Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rant: Pet Legislation

If you are involved in pets in the US to any serious degree at all you are aware of at least some form of legislation that either has been implemented or is being considered for implementation in your state, county, or city (or one near you) regarding pets. The debates over these pieces of legislation are heated, to say the least. My opinions on the majority of them are heavily pragmatic in nature.

I find that actually evaluating each of these proposed laws is relatively simple for me – it comes down to two basic questions:  What GOOD can it truthfully do?  What HARM can it cause? 

One thing I don’t find to be helpful is jumping to conclusions or maintaining the belief that any piece of regulation is ultimately aimed at total domination.  For example, there are many who believe that much of this legislation is simply a stepping stone for the government (or anybody else) to reach the ultimate goal of taking away our right to own pets altogether.  I don’t.  In fact, to some degree I loathe this argument – I hear it all the time with gun control.  The fact is, just as the majority of rational people who want some kind of regulation on guns do not have the goal of taking them away altogether, I don’t believe the majority of rational people who want regulation on pets have the ultimate goal of making it illegal to own one at all.  I just simply don’t see it, and I find that way of thinking to be not only unproductive, but a further perpetuation of the fear mongering I believe to be the root cause of much of this legislation in the first place.  (more on that later)  I realize this belief is just the beginning of my divergence from the basic arguments of many who oppose these laws.  I understand the opposition, I just think there are better ways to justify it.


Let’s begin with Breed Specific Legislation (BSL).  While a large portion of these laws are aimed at what is commonly referred to as “Pit Bulls”, many breeds are involved.  Never mind the fact that “Pit Bull” is just an arbitrary descriptor with no truly specific meaning at all, many of the laws essentially ban well muscled stocky dogs with broad heads that “look scary”.  The idea behind the legislation being that since many of these breeds were used for the purpose of dog fighting or other aggressive purposes, they must pose some kind of threat to mankind.  Therefore, if we ban people from having them, they can’t bite, maim, or kill us.  Easy enough, I suppose, even though it’s already becoming painfully obvious this is a blatant case of fear mongering in itself.  Anybody who actually knows a dog who might be classified as a “Pit Bull” is well aware that this fear is not only irrational, but in most cases down right laughable.  Let’s just look past all that and start with that pesky question number 1 – What GOOD can it truthfully do?  The answer – not much.  As a society, the dog breeds we have found to be most frightening has changed nearly every decade.  In the 80’s it was German Shepherds, the 90’s vilified Dobermans and Rottweilers, and now here we are on ‘Pit Bulls’.  None of these breeds (or vague breed classes) have changed all that much in 30 years as far as the danger they pose to us and yet our perception of them has changed significantly.  The reality is any dog can bite; any dog can do serious harm, regardless of size or breed.  In all my years of working with dogs, the only breed of dog I have ever experienced a true attack (and subsequent bite) from was a black Labrador Retriever.  She seriously wanted to hurt me (and the people I was protecting from her) and her aggression was a direct result of genuine fear and lack of socialization.  In my experience, this is a major underlying cause of a huge portion of bites/attacks.  At that moment, in her state of mind, her breed was the last thing on earth that mattered.  I have no doubt in my mind that situations like this are among the leading cause of attacks on children.  When a dog is backed into a corner or put in a position that threatens or frightens him, he has precious few options – when a child is the source of the threat, aggression is a perfectly viable option for most dogs.  Breed is irrelevant, but what a dog perceives as a threat most certainly is not.  When a dog is left to his own devices to determine who and what is a threat (because his owner did not bother to teach him) or to determine what behavior is or is not acceptable, he will find aggression to be a perfectly acceptable reaction to a great variety of situations that we might find completely unacceptable.  This failure on the part of owners is not a breed problem, it is a people problem, and the banning of breeds will not even begin to solve it.   
What about question 2 – What harm can it cause?  I will admit for the “non-dog person” who simply doesn’t see the value in dogs as companions and has sipped from the cup of fear Kool-Aid, the banning of a few breeds here and there to “keep us safe” really doesn’t matter much.  To some degree, they're probably right.  Of course, that doesn’t account for the fact that the laws are blatantly discriminatory and an infringement upon the rights of responsible people who own and love these particular dogs.  It’s with this argument I am reminded of a statement made by Mr. Benjamin Franklin: 


 I'm not going to sit here and tell you I think all legislation/regulation is bad, I don't.  I find that a whole lot of it is a good thing.  In fact, had there been stronger regulation of our banking sector restricting things such as usury loans, we wouldn't be in anywhere near the mess we are financially right now.  I am not a person who finds the "free market" to be the best and only way.  (if we're being real, the "free market" has for all practical purposes ruined a number of our breeds already, which is a terrible shame)  I am, however, a person who will always oppose regulation that can not possibly solve the problem it claims it will solve or that will take away rights from those who have done nothing wrong, unethical, or inhumane.  

to be continued...

1 comment:

I welcome all comments! If you have an account, please use it so I can put names with comments. :)