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Op-ed: Pit-bull bans are unfair and ineffective in Utah

By Arlyn Bradshaw and Gregory Castle

First Published Feb 17 2014 05:02 pm • Last Updated Feb 18 2014 08:26 am

Should municipalities have the power to infringe on a citizen’s property rights and tell families they aren’t welcome in their city based solely on the breed of pet dog they own? The answer to that question is a resounding no.

Breed discrimination laws are baseless and hamper the effectiveness of the police and animal control. House Bill 97, sponsored by Rep. Brian King, would protect a responsible dog owner’s ability to own any breed of dog they choose. The bill passed out of a house committee last week and will face a vote of the full house in the coming days.

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Historically, breed bans have been based on an ill-devised whack-a-mole strategy to respond to specific instances. They began with German Shepherds, then Rottweilers became the en vogue dog to ban, and most recently they have focused on pit bull terrier-like dogs, which unlike many types of dogs are not truly a specific breed of dog.

Even when DNA testing is used to determine that a dog falls under the broad definition of pit bull, these laws are not based on factual data. The veterinary and animal behavior professions are in complete agreement on that fact. Studies show that breed discriminatory laws fail to enhance public safety. That’s why the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the National Animal Control Association don’t support breed discriminatory or "breed specific" laws.

In addition to being based on false assumptions, breed bans actually undermine the very public safety concerns that they are supposed to address. The reality is that such bans rarely control whether a person gets a banned pet. Instead what is more likely is that people simply refuse to license a banned dog. As a result, there is no record kept to ensure that a dog is up to date on vaccines, and if an incident does occur with the dog, law enforcement has no way of knowing who the owner is. The preferred, and more effective, method of protecting public safety is for municipalities to craft and enforce comprehensive ordinances based on behavior of the dog that focus on punishing reckless owners and dogs that actually display aggression.

Those opposed to HB97 do not necessarily support breed discrimination, but instead argue that the state should not restrict a city’s ability to determine for itself if such a ban is necessary. The argument for local control ignores the fact that the state already imposes a myriad of restrictions on local governments when the Legislature has determined that a consistent statewide policy is in the best interest of all Utahns.

Furthermore, the protection of personal liberties, including property rights, has always been superior to the rights of government to regulate. Utah should protect people and pets through a culture of safety, personal responsibility, and individual accountability.

The vast majority of pet owners are responsible with their animals. They love their pets and view them as part of their families. Protecting the private property rights of pet owners to legally own these dogs — regardless of whatever side of a city line they reside — is the right thing for the Utah to do. Prohibition and disjointed policies from city to city creates confusion, promotes stigmatization and fear of certain breeds and turns neighbor against neighbor. Consistency and uniformity in these policies fosters education, understanding and better communities with a higher quality of life.

We urge the state legislature to pass, and Gov. Gary Herbert to sign, HB97 to protect people and pets and end breed discrimination in Utah. We all want safe and humane communities.

Arlyn Bradshaw is a member of the Salt Lake County Council. Gregory Castle is CEO of Best Friends Animal Society.

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