is tragic and no one should have to bury a child. Not to mention, your own grandchild.
Supporters of BSL have long stated that there is a need for stiffer penalties for incidents of this nature. Their entire premise behind the need for these stiffer penalties is to head off the dogfighting “epidemic.” They also state that community safety is paramount.
Now More Than Ever, We Need A Collective Voice of Reason.
Unless things change, this is only the beginning. Supporters of BSL have put Pit Bull owners on notice. The message is clear and present, as well as the danger.
Each and every Pit Bull owner is in danger of this happening to you. There needs to be a change and it will not happen without you, the Pit Bull owner.
The Majority Project lays claim to the fact that irresponsible dog owners are the exception and not the rule. I agree with their notion, but we need it in writing.
A New BSL is the First Step Towards a Safer Community for All.
A new way to police this danger and make our communities safer will require a collaboration between supporters from both parties. Promoting safety is how we reach common ground.