Breed Specific Legislation and Policies

Why Ordinances and Policies That Focus on Specific Breeds Don't Work

Governor Patrick signed S. 2192 into law on August 2, 2012; this comprehensive animal protection legislation sets forth a statewide dangerous dog law, and specifically prohibits regulation based on breed. The law went into effect on October 31, 2012.  Click here to read the law. 

Alert:  S. 969 has been filed in the Mass. 2013-2014 session to repeal the prohibition on BSL/BDL in Mass.  Read more here.

The MSPCA is opposed to breed-discriminatory ordinances for many reasons.  We are committed to working with municipalities on the important issue of preventing dog bites and believe that doing so can produce an outcome that is both effective and fair.  We're also working with colleagues in animals protection and public safety; read our Joint Position Statement on Dangerous Dogs.

A highly praised article from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) called “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention” provides important information.  The multidisciplinary Task Force that wrote this report had as its goal to create “a well-planned proactive community approach” to address dog bite concerns. Another AVMA document is the Role of Breed in Dog Bite Prevention.

We understand the struggle to comprehend and deal with public safety issues and how difficult it can be for legislative bodies to address societal problems resulting from individual behavior. It is important that we examine the issue of dog bites carefully and thoroughly because, as with many issues, prevention is more complicated than simply focusing on one measure -- in this case on one breed of dog. Examining the animal control laws and their enforcement must happen, because focusing efforts on specific breeds, rather than on dealing with the true cause of these threats to public safety -- pet owner responsibility -- will not work.

We can’t begin to holistically address this problem without going beyond news articles and finding out what is really happening and why.   There can be a tendency for the media to report on “pit bull attacks” and not others. It has been said “Dog bites man isn’t news, but Pit Bull bites man is.”   Similarly, certain breeds can be over-represented in statistics, as they are more likely to be reported, when bites by other breeds are not.  When the media or legislators list pit bull incidents, they almost all are from off-leash dogs who had been violating the leash law.  This begs the question: if a municipality can't enforce the leash law, how can the breed-specific law be enforced?  Again, this is an issue of pet owner responsibility.

Download a summary of the main reasons why breed-discriminatory legislation is neither appropriate nor effective and what alternatives should be explored.

We encourage municipalities to form a task force consisting of a diverse group of interests, backgrounds and expertise to explore substantive, long-term strategies that will reach the goal we all want -- a decrease in the number of dog bites.

As stated in the JAVMA article, “Although this (specific breeds as dangerous) is a common concern, singling out 1 or 2 breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment.  Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community’s citizens.” 

Local Actions
- April 2012: Malden Mayor Gary Christenson vetoed a pit bull ordinance; visit www.cityofmalden.org to read the Mayor's letter and the suggested language that he sent to the city council.  Read the ordinance in Malden that passed (but was vetoed) on April 3, 2012 and the votes.
- Plymouth ends BSL (April 2012). See article here.
- Lowell City Council narrowly passed a pit bull muzzle ordinance, which was nullified by the state law enacted on October 31, 2012.  Read more
- Worcester City Council voted in favor of an ordinance that focuses primarily on pit bulls. Read more

Resources
-  MSPCA, ARL, MVMA, ACOAM Joint Position Statement on Dangerous Dogs.
- “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention” The multidisciplinary Task Force that wrote this report had as its goal to create “a well-planned proactive community approach” to address dog bite concerns.
- AVMA's Role of Breed in Dog Bite Prevention.
- Rethinking dog breed identification in veterinary practices
- American Bar Association resolution on repealing BSL
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Beyond the Myth is a film about Pit Bulls and those who love and defend these breeds; it reveals the perils of breed specific legislation.
- Read about Dogs and Insurance and Pit Bull Adoption at the MSPCA
- Read the ASPCA's position on BDL (with references), the ASPCA's overview of BDL, and ASPCA's list of 10 Ways to Be a Powerful Pit Bull Ambassador
- Visit the City of Calgary's website; they have an extremely effective, breed-neutral ordinance funded by license fees
- Download our Local Action Kit and Breed Specific Issues and Ordinances packets 
- Join the Animal Action Team for updates on legislation