Late Sunday (the 18th, of December 2016) I learned that the Safety Committee for University Heights, Ohio had on the agenda to discuss adding Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) to their city ordinances. Of course, I have something to say about it!
I don’t live in University Heights but Sits n Wiggles services several clients there. These clients will be negatively impacted if this legislation passes. I have sent this email to all the members of the City Council but I am not afraid to make it public.
I am steadfastly against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), often also referred to as pit bull bans. I am mom to two dogs that are pit bull type dogs and fostered so many of them I can’t count. Not only is BSL a professional issue for me it’s a personal one as well.
This legislation, like most legislation I oppose, is not based on facts and figures but fear or a need to control someone. BSL has at it core a fear that if pit bull type dogs are allowed within city limits then criminals will come as well. Pit bulls are often associated with criminals as guard dogs or used for fighting. It’s reasonable that people may think this, however, once you meet a pit bull it’s likely your opinion will change. Once you dig into the data about this breed type you will be convinced to think how I think. That pit bull type dogs are big, wiggle butt, babies. Hell, my Phoenix, crawls into my arms and even sleeps like a baby.
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OPEN LETTER TO UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS CITY COUNCIL:
Dear University Heights City Council,
This email is in response to the Safety Committee’s meeting topic of “Vicious Dogs” during the meeting on Monday, December 19th. It has been reported by citizens that attended the meeting that the discussion was not regarding vicious dogs but dogs that are visually identified as pit bulls.
My name is Valarie Ross. I own Sits n Wiggles Pet Care & Training, which services University Heights. SnW provides in home pet care and training and we currently service ten residents of University Heights and have consultations with two other potential clients scheduled for this week. I work part time at Pet People on Cedar Rd, where I am also the top spender. I am the mom to two pit bulls and a foster mom to another that also frequent that store. While I am not a University Heights resident, I am very invested in your city and highly concerned about the direction this conversation went Monday night.
I am asking that you move away from discussions on breed specific legislation (BSL) and look into breed neutral legislation like your neighbor city, Cleveland Heights, has done. Below I am citing reasons why I am asking for this.
In 2012 the State of Ohio removed their legislation labeling pit bull type dogs as vicious, citing it was a Constitutionally questionable law. In 2013 President Obama said, “we don’t support breed-specific legislation—research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources. And the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.” Since that time several Cuyahoga County cities have either removed their breed specific legislation or rejected proposals. The City of Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, and Brecksville have all removed such laws. Shaker Heights rejected a BSL motion 5 – 2 just last December. Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends against BSL in its study by Sacks et al (2000), stating that data collected based on visual breed identification is “fraught with potential for error”.
Cities across the United States that do have BSL rely on “visual identification” of pit bull type dogs. Not only, as noted above, does the CDC recommend against this, but studies spanning 50 years show this is a highly defective practice. (Studies are listed below)
- Voith, V. L., Ingram, E., Mitsouras, K., & Irizarry, K. (2009). Comparison of Adoption Agency Breed Identification and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 12(3), 253-262. doi:10.1080/10888700902956151
- Voith, V. L., Trevejo, R., Dowling-Guyer, S., Chadik, C., Marder, A., Johnson, V., & Irizarry, K. (2013). Comparison of visual and DNA breed identification of dogs and inter-observer reliability, American Journal of Sociological Research, 3(2) 17-29. doi: 10.5923/j.sociology.20130302.02.
- Simpson, R. J., Simpson, K., & VanKavage, L. (2012). Rethinking dog breed identification in veterinary practice. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 241(9), 1163-1166.
- Hoffman, C. L., Harrison, N., Wolff, L., & Westgarth, C. (2014). Is that dog a pit bull? A cross-country comparison of perceptions of shelter workers regarding breed identification. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science: JAAWS, 17(4), 322-339. doi:10.1080/10888705.2014.895904
- Olson, K. R., Levy, J. K., Norby, B., Crandall, M. M., Broadhurst, J. E., Jacks, S., Barton, R. C., & Zimmerman, M. S. (2015). Inconsistent identification of pit bull-type dogs by shelter staff. The Veterinary Journal, 206, 197-202.
- Scott, J. P., & Fuller, J. L. (1965). Genetics and the social behavior of the dog. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Croy, K. C., Levy, J. K., Olson, K. R., Crandall, M. & Tucker, S. J. (2012) What kind of a dog is that? Accuracy of dog breed assessment by canine stakeholds.
Finally, temperament testing statistics from the American Temperament Testing Society, Inc show that of all dogs that can be generally lumped into the “pit bull type” dog label have an 85% or higher pass rate. Golden retrievers also have an 85% pass rate. Other very popular breeds do not break 80% pass rates.
Per the American Temperament Test Society’s website “The ATTS test focuses on and measures different aspects of temperament such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness as well as the dog’s instinct for protectiveness towards its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat. The test is designed for the betterment of all breeds of dogs and takes into consideration each breed’s inherent tendencies.
The test simulates a casual walk through the park or neighborhood where everyday life situations are encountered. During this walk, the dog experiences visual, auditory and tactile stimuli. Neutral, friendly and threatening situations are encountered, calling into play the dog’s ability to distinguish between non-threatening situations and those calling for watchful and protective reactions.”
Below are just a sampling of the results, including those of the four breeds most targeted by BSL. I have highlighted those breeds in red and sorted the list starting with the highest scores first. As you can see 3 of the top 5 breeds are pit bull type dogs, and the American Staffordshire Terrier only misses out on the top 5 spots by .2%, which is not statistically significant.
|American Pit Bull Terrier||87.4%|
|American Staffordshire Terrier||85.2%|
The ASPCA states that laws that ban particular breeds do not achieve these aims (of increased public safety) but instead create the illusion but not the reality, of enhanced public safety. Both the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States believe education on dog behavior is the best way to prevent a dog bite. As a professional dog trainer that regularly studies dog behavior and how to prevent dog bites, I agree with the statements of these organizations. I am willing to provide classes on these topics to help increase the safety of the residents of University Heights.
Again, I am asking that you do not go further with your discussion of Breed Specific Legislation against pit bull type dogs, but look at strengthening your breed neutral vicious dog laws. I am here as a resource if you choose to move forward with an education program vs BSL.
Thank you for taking the time to read my email and considering the facts, figures, and studies cited within.
Valarie L. Ross
Owner & Dog Trainer at Sits n Wiggles Pet Care & Training