Wednesday, June 19, 2013


. . . provided that no program shall regulate these dogs in a manner that is specific as to breed.
California Food and Agricultural Code, Section 31683

. . . except that no municipality shall adopt breed-specific dog ordinances;
Connecticut Public Act No. 13-103

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Preemption: The superceding of any lower jurisdiction's law in the event of a law on topic extant within a higher jurisdiction.
Duhaime Legal Dictionary

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Revised: June 20, 2013; 23:42 GMT
Correction: June 22, 2013; 14:34 GMT
Correction: June 23, 2013; 18:58 GMT
Revised: June 24, 2013; 20:43 GMT
Revised: June 25, 2013; 16:06 GMT
Revised: March 21, 2014; 18:24 GMT
Judythe Coffman, California Federation of Dog Clubs
Ralph Slater, Connecticut Dog Federation
Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs & Responsible Dog Owners
   And dozens of additional dog federations

In 1989 California became the first state to prohibit their cities and towns from passing Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). The path to preemption followed a long and convoluted route.

On March 17, 1987, the San Joaquin valley city of Livingston passed landmark BSL legislation. This ordinance galvanized the opponents of BSL, including Sharon Coleman.1  In 1988 Senator Torres introduced SB 1741, intending to tighten regulations on vicious dogs and stop the escalating number of dog attacks. After several rounds of concessions the bill that emerged looked less like protection for the public than a pit bull owners' bill of rights (Sacramento Bee, June 29, 1988). The Bee editorial urged the legislature to table the bill.

In 1989 Senator Torres again sponsored dangerous dog legislation (SB 428), this time with a BSL provision included. During the protracted negotiations the bill took a U-turn; the BSL was dropped and instead a provision which preempted BSL was inserted into the California Agricultural Code. SB 428 ultimately became law and made California the first state in the Union to preempt BSL. Twenty-four years later three states adopted BSL preemptory laws in rapid succession: Massachusetts (Oct 31, 2012), Nevada (May 24, 2013), and Connecticut (June 3, 2013). These states became the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth states to adopt similar legislation.

In 1989 it was the agricultural and dog breeder groups in California that believed restrictions on specific breeds would be ruinous to their business and lobbied for BSL preemption; protecting pit bulls was apparently not a core motive then, as it is now. Breeders and other canine federations continue to oppose BSL but leadership on preemption has transitioned to animal welfare groups such as HSUS, Best Friends, the AVMA, and local pit bull advocacy groups. These groups are far better positioned financially and strategically to manage protracted national campaigns.

While there have been setbacks in the campaign to preempt BSL, notably the debacles in Florida (November 2012) and Maryland (April 2013), it is clear that these groups are running a 50-state campaign to preempt BSL  legislation throughout America.

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It's not unusual for new legislation to have unintended consequences, but the results of BSL preemption would have been inconceivable to the breeders who lobbied for the original legislation. The Canine-Cultural Landscape in America has become unrecognizable in the years since the first preemption law. In 1987 pit bulls & close pit bull mixes were under 2% of the dog population, but were already 5% of the dogs admitted to shelters. Human fatalities from dog attacks averaged under two a year in the US, with pit bulls accounting for one of those. No dog adopted from a shelter (or rescue) was known to have ever killed anyone.

Pit bulls and their mixes are now nearly 5% of the (much larger) dog population and comprise about 30% of the dogs admitted to shelters. Human fatalities from pit bull attacks now average nearly 30 a year.

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How has this come to pass? Breeders and agricultural interests, the AKC and dog federations, the animal welfare movement, the AVMA, the no-kill movement and the rescue movements each have their own agenda, and some of these groups are bitter enemies. Yet they have forged a marriage of convenience on the niche issue of BSL preemption.

But what have these groups achieved with their opposition to BSL? It is difficult to imagine how the AKC and the breeders have benefited; registrations of purebred dogs have been dropping for the last decade,2 while pit bulls, nearly all of them bred by back-yard breeders, continue to proliferate and displace other dogs in family homes.

It's equally difficult to understand the motives of the animal welfare movement, or how they have benefited themselves or the livestock and companion animals they are charged with caring for.  The HSUS and ASPCA have been plagued by financial irregularities and they have resorted to deceptive tactics in their advocacy of fighting breeds. At times it seems their core mission is to enhance their own brand, rather than the stewardship of our more vulnerable animal companions. There is no greater danger to the animal welfare movement than its own advocacy of pit bulls.3

The no-kill and rescue movements appear to be the big winners, at least for the moment. They have lowered euthanasia rates and moved tens of thousands of dogs, many of them pit bulls, some of them by airplane on chartered flights, from the south to the north. But the success of the no-kill/rescue movement, if that's how one views it, has also come at the expense of the legitimate dog breeders; the dogs that are shuffled around the country and placed in family homes are displacing purebreds as well as the traditional American mutt from family homes.

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California is now realizing the effects of living in a state that preempted BSL 24 years ago. On Monday, June 17th, California witnessed its 4th fatal pit bull attack of the year when 6-year old Nephi Selu was killed by the family-owned pit bull.

Nephi lived in his grandparent's home with his extended family, which included his parents, his aunt and uncle and his cousins, and their two pit bulls. The dogs were owned by Nephi's uncle, who serves as a police officer in San Mateo.

San Mateo passed the nation's first mandatory spay/neuter legislation in 1990. Sharon Coleman (mentioned above), who lives in the San Mateo area, joined with others to form The Animal Council (TAC). According to Ms Coleman, TAC was formed to respond to the San Mateo legislation, but the organization has also long been opposed to BSL. Ms. Coleman has served as president of The Animal Council since its inception.

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1 "I got involved more actively in 1986 with breed specific legislation." Sharon Coleman, online interview

2 PETA and the world of dog politics, LA Times, February 10, 2013
   Op-Ed by John Homans, author of What's a Dog For
Rescue dogs, which are mostly mutts, have never been more popular, while the American Kennel Club, arbiter and protector of purebred dogs, has seen its membership and registrations drop for a decade or more. The AKC brand has been partly hollowed out . . . . 
3 Attributed to Merritt Clifton, editor of Animals 24-7, on numerous occasions.

Breed Specific Laws: A Basic Primer, The Animal Council
Connecticut joins state ranks preempting breed-specific laws, NCRC

Related Material:
Overview of "breed specific" laws, Kenneth Phillips, Dog Bite Law

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks