California allows cities to adopt dog breed-specific legislation

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San Francisco recently adopted an ordinance requiring owners of pit bull-type dogs to spay or neuter the animals, shortly after California repealed a state ban on breed-specific legislation.

Across the country, many municipalities have enacted breed-specific legislation—largely to ban pit bull-type dogs or designate them as dangerous. Yet many organizations, including the AVMA, oppose such ordinances.

The San Francisco ordinance amends the local health code to mandate the spaying or neutering of every pit bull in the city and county by the age of eight weeks, except for show dogs and dogs with medical conditions precluding the procedure. The ordinance does provide permits for breeding or transferring ownership of puppies.

The California act authorizing the ordinance also mandates that municipalities with breed-specific programs submit quarterly statistics on dog bites to the state public health veterinarian.

The AVMA Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions wrote in "A community approach to dog bite prevention" (see JAVMA, June 1, 2001) that breed-specific legislation is an inappropriate and ineffective approach to protecting public safety.

According to the report, a dog's tendency to bite depends on at least five factors: heredity, early experience, later socialization and training, medical and behavioral health, and victim behavior.

Nevertheless, injuries or fatalities resulting from dog bites often lead communities to call for breed-specific legislation.

For example, aldermen in Chicago recently proposed a ban on pit bulls following attacks on locals. Illinois legislators have also filed bills in the House (H.B. 4212 and H.B. 4213) and Senate (S.B. 1790) to allow breed bans in the state and to designate specific breeds as dangerous.