Dangerous Dog Diatriabe Part IV: The Finanical Burden of BSL

Most of the focus on BSL is placed on dog behavior and how to effectively reduce dog incidents that are injurious or fatal. There is another aspect that does not get spoken about by proponents of BSL, the cost to implement such legislation and the lack of effectiveness of the approach.

Since its inception around 1989 BSL has not reduced dog - human fatalities or serious injury statistics; they have held steady.

How can a breed ban even begin to be enforced? How can you really be sure there are no “Pit Bulls” in your city? You cannot, and this is the fundamental problem with BSL, it is unenforceable and the cost does not justify the results.

Unless there is a large group of dogs being contained on a property, dogs are pretty easy to hide, and if your dog is not “aggressive” or does not present a “problem” and you are responsible. For the authorities, in this case Animal Control, catching someone with a Pit Bull is quite difficult.

My Pit mix is half-Lab; I could pass him off as a Lab-Mix faster than a Jack Russell on a tennis ball. Essentially you could slide under the radar if your dog did not have the overt “traits” of a “Pit Bull”, and even then AC officers would have to somehow prove the dog is indeed a Pit Bull. This is a stressful way to live for dog owners though. It is also incredibly unfair to heap this prejudice on Pit Bull owners, Rotties, Chow’s etc… The CDC and dozens of other respectable organizations around the world agree that dog breed identification is not how we reduce dog bites.

Enforcement of any law or rule must be a priority for those in place hired to do so. If it is not a priority then the law goes by the way side. If it is made a priority and the results are still the same and now costs more to enforce it, then how is that an effective law?

Prince Georges County Maryland put a breed ban in place February 3, 1997 and in its first year the city had added an extra million dollars to its budget with costs associated to “Pit Bulls” being banned. All the while books about the breed were displayed at local chain pet stores. Ironic that it was legal to sell books encouraging people to get “Pit Bulls”, yet Pit Bull ownership itself was illegal.

The Prince Georges breed ban had $250,000 extra added to Animal Control costs due to calls related to “Pit Bulls”. These were largely overtime costs to animal control officers looking for “Pit Bulls” based on calls from people who thought they saw a dog that looked like a “Pit Bull”. Many times the dogs were not there when the animal control officers showed up. In addition there was another $750,000 associated to kenneling and maintenance of dogs that were taken in by the officers. Who pays for this in the end? The taxpayers do. Citizens of PG County have paid an estimated 11 million dollars in 11 years to round up “Pit Bulls” and euthanize or jail them.

The population of PG county Maryland in 2006 was 841,315. Denver has a population of currently 554,636 a few hundred thousand less than PG, so for sake of argument let’s say it also cost Denver an estimated 1 million dollars a year for BSL.

Denver’s ban went into effect in 1989 and it is still in place in 2009, that is 20 years at potentially one million dollars a year. City figures show that about 410 pit bulls were impounded and euthanized in 2003 and 240 were returned to their owners. 650 dogs were “rounded up”.

Some people have moved out of Denver to keep their dogs. If they average 170 “Pit Bull” euthanasia’s per year by the 03 data that translates into 3,400 Pit Bulls killed and thousands of people devastated in the last 20 years. How that ban is considered a success in any way is ludicrous.
It has cost Denver an estimated 20 million dollars and killed 3,400 thousand dogs and disrupted thousands of lives. Are these the results that proponents of BSL were hoping for?

Mind you, I am being conservative in my math here. It says in the report that 240 dogs were returned to their owners in Denver in 03. What about preceding years from 89 – 02, how many dogs had been euthanized and what are the number of dogs since 03 that have been unfairly euthanized? It is frightening to consider how many of the 240 dogs returned in 03 may have been euthanized in the preceding years and the past 5 years since 03.

What strikes me as odd is that the Denver ban went into effect in 89 and by 2003 there were still enough “Pit Bulls” in Denver to account for 410 dogs to be rounded up.

I could see if there were four or five, maybe a dozen but 410? Denver authorities and BSL proponents had 13 years to get their act together as it relates to eliminating “Pit Bulls” from their city and they simply have not succeeded. Not even slightly. Where is the progress? I would be curious to open the books of Denver’s associated costs to their Pit Bull ban to see what it costs taxpayers to be safe from something that has a 1 in 11 million chance of even biting you, let alone actually killing you.

Aurora Colorado followed Denver’s lead and enacted its own breed ban in 2006 and saw the total number of dog bites increase thirty percent. Council Bluff Iowa also put a breed ban in place only to find its dog bite percentage rise. The pattern you see with any state or city attempting a breed ban is that people are still going to get bitten, in many cases more so. Look into San Francisco and its ban on “Pit Bulls” and how it had an increase in dog bites.

So who benefits from BSL? The Animal Control officers who get over time pay? The small margin of people who feel safer? As was illuminated on the K C Dog Blog:
” Any law that by its nature makes criminals out of people, 98-99% of whom are not problems in any way, is bad policy.  This takes a fairly large amount of resources to enforce legislation against innocent people -- and in virtually all cases has caused the total number of dog bites to go up in these communities.  People who oppose BSL actually really DO want improved public safety.  BSL is a threat to public safety.”

The problem of money wasted on “catching dogs” is not intrinsic to the USA. In The UK there was an increase to taxpayers of 6 million dollars from 92 – 95 the first four years of the UK breed ban. The ban in the UK has been going on for 18 years. By the accounting of the first four years they have spent roughly 20 million plus!

We can see how a combination of fear, conflating words and ignorance can lead to tax payers losing money. Does this sound familiar? WMD – Terrorists – Market Crash – etc…

Dogs are a political topic and dogs are big money. Whether it the 48 billion spent in the pet care industry or the millions taken out of the taxpayers pocket to fund BSL, when we are talking dogs we are talking big money.
What would a city with a ban have to lose by lifting the ban and using a comprehensive educational program in its place? For starters they would gain more money for other things cities need, such as infrastructure and the betterment of schools. I am betting that we would also see a reduction in dog bites. Education, i.e.: knowing what you are doing and knowing something about the subject at hand i.e. Dogs. This is the only way to keep people safe and have dog owners and the community at large equipped with the proper knowledge.
 
Cities and states have SPCAs, ASPCAs Humane Societies and there are local chapters of PETA. All of these organizations should be pushing for a comprehensive education program about dog behavior and how to prevent children from being bitten by a dog, be it a family pet or an unknown dog. Though many of these organizations have information relating to dog bites, education is not mandatory or at the very least not something that is made a priority at the point of adoption, taught in schools or sent annually to registered dog owners.

In addition dog owners should and could be educated about the side effects of pain-based training, so that they can avoid making dogs more afraid and defensive. Awareness is the key component to avoid risks, at it comes through education; it is the model for decreasing any risk.

In my quest to make a better world for dogs and their owners I have often said that to make a real change we need help of the major media along with the court of public opinion. We saw this happen with the Vick case. I truly believe that the vast majority of people, if given the choice of euthanizing dogs, hurting them in the name of “training” or spending millions on failed legislation would prefer an alternative based in cost effective education and humane approaches to dog issues.

With the economy on everyone’s mind these days it is a perfect time for those of us working to end BSL to present the cost verses effectiveness argument to our legislatures both state and local. The old saying that money talks and BS (L) walks could not be more relevant than it is now. Dog behavior is easier to understand than money, this is good news. Because you do not have to be an economic scholar or an animal behaviorist to figure out money spent on BSL is money wasted. Not only does is hurt the pocketbook but it places an emotional burden on the majority of people the law effects, innocent dogs, and the people who own them.

BSL has become a sad part of our public conscious and subconscious. BSL degrades the association of the term “Pit Bull”. People will think, “Well if they are banned, then someone somewhere must have really thought this out, because it is a law”. That is not the case though. This subconscious subversion is not only for those afraid of dogs; many people who love dogs have a hesitation of anything that looks like a “Pit Pull”. This is what 30 years of media bias and nonsensical laws have done to the breed known as “Pit Bull” or any dog that has the characteristics of a bully-breed. Furthermore, it has opened the door for other breeds to be considered dangerous as well.

This subversive mentality has given some insurance companies the idea to refuse or charge more for homeowners insurance. Essentially, with the housing market in dire straits, in the near future we could see a “dog tax” tacked onto every homeowner with a registered dog! There are 74 million dogs in the US if each homeowner with a registered dog was taxed and extra thousand dollars that is 74 billion dollars; don’t blame me for bringing up the idea, it already exists. I am saying do not let it transgress further!

Today it’s Pit Bulls, Rotties, Chows, Akitas, and in some cases Mastiffs. As I stated some insurance companies have Chihuahuas on their lists! Tomorrow it could be any dog. In fact it has already started to slide down the slippery slope of idiotic “thinking”. Depending on what state you live in and who your insurance company is, your dog may very well be on a list deemed high-risk. The United States of America has been through many changes in attitude towards things once thought of as unlawful or harmful. We’ve written and rewritten laws that have been proven to be detrimental to the very design of our constitution and our declaration of independence. Laws are not made by way of “feelings” or because you are “afraid”.
Laws are made or should be made based on the overall good it does to serve the majority as laws are in place to protect not harm. BSL is harmful on the all levels. It is inhumane to dogs, it is making criminals out of innocent dog owners, it is emotionally damaging not only to Pit Bull owners but also to all compassionate people and to add insult to injury there is a monetary slap-in-the-face that goes along with it. Currently there are 75 dog breeds that are on a “banned” list somewhere.
 
Sadly there has been a shift from the common sense of our past, especially as it relates to dogs. For the fraction of the cost of BSL we could replace breed bans with a canine educational mandate. This educational mandate could be executed by the humane canine organizations and workers at the offices of cities, towns and municipalities to dog owners and Animal Control, shelters and rescues et al…Thus issuing the proper education. Again I ask, what is there to lose in bringing education into the mix?

In closing, I would like to share something I discovered recently that I think could be helpful in eliminating BSL from the USA as well as help those responsible dog owners of all breeds. 
Recently I downloaded the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to my iPhone®. The idea of having these documents in my pocket just tickled me especially as it relates to ones rights and owning dogs and our happiness and safety.

Right after the paragraph on unalienable rights and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a paragraph that we can use to directly show how intrinsically unfair BSL is to all dog owners. It is these points in the Declaration of Independence which I feel could be directly related with owning a dog and BSL:

“That to whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying it’s foundation on such principals and organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Perhaps owners of dogs that could be potentially “banned” or those dogs that actually are banned should carry this excerpt in their pockets. What intelligent, humane, and compassionate person would take an innocent person’s dog away? Ergo their happiness and in many cases their safety. Safety is not always a case of danger being averted, however let’s face it, some dogs do protect the homes they live in. It is indisputable that people derive great pleasure and happiness from dogs, this is not only the opinion of dog lovers and owners it is scientific fact that dogs lower blood pressure and make people feel good, this is why they are such an asset to people in hospitals and to the elderly.

BSL is a form of government that has destructive ends. So it is our right to abolish it. It is our right to institute new rules and laws relating to dogs and dog owners that protect dogs from prejudice. All that BSL has done is cause more people and more dogs to be unhappy. Have we not paid enough already?
 
 
References:
http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_2337640,00.html
http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/lift-pit-bull-ban-in-uk.html
https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/
http://www.muninetguide.com/states/colorado/municipality/Denver.php
http://www.pgspca.org/content/index.php?pid=27
http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/3240513/detail.html
http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2008/01/aurora-colorado.html
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_8096663
http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2007/01/why_does_no_one_1.html
http://www.theanimalcouncil.com/BreedSpecificLaw.html
http://www.understand-a-bull.com/Articles/PositivePress/2007/bslinsuranc...
http://www.dogpolitics.com/my_weblog/2007/05/list_of_banned_.html
http://personalinsure.about.com/od/fairtreatmentandfraud/a/a052305aa.htm
http://media.herald-dispatch.com/blog/myers/2008/07/dangerous-pet-insura...

Do you work in a dog rescue/shelter? Sign up for the Dog Shelter Behavior & Training Program – Free on Dunbar Academy