Breed Neutral Legislation


Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services for Calgary, Canada


This article courtesy of

If breed-discriminatory legislation is not the answer, then what is? Perhaps the most shining example of a successful and adaptive set of breed-neutral policies can be found in Calgary, Canada. Their approach includes education and prevention, with a constant focus on owner responsibility – all paid for through licensing fees.


Here, StubbyDog chats with Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services for the City of Calgary, about how the city’s dog policies work to create a safer and happier community for dogs and people alike.

Q: Calgary is often cited as an example of a city with successful breed-neutral dog laws. Were breed-discriminatory laws ever considered? How did the city come to adopt its current regulations?

A: After a great deal of careful consideration and consultation with our community canine experts, we came to a simple conclusion – the issue of canine aggression had to be taken seriously but had to be addressed against all dogs that display aggressive behaviors rather than selecting a few breeds whether or not they had been involved in any display of aggression. We keep up-to-date statistics on all activities around animals and found that the typical banned breeds were not necessarily the top biters. So, armed with this knowledge and the support of our community animal experts, we set out to address canine aggression from the standpoint of the act, regardless of the breed.

Q: How were the new regulations different than what the city had in place prior? Can you tell us some of the key aspects of the current regulations?


Calgary Pit Bull (photo credit: Melissa Lipani)

A: Initially, we treated a bite as a bite, regardless of the severity. We also had a policy of not adopting out any Pit Bull type dogs. We revamped our bites to three levels: minor, serious and attack, with increasing consequences. This was based on our understanding of aggressive behaviors escalating if they are not corrected quickly.

We also started paying closer attention to situations that lead to more serious issues, such as dogs that are at large too often or have started displaying chasing and threatening behavior. We implemented a provision in our law to declare these dogs on their way to becoming a problem as a nuisance in the community. This order increased the license fee to $100 per year and automatically doubled any fines. Our behaviorist assessed the animal if it was involved in aggressive behavior and determined the actions needed to address the problem. The nuisance order can direct the owner to take the measure of containing the dog appropriately or even order them to take training from a certified trainer to correct the dog’s behavioral issues. After one year, if there are no further issues with the dog in the community, the order is lifted. About 90 percent of our orders are lifted after one year because the dog has ceased being a concern in the community.

Q: I hear that public safety and education are part of your overall strategy. Can you tell StubbyDog readers about these programs?

A: It starts with in-school training at an early age. We teach children about bite prevention and humane animal treatment. We also offer the bite prevention training to service providers like postal workers and meter readers. As mentioned in the previous question, we work directly with owners of dogs that are showing aggressive behavior to support them in getting professional help to correct their dog’s behavior. Our philosophy is that aggression is a human problem with respect to managing their dog more than it is a canine issue, and if we address the human side, the canine problem will take care of itself.

Q: When did the new regulations go into effect, and have you noticed a decrease in bites and other issues?

A: The whole process has been more of an evolution than one big “ah ha” moment. The major change in regulation came about in 2006. The downward trend [in bites] increased. In 2008 we added more behavior science into the incidents we investigated and offered more solutions at the early chase-threat and low-contact situations. As a result, in 2009 there was a drop in our bite rate to less than six bites per 100,000 people. In 2010 we had a surprising increase in in-home bites that pushed our bite rate up to just under 10 bites per 100,000 people. We have been working hard on that aspect, and so far this year we are experiencing about a 25 percent reduction in incidents since last year. (Calgary is a city of 1.1 million.)

This year, we are amending our legislation to mirror Ian Dunbar’s six level scale of canine aggression. We have found this useful in assessing and describing the severity of an incident as well as the opportunities to intervene before it gets more serious.

Q: In your opinion, how is Calgary’s approach more effective than breed-discriminatory laws?

A: I think it has been effective because it deals with the very core of the issue: unacceptable aggressive behavior. All dogs can bite and knowing the core of the issue is with the human side of the relationship, we believed that banning a breed would not reduce the bite rate because the human would simply select another bred that was not banned and create the same problem in the community – just with a different breed. We knew if we could change the human behavior then the canine side would correct itself. It really comes down to making the statement that any type of aggressive behavior will not be tolerated, and there will be significant consequences to the dog owner.

Q: I read that when a bite occurs, investigators try to find out why. What types of circumstances do you find are most likely to lead to bites?

A: We conduct extensive assessments on the dog and its situation. We look at everything from why they have a dog to socialization, training, experience with dogs, medical history, home situation (children, other animals), how are behaviors being corrected, exercise, any observed resource guarding issues and so on. Basically everything we can learn about the dog. We will do a standard behavior assessment to look at what triggers may be there and how the dog reacts to different situations. Invariably, it almost always comes back to something on the human side of the relationship. Perhaps they didn’t provide the proper training, socialization and exercise for their dog, or they failed to notice some of the early indicators that things are going wrong, such as chasing/threatening behaviors or resource guarding.

Q: I also read that while bites have gone down, the number of Pit Bulls in Calgary actually has risen. Is this true?

A: Yes, our number of Pit Bulls has increased probably due to the breed-neutral policies, and we have had many responsible owners choose Calgary as their home because they could keep their dog here. I would not be honest if I didn’t tell you that some that have moved here were not responsible owners with healthy, well-socialized dogs and have suffered some consequences as a result.

Q: In your opinion, do you think Calgary’s model is workable for most American cities?

A: Absolutely. The system works on supporting responsible owners and having consequences for owners who do not manage their dog in the community. The whole responsible pet ownership (or guardianship if you prefer that term) is based on four simple things we ask of all humans who have companion animals:

1. Provide a license and permanent ID on your pet.
2. Spay and neuter (unless you are a qualified breeder).
3. Provide the proper training, socialization, medical care, diet, exercise and grooming to keep your companion happy and comfortable.
4. Don’t let your pet become a threat or a nuisance in the community.

By supporting and, when necessary, enforcing these principles, we are able to maintain a safe community for people and animals with no breed restrictions or arbitrary pet limits.

Courtesy of…… Dogtime


Maryland Passes Breed Neutral Dog Bite Liability Legislation, Reverses Tracey v. Solesky Decision


  • The HSUS’s Tami Santelli and Kirsten Theisen stood proudly behind Maryland Gov. O’Malley as he signed a bill that would protect the state’s dogs and their families as well as dog-bite victims. Jay Baker/Executive Office of the Governor

The House of Delegates gave final approval to breed neutral dog bite liability legislation to address the consequences of the 2012 Court of Appeals ruling in Tracey v. Solesky. With passage of this legislation, lawmakers overwhelmingly agreed that public safety is best served by holding dog owners equally liable if their dog injures someone, regardless of the dog’s breed.

This legislation, SB 247 and HB 73, championed by Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, and Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, is the product of two years of negotiations between the chambers to arrive at a compromise standard for dog owner liability. Dog bite victims and dog owners alike benefit from the legislation, which presumes that dog owners know that all dogs can bite (regardless of breed), preserves the dog owner’s ability to present evidence in their dog’s defense, and holds dog owners strictly liable for injuries inflicted while a dog is running at large. It also removes the strict liability imposed by the Court on landlords and other third parties. HB 73 is expected to receive a final vote tomorrow, while SB 247 now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley for his signature.

Learn about the two-year fight to pass this law and protect dogs and their families in Maryland »

A large coalition of animal welfare groups, animal shelters, dog owner advocacy organizations, rental housing providers, individual advocates and others supported this legislation.

Sen. Frosh said: “I am glad we could work out a compromise that is fair to victims, dog owners and landlords.”

Del. Simmons said: “I am grateful to the many citizens of our state who have worked together with me to craft a compromise that protects both the victims of dog bites and the owners of dogs. This compromise includes greater protections for those injured by dogs while preserving the important due process rights of dog owners and the cherished right to defend oneself in court.”

Find out why breed-specific legislation doesn’t work »

Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for The HSUS said: “Passage of this compromise legislation ends this disgraceful era of court sanctioned canine profiling, in which families with pit bull-type dogs were forced to choose between their homes and their beloved pets. Lawmakers today voted against singling out particular breeds and in favor of raising the bar for all dog owners to protect victims of dog bites. We are so grateful to Sen. Frosh and Del. Simmons for their leadership and determination to find a solution for all Maryland families and their beloved canine companions.”

Media contacts:
The HSUS: Cheylin Parker; 301-258-1505,
Animal Farm Foundation: Stacey Coleman; 845-233-8823,
Apartment and Office Building Association: Ron Wineholt; 410-980-3420,
ASPCA: Maureen Linehan; 646-706-4602,
Baltimore Humane Society: Jen Swanson; 410-833-8848 x207,
BARCS: Jennifer Brause; 410-396-4695,
B-More Dog: Pauline Houliaras; 410-292-3869,
Best Friends Animal Society: Ledy VanKavage; 618-550-9469,
Humane Society of Carroll County and Professional Animal Workers of Maryland, Inc.: Nicky Ratliff; 410-848-4810,
Maryland Multi-Housing Association: Andrew Bonic; 410-825-6868,
Maryland SPCA: Tina Regester; 443-243-5868,
ReLove Animals: Julianne Brown; 410-808-8598,

Courtesy of the …… Humane Society


All Dogs Are Equal


Raise the bar for dogs, families and communities by fighting harmful breed-specific policies

When Michael brought Hennessy home, the 3-month-old puppy fit right into the family. Caring for the pup also made Michael happy and helped him cope with a mental illness.

Video…… Nikki speaks out….

But nine months later, the family received a notice from their apartment complex: It said they had to get rid of Hennessy because of her breed. Michael and his family could have tried to register Hennessy as an assistance animal, but they feared eviction. They lived in a publicly subsidized unit and would have been hard-pressed to find another affordable rental. Reluctantly, they surrendered their sweet dog to the local animal care and control agency.

This scenario is all too common. Across the country, housing complexes and even entire communities ban or restrict dogs because of their breed (or perceived breed) or their size.

The HSUS opposes such public policies and housing restrictions as inhumane and ineffective. There is no evidence that breed-specific laws reduce dog bites or attacks on people, and they divert resources from more effective animal control and public safety initiatives. As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes in its report on community dog-bite prevention, “singling out 1 or 2 breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment. Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community’s citizens.”

Breed-based policies aren’t founded on science or credible data, but on myths and misinformation surrounding different breeds. Their impact on dogs, families and animal shelters, however, is heartbreakingly real.

Learn the truth about breed bans, and help your community become a place where dogs aren’t judged by their looks, but by their behavior.

Bad Laws Have High Costs

Breed bans and restrictions force dogs out of homes and into shelters, taking up kennel space and resources that could be used for animals who are truly homeless. Underfunded animal control agencies bear the burden of enforcing the laws, and are often called on to decide, based on looks alone, whether a dog belongs to a certain breed. Battles erupt between dog owners and local agencies—and often continue to the courts—costing the community resources that could have been spent on effective, breed-neutral dog laws and enforcement.

One of the most difficult challenges we have as an organization is going to someone’s house, knocking on their door, and seeing their American pit bull terrier sitting in their living room watching television with the family, and have to take it out. Where the dog has done nothing wrong, no problems, but is just because its breed, he has to be removed.” — Rodney Taylor, associate director of the animal management division of Prince George’s County, Md., testifying in 2012 to the impact of breed bans in his community

Science Doesn’t Support Breed Bias

Experts have found that no breed is more likely to bite than another. The AVMA, the National Animal Control Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oppose breed-specific legislation (BSL), along with leading animal welfare organizations.

Complicating the issue of breed bans and restrictions is the fact that about half the estimated 80 million American pet dogs are mixed breeds. Through canine genetic testing, studies have found that even people in animal-related professions can’t accurately identify the breeds in a mixed-breed dog’s genealogy. Tragically, breed-biased laws and housing policies have caused the deaths of countless dogs whose only crime was to resemble a certain breed.

Dozens of popular breeds have been targeted by breed-specific legislation. Photo by Burntright/Stock.xchng

Breeds Don’t Magically Disappear

In a 2012 article about the long-standing breed ban in Miami-Dade County, Fla., Kathy Labrada, then head of animal services enforcement, admitted that the ban had been a failure. “No, it has not been effective,” she told The Daily Telegraph. “To target a specific breed I don’t think is logical.”

Some banned breeds, like German shepherds and pit-bull-types, are among the most popular dogs in the U.S., reflecting just how out of touch these policies are. Many animal shelters are flooded with dogs who, because of breed bans or housing restrictions, can’t be adopted to the people in their communities. Shelters in neighboring cities and counties often end up taking in the dogs, creating something like a shell game.

Katie Barnett, an animal law attorney in Kansas, remembers when animal control officers showed up at her door several years ago and told her that she had two weeks to get rid of her dog, Katrina. Instead, Barnett and Katrina moved just 10 miles away, to another city in the Kansas City metropolitan area that didn’t ban Staffordshire bull terriers. Her experience, Barnett says, underscores the illogic behind a patchwork of local breed bans: “I can live in one city and by simply crossing the street into another, all of the sudden my dog is labeled dangerous.”

BSL Is a Dying Trend

Fortunately, more people and their elected officials are learning why breed bans don’t make sense, and BSL is on the decline. In recent years, 19 states have passed laws prohibiting BSL on the local level, and nearly 100 municipalities have replaced BSL with breed-neutral policies. Repealing BSL has not resulted in more dog bites in these communities. In fact, after Ohio repealed its statewide breed-based law, State Farm Insurance reported a decrease in dog-related claims in the state.

Courtesy of the….  Humane Society


Breed-Specific Policies: No Basis in Science

Neither science nor statistics support policies that discriminate based on breed or physical appearance

Laws and policies restricting certain breeds may break up families, but they won’t make a community safer. Photo by Diane Lewis

Experts agree that breed-specific legislation (BSL) and similar policies that restrict dogs based on appearance do not reduce dog bites in communities or enhance public safety.

American Veterinary Medical Association

“Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals that could bite. Dogs from small breeds also bite and are capable of causing severe injury. There are several reasons why it is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds.”

“Statistics on fatalities and injuries caused by dogs cannot be responsibly used to document the ‘dangerousness’ of a particular breed, relative to other breeds, for several reasons.”Download the full report.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

“Any dog may bite, regardless of the dog’s size or sex, or reported breed or mix of breeds. The AVSAB’s position is that such legislation—often called breed-specific legislation (BSL)—is ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.” Download the position statement.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC recommends against using breed as a factor in dog-bite prevention policy and states: “Any dog of any breed has the potential to bite.”

Current Breed Specific ordinances have proven ineffective in reducing the number of pit bulls in Topeka or the number of dog bites. Breed Specific Legislation, i.e. targeting a particular breed such as American Pit Bull Terriers, has generally been discredited in actual experience of cities, professionals and academic research as being both ineffective and expensive.” — City Attorney’s Office, Topeka, Kan.

National Canine Research Council

“The trend in prevention of dog bites continues to shift in favor of multifactorial approaches focusing on improved ownership and husbandry practices, better understanding of dog behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs, and consistent enforcement of dangerous dog/reckless owner ordinances in communities. Effective laws hold all dog owners responsible for the humane care, custody, and control of all dogs regardless of breed or type.” Read more from the NCRC.

MC Residential

“Pets are part of people’s lives. As opposed to restricting pets, we look for better residents. Most fears apartment operators have are myths.” — Eric Brown, Vice President of Marketing for MC Residential, an apartment management company in Ariz., Okla. and Texas

Obama Administration

“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.” Read the statement.

State Farm Insurance

“We do not ask nor do we care what breed of dog is owned by a person. So when we are writing home owner’s insurance, rental insurance, or renewing policies, it is nowhere in our questions what breed of dog is owned.” — Heather Paul, Public Affairs Specialist

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

HUD recognizes that breed is an irrelevant factor to ensuring the general public health and safety of a housing community by asserting that all breeds of domestic dogs can be assistance animals regardless of any state or local breed bans and states: “Breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal. A determination that an assistance animal poses a direct threat of harm to others or would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others must be based on an individualized assessment that relies on objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct—not on mere speculation or fear about the types of harm or damage an animal may cause and not on evidence about harm or damage that other animals have caused.”

The U.S. Department of Justice

Similarly, the DOJ requires that places of public accommodation grant service dogs access to the premises regardless of breed: “Municipalities that prohibit specific breeds of dogs must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Under the “direct threat” provisions of the ADA, local jurisdictions need to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal’s actual behavior or history, but they may not exclude a service animal because of fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave.”

Courtesy of the …… Humane Society