Snyder: Breed-specific laws cause injustice

Columnist Snyder argues against breed-specific legislation and the media driven stigma, which has been forcing pit bulls out of homes for decades.

Stephen Snyder

Breed-specific legislation, or BSL, as it is applied to dogs, can be defined as the creation of laws intended to restrict or prohibit the ownership of particular breeds that lawmakers hold to be inherently dangerous to the public. The breed most commonly legislated against across the nation and in Iowa, is the American Pit Bull Terrier and breeds related to pit bulls.

As an owner of a pit bull and the former owner of a German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix — two more breeds that are legislated against in some parts of the nation and this state — I hold my own obvious and unrelenting biases regarding the blanket-banning of any dog based upon its breed alone. That being said, bad dogs certainly exist, but there is no such thing as a bad breed.

There are over 80 cities in Iowa that have passed breed-specific ordinances relating specifically to pit bulls, according to, a website that dedicates itself to “putting the safety of humans before dogs,” as though owners of pit bulls or supporters of reform for BSL value the safety of dogs over humans.

Such assumptions are illogical and-if I’m speaking freely-idiotic. Not to mention the fact that the claims of organizations like twist statistics to suit their needs when they claim that pit bulls make up only five percent of the dog population and therefore seem disproportionately more likely to attack.

Such claims are not even based on actual statistics because those statistics don’t actually exist. There has been no Center for Disease Control measure of dog bites or injuries by breed since 1998.

In fact, cities like Calgary have seen decreases in bites while the pit bull population has increased, thanks to early education about dog bite prevention and breed-neutral dog laws.

One city ordinance which perfectly exemplifies a sheer lack of contemplation regarding the enforcement of BSL, is Ottumwa city ordinance 7-61, which prohibits dangerous animals. According to the ordinance, a dangerous animal is “any animal that is not naturally tame or gentle, and that is of a wild nature or disposition, and that is capable of killing, inflicting serious injury upon, or causing disease among human beings or domestic animals and having known tendencies as a species to do so.”

Animals that made the list explicitly as part of the ordinance include, but are not limited to: alligators, bears, lions, monkeys, raccoons, wolves, Gila monsters, sharks and last, but not least, pit bull terriers and any crossbreed of such animals that have similar characteristics to the animals specified above.

I can offer no better example to prove that these laws are drafted in ignorance and driven by irrational fears. Laughable as I may find the law to be, it is still enforced.

Another example is Des Moines’ city ordinance 18-41, the BSL I found to be the most disheartening during my research because it is my home city. The ordinance states that the ownership of any vicious dog shall be prohibited. The ordinance definition for a vicious dog is quoted as follows-with some elements removed for the sake of brevity.

Any dog which has bitten or attacked a human being or domestic animal one or more times, without provocation is a vicious dog. Any dog with a history, tendency or disposition to attack, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals; Any dog that snaps, bites, or manifests a disposition to snap or bite.

Any dog that has been trained for dog fighting, animal fighting or animal baiting or is owned or kept for such purposes is considered a vicious dog. Any dog trained to attack human beings, upon command or spontaneously in response to human activities, except dogs owned by and under the control of the police department, a law enforcement agency of the state or of the United States or a branch of the armed forces of the United States is considered a vicious dog.

Any Staffordshire terrier breed, the American pit bull terrier breed and any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominately of the breeds of Staffordshire terrier, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier is considered a vicious dog.

Do you see how close they came to following a logical and proactive thought process in writing the law? Every description of a vicious dog was reasoned and based upon the actions of the dog all the way up until that final paragraph. Now, any dog merely resembling a pit bull is vicious? How can we throw the blanket term “vicious” over the fifth most popular family dog in the state of Iowa? Even when breed legislation is “specific,” it still falls back on vague and generic diction.

No dog is, by the nature of its breed, dangerous. The danger comes from poor training, lack of training, or downright mistreatment of the animal. These laws are born from fear, as evidenced by the opinion of the Iowa Veterinary Medicine Association.

According to the association mentioned above, “New initiatives for BSL usually follow a sensational story of a single dog attack, whether or not there has been an actual increase in dog attacks or dog bites in that particular community by that or any other breed.”

However, the legislation is not the only issue. Here in Ames, we have no ban on pit bulls. A dog is still given its own form of due process, but so powerful is the media-generated stigma— If your neighbor’s Labrador Retriever bites you, then you can work it out amongst yourselves, but if it’s a pit bull, it becomes headline news—against pit bulls that even in a non-restricted area owners and dogs face persistent hardships. That leads me to the part of my own pit bull story, which I have left out so far.

I have to give my dog up. Though it breaks my heart even as I write this column, I know that he will not lead a good life were my girlfriend and I to keep him.

We have to walk him before the sun comes up so that we wouldn’t get the hateful glares from some neighbors. She’ll get rejected by apartments that won’t lease to a person with an “aggressive dog.” She can’t even get the owner’s insurance, which some cities require for pit bulls because insurance companies have blacklisted the dogs.

You know what? I get it. If an aggressive pit bull attacks someone, they can certainly do some serious damage. They’re strong dogs. That’s why the human garbage of the world breeds them for fighting, but pit bulls aren’t born to fight. They are born to be dogs. They’re born to be loving, protective members of the family.

Don’t get me wrong, if my dog poses a significant threat to any person or another domesticated animal then, by all means, come and take him from me, but nothing my dog has done warrants such action. To preemptively assume that a dog is dangerous is to act in fear rather than reason. I don’t want to own an aggressive dog, and the fact is, I don’t. It is the unwarranted prejudice of society that is taking my dog away, not anything he did.

I can only hope that as more cities and states bring down breed-specific legislation, the social stigma will fade along with the laws, but the change will come too late for my dog as well as countless dogs just like him.