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Animal Attraction: American Bar Association Urges Adoption of Breed-Neutral Dog Laws and the Repeal of Breed Discriminatory Ordinances

by Stacy Fox

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 7:32 AM

The American Bar Association’s 560-member policymaking House of Delegates met during the ABA 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago to discuss policies relating to a broad range of issues which are advocated for by state and local bar associations, specialty legal groups within the ABA or affiliated with the association, and individual members.
Among other policies, the House adopted the ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section’s (TIPS) Resolution 100, which urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.
According to Ledy VanKavage, Immediate Past Chair of the TIPS Animal Law Committee, “People love their pets, no matter what their appearance. This is America. Responsible pet owners should be allowed to own whatever breed they want. They should not have to live in fear of their pets being seized and killed simply because of their appearance.”
The measure is timely as the Maryland House of Delegates is taking up a bill to repeal the finding that all “pit bulls” and “pit bull crosses” are inherently dangerous. The Governor of Massachusetts signed legislation last week making breed discriminatory legislation illegal in that state- becoming the 13th state in the nation to reject canine profiling. Miami-Dade citizens went to the polls on August 14 to decide whether to continue their breed ban.
Breed-discriminatory measures, sometimes referred to as breed-specific measures, distinguish  dogs of one or more specific breeds, along with dogs presumed to mixes of those breeds, as inherently dangerous because of the dog’s physical appearance. Often these provisions will describe the most common physical characteristics of the breed, or they will refer to the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club’s description. Dogs within the community are judged by these physical characteristics. If a certain number of features are present in a particular dog, the dog is presumed to be a member of the breed or, in the case of mixed-breed dogs, of that breed’s heritage and is classified as dangerous per se. The consequences of this classification vary greatly. Some laws ban the ownership, keeping or harboring of dogs of certain breeds or appearance, other laws place onerous restrictions on the dogs and their owners.
These restrictions can include requiring sterilization, micro-chipping, prescribed enclosures, muzzling, special leashes, specific collars, detailed signage, training and a minimum age of the person who can walk the dog. The dogs affected by these laws have not actually shown dangerous behaviors; the dogs just appear to be of a certain breed or heritage.
The ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section’s Animal Law Committee was instrumental in the resolution and resulting policy. The Committee addresses all issues concerning the intersection of animals and the law including: estate planning for companion animals; liability standards and insurance coverage when an animal causes harm; appropriate compensation when an animal is killed or injured; standards of care and accountability for animals used in industry and agriculture; expanding notions of what constitutes “cruelty to animals,” and the competing interests of wild animals and humans in dwindling resources.

American Bar Association