Amendments to Tennessee HB 621 and SB 865 Define “Pit Bulls” as Prima-Facie “Vicious”

By Editor
In Breed-Specific Legislation
Mar 18th, 2013
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March 19, 2013 update: HB 621 and its amendment have been withdrawn by their sponsor Rep. Brenda Gilmore and will not be considered going forward.

From WBIR NBC channel 10 in Knoxville:

Reporter’s note:  The original version of this story below provides links to House Bill 621, but those online documents at the Capitol website have not been updated to include the amendment with breed-specific language.  A pdf of the amendment that is cited in the article to specifically say “pit bull dog” has now been attached to this article.  (Updated March 16, 9:02 PM)

…a State House committee will discuss a proposed bill that takes aim at the pocketbooks of people who own pit bulls in Tennessee.

Representative Brenda Gilmore of Nashville has sponsored House Bill 621, which would require owners of vicious dogs to carry a minimum insurance policy of “$25,000 for liability against any injuries inflicted by the dog.”

On March 20 at the meeting of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Gilmore will introduce an amendment to the bill to define vicious dog.  The amendment defines vicious as any animal with a previous history of causing injury or death to a person or other animal without being provoked.  It also says any animal that “belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog” shall be considered vicious.

While HB 621 is not breed-specific, its amendment is. (The amendment is not available on the TN legislative site yet, which is inexcusable on the part of the Tennessee legislature, but you can click here to see the PDF listed in the above excerpted article.) The amendment language merely refers to “a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog” and reads:

…The ownership, keeping, or harboring of such a breed of dog shall be prima-facie evidence of the ownership, keeping, or harboring of a vicious dog.

First, THERE IS NO BREED KNOWN AS A PIT BULL DOG!  The dog lobby is going to keep screaming that until people get it.  “Pit bull” is a slang term and has no business being used in legislation as if it were an actual breed.  In fact, this disaster of an amendment doesn’t even name actual breeds like American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or Staffordshire Terrier.  It just says a “breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog.”  Well there is no one breed referred to as a “pit bull dog.”  There are countless breeds, their mixes, and lookalikes that have been erroneously called “pit bulls.”  So does that mean Boxers are now prima-facie vicious?  Because they are frequently confused for “pit bulls” (just ask Denver’s ACOs).  So do you see the problem?  The legislation is so vague, no one would know how to abide by it if it passed. 

Second, as the National Animal Control Association instructs: “One breed is not more likely to bite than another breed.”  In other words, there is no such thing as an inherently vicious breed of dog, so the onus will be on the state (probably via a lawsuit) to prove there is such a thing as an inherently vicious breed of dog, which they won’t be able to do because there is no such thing as an inherently vicious breed of dog, and certainly not one called “pit bull dog.”  Again, there is no such breed, and so requiring things like constant containment and liability insurance are ridiculous.

Third, no dog, and no dog breed, attacks “without provocation,” to use the amendment’s incorrect language. In other words, dogs don’t attack without provocation or without warning. There is always something that provokes a dog to attack. We as humans may simply not be aware of a dog’s subtle body language.  For instance, the parenting section of a typical question-answer website informs parents of the common signs of an impending dog bite or attack — which can include stiffening, raised hackles, a standing tail, a showing of the whites of the eyes, and of course bared teeth and growling — adding,

Dogs typically don’t attack without warning.  In most cases, dogs are sending subtle cues that signal distress before resorting to an attack.

Simply because people may be ignorant of the subtle cues that a dog of any breed may give before attacking, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Fourth, keeping dogs constantly confined and muzzled is animal cruelty.  We said this when Rhode Island proposed a similar piece of ridiculous legislation and we’ll say it here for Tennessee. 

You can keep posted on these bills by clicking here.  The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. in Room HHR29 to discuss HB 621.  Please contact the committee here and politely tell them why the bill and its amendment are inadvisable and ask them NOT to pass HB 621 out of committee.

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