Breed-Specific Legislation Ineffective 

Ledy VanKavage: "Any dog can bite"

Best Friends Animal Society senior legislative attorney Ledy VanKavage - COURTESY LEDY VANKAVAGE
  • Courtesy Ledy VanKavage
  • Best Friends Animal Society senior legislative attorney Ledy VanKavage

If you own a pit bull, don’t move to Springville, South Jordan or the other 10 Utah cities where they’re banned or restricted due to concerns that the breed is dangerous to the public. However, the White House recently released a statement in support of doing away with breed-specific legislation. Ledy VanKavage—pictured here with Joy, who's available for adoption—is the senior legislative attorney for the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, which advocates against these laws, and spoke with City Weekly from St. Louis about why breed-restriction laws don’t work.

Why do certain breeds of dogs get banned?
I think it’s fear-based, not science-based. There’s a dog-related incident, and people think something should be done and think that by outlawing a certain breed or type of dog, it will enhance public safety. But studies have shown that breed discrimination doesn’t enhance public safety, and it’s a huge fiscal cost.

Are there dog breeds that are more likely to be aggressive than others?
No. Dogs, like people, are individuals. According to the American Temperament Test, American pit bull terriers test better than golden retrievers and border collies. Any dog can bite, so we want people to be responsible, and we believe that this is America, and responsible dog owners should be able to own whatever dogs they choose. The key is responsible dog owners.

Why, then, are some breeds more known for being dangerous than others?
There is some media bias out there because pit bulls are kind of the new land shark. If a pit bull bites another dog, it’s a headline, but if a golden retriever bites another dog, it’s not. So we’re seeing some over-reporting regarding pit bull terriers. They are very a popular dog, they are one of the top 10 dogs, according to a veterinarian publication, in 47 states, and the more dogs of a certain breed or type, the more there’ll be more incidents about them.

What are some alternatives to breed-specific legislation?
We’re seeing the trend where cities are enacting ordinances that prohibit reckless or problem pet owners from owning any pets. If these owners get a dog and make it mean and the dog [is taken] away, they will just get another dog and make it mean. The trend is to go away from breed-discriminatory laws and pass comprehensive reckless-owner and dangerous-dog laws that are breed-neutral.

What impact will the White House statement have on individual states?
Sixteen states have some sort of statute prohibiting it. The White House is up on the research and what science has shown, while some of the smaller cities might not be. A lot of these ordinances were enacted in the ’80s, when there was a lot of hysteria around the dogs, and now we’re seeing that, well, no, these [ordinances] don’t enhance public safety, and there is a huge fiscal cost—these are expensive to enforce—so let’s find something that protects the public and property rights. I think we can have both.

What do you think should happen to dogs that are dangerous?
I don’t think dangerous dogs should be left out in society. They either need to be in a sanctuary setting or euthanized. And, unfortunately, there are not enough sanctuaries for them all. But, again, it shouldn’t be based on appearance, but on behavior.

What is the Best Friends Animal Society doing to try to change Utah’s laws?
We are asking cities with discriminatory laws to rethink them and focus on safe and humane communities, repeal breed-discriminatory laws and enact good, generic dangerous-dog laws that protect people from any vicious dog—basically, focus on reckless owners and prevent reckless owners from owning dogs. We’re hoping the 12 cities in Utah that have these old, archaic laws will rethink them in light of the new science and the numerous studies that show these ordinances don’t work and try to come up with a more comprehensive public-safety approach for a safe and humane community.

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Laurie Reiner

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