BSL not working? Maybe more impotent legislation will help. Not!
Here’s a new trend in some municipalities: Adding to existing breed-specific legislation (BSL) because the existing BSL isn’t working. We saw this with Bluefield, West Virginia. Bluefield recognized its existing breed-specific ordinance wasn’t effective, but instead of repealing the ineffective ordinance, they just went on to ban the prior restricted breeds, which also wasn’t effective. It’s as if some communities can’t admit when they’re wrong.
Indeed, some municipalities just don’t seem to get it. For instance, today we have Morrilton, Arkansas, Muscatine, Iowa, and Westwego, Louisiana, all of which have existing breed-specific ordinances that aren’t being abided by. Yet instead of doing the sensible thing and repealing their ineffective BSL, they are (or were) considering adding on to their existing BSL with even more burdensome requirements for law-abiding owners of specific breeds.
In the case of Morrilton, Mayor Stewart Nelson is seeking “emergency” legislation to require “pit bull” owners to either add another foot on to their fences to meet a 6-foot requirement, or to install an all new fence. (Just to put that in perspective, I had a 6-foot wooden fence installed a few years ago around my tiny backyard, and it cost me $5,000!) In Muscatine, Supervisor Kas Kelly, who is on the County Board of Supervisors, may seek to ban “pit bulls” in the entire county, instead of just the city in which she lives where they are already banned, because she keeps getting reports of free-roaming “pit bulls.” Right, because we all know the cure for impotent legislation is even more impotent legislation. What was that famous quote from Thomas B. Reed again? Oh right,
“One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.”
I was in Iowa a few weeks ago and it looks to me like parts of Iowa are severely economically depressed. With a large-scale downturn in the economy you will find things like free-roaming dogs more because people are so focused on just surviving. So, in economically-depressed areas, proper canine care/ownership often go out the window. I’m not making excuses for free-roaming dogs, because it’s the responsibility of the owner to properly care for their dog and keep their dog contained, but why aren’t these cities trying to work with their dog owners instead of seeking to pass even more burdensome, ineffective legislation?
Does Muscatine really think it will help to ban all “pit bulls” in the county when they’re already banned in the cities within those counties? And adding another foot on to an existing fence? Does Morrilton’s Mayor have any idea how much that will cost? Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe this is just a back-door way of getting all the “pit bulls” out of the city without, he thinks, having to undergo the scrutiny of the entire country who will barrage him with letters telling him how unjust his newly-proposed requirement is. A little hint here, you are about to get those letters anyway, Mr. Mayor. Just a head’s up.
And then we have Westwego, Louisiana. Though Westwego already has an existing breed-specific law, which at least one resident claimed wasn’t being enforced, Westwego City Councilman Glenn Green sought even more breed-specific restrictions. Green wisely withdrew his breed-specific ordinance proposal after he found it had no support on the council*, but I doubt the dog lobby will consider this a victory. It’s not like Councilman Green has been educated. He just didn’t have the votes. As NOLA reported,
First District Councilman Glenn Green defiantly defended his proposal, telling residents his charge as an elected official is to tend to the health and welfare of his constituents, and that was his motivation in proposing restrictions on pit bull owners. He said pit bull owners misunderstood his intent.
“I’m sure a lot of people did not read that ordinance,” Green said after a public hearing on his proposal that lasted less than 30 minutes. “I’m not trying to get people to get rid of their dogs. I’m trying to make dog owners be responsible for their pets. You’re right. Dogs don’t make themselves that way. Irresponsible owners do.”
If Councilman Green really cared about the “health and welfare” of his constituents, he’d propose legislation that is actually effective, like a dangerous dog (owner) law with escalating fines and penalties, not BSL which has a several decades long history of ineffectiveness. He said people didn’t read the ordinance before criticizing, well, did he do research? Because there’s ample evidence that BSL doesn’t make communities safer; in fact, quite the opposite. After BSL is passed, dog bite stats typically don’t change, and the public has been given only a false sense of security.
And of course Green was trying to get rid of people’s dogs, whether he knew it or not. That’s what BSL does! BSL seldom, if ever, makes irresponsible dog owners more responsible; it simply takes their dogs away, which they probably didn’t even care about because they treated their dogs poorly in the first place by not training them and/or allowing them to free-roam. Then they just get new dogs, maybe of a different breed, maybe not, and then continue to not train those dogs and allow them to free-roam. Meanwhile, responsible dog owners who were already abiding by the law are made to suffer for the irresponsibility of a few. In both cases, it is the dog who pays (or innocent victims of free-roaming dogs of any breed), often with its life, for the negligence of its owner and the ignorance of politicians who simply applied a knee-jerk, Band-Aid fix to a larger societal problem. In fact, I think this Westwego resident put it best:
Rick Massarini called Green’s proposal a “knee-jerk decision” based on the action of “reckless owners.” “When your own dog attacks you, you’re doing something wrong,” Massarini said. “It’s not the dog. It’s not the breed. It’s how it’s treated.”
Indeed, why further abuse the most abused dogs in the world — the dogs they erroneously call “pit bulls,” a “breed” which doesn’t exist — by making BSL so restrictive people must either give up their dogs to already overly-burdened shelters, or have them put down? Better yet, why keep proposing more and more breed-specific restrictions, including eventual outright bans, when they aren’t working?
*Westwego residents should give a special shout-out thanks to Councilmen Johnny Nobles Jr., Norman Fonseca, and Garrison “Gary” Toups for opposing Councilman Green’s proposal.