Monday, March 17, 2014

Attitudes Soften

Revised: March 19, 2014; 02:22 GMT
Revised: March 19, 2014; 14:03 GMT

On March 11th, 2014, an article by Associated Press author Bill Draper appeared on the AP "Big Story" web page. Within days Attitudes and laws against pit bulls soften1 appeared in hundreds of thousands of news outlets.

While the article is a balanced presentation of the contentious issue of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and preemption, it gives the distinct impression that BSL is an anachronism. The article includes a number of misrepresentations and omissions which, had they been included, would have left a far different impression.

For example, the author quotes Lisa Peterson of The American Kennel Club:
Lawmakers are realizing that targeting dogs based on their breed or what they look like is not a solution to dealing with dangerous dogs.
It is our understanding that the AKC represents dog breeders. If the AKC were to parse the logic of their current policy of lobbying against BSL in any form, they would discover they are actually promoting back-yard breeders over their own paying membership of breeders. Over the last ten years, while the AKC has lobbied against BSL, the number of back-yard bred pit bulls has ballooned while the number of AKC registered dogs has declined precipitously.2 BSL would ideally lower the number of back-yard bred pit bulls. Pit bulls from back-yard breeders are the dogs which end up in shelters and are finding homes, many of them in place of the bred dogs that the AKC supposedly represents.3

One third of the pit bull population enter shelters every year. While many of these dogs are adopted out into family homes, nearly a million pit bulls are euthanized every year. The policies of the AKC (and others who lobby against BSL) contribute to the inhumane tragedy of mass euthanasia.

Ms Peterson's unsupported assertion that BSL is not the solution to dealing with dangerous dogs has been proven wrong over and over, wherever well-written breed-specific legislation has been enacted and enforced. It is time for the AKC to extricate themselves from this political no-win situation.

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The dogs' foes complain that their message is being drowned out by a well-funded, well-organized lobbying effort in state capitols.
This statement from the article begs to be explained. It is inaccurate to label those who argue for BSL simply as the dogs' foes. Many of those who advocate for BSL are city, county, and state legislators who hope to improve public safety in their communities. Many are animal welfare advocates who would like to lower euthanasia rates by limiting the breeding of back-yard pit bulls. Many are animal welfare advocates who would like to reduce the number of pit bull attacks on our More Vulnerable Animal Companions, attacks which number in the thousands each year.

The industry which lobbies to overturn or preempt BSL has vowed to spend whatever it takes to win. The amount spent easily runs to seven figures, even without tallying the salaries of career pit bull advocates who serve as legislative liaisons, legislative analysts, staff attorneys, and IT experts dedicated solely to pit bulls. Some of the money comes from donations to humane societies, from members of the public who do not realize that their donations are spent advocating for fighting breeds. And some of the money comes from deep-pocket pit bull benefactors. Why is so much treasure and time spent on advocating for the type of dog that kills a human at least once every two weeks?  Suivez l'argent à la trace.4 The money trail might lead an investigative reporter like Seymore Hersh to a Pulitzer Prize exposé.

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The [Missouri] state Senate is considering a comparable bill, as are lawmakers in Utah, South Dakota, Washington, Vermont and Maryland.
The author fails to mention that Denver has maintained their BSL for 28 years, despite numerous changes of city government and incessant, heavily financed campaigns to overthrow it. The author fails to mention that Miami-Dade overwhelmingly voted to maintain their BSL, in spite of a massive repeal campaign which was monitored on a minute-by-minute basis by Ledy Van Kavage. The author fails to mention that communities in California and Florida, both of which preempt BSL, have discussed amending the state laws, or defying them.

The author also fails to mention the consequences in states that do preempt BSL, and what Missouri can expect if the preemption legislation passes. California, the first state to preempt BSL, now has the highest number of fatal pit bull attacks. In addition, states which preempt BSL pay dramatically higher insurance costs. According to an article from Animal People,
State Farm Insurance on May 17, 2013 disclosed that California, Illinois, Texas, and Ohio rated first through fourth in insurance claims paid for dog attacks in 2011. State Farm paid $20.3 million to 527 victims in California, $10 million to 309 victims in Illinois, $5.1 million to 219 victims in Texas, and $5.4 million to 215 victims in Ohio. The numbers of victims in California were 30% greater in 2011 than in 2010. The payout in California increased 31%, State Farm spokesperson Eddie Martinez told Sue Manning of Associated Press. A rival firm, Farmers Group Inc., in February 2013 notified shareholders that it would no longer insure pit bulls, Rottweilers, and wolf hybrids under homeowners and renters policies in California.

Nationally, said Insurance Information Institute representative Loretta Worters, the insurance industry paid dog attack victims $479 million in 2011, up 15% from $413 million in 2010, and up by more than half since 2006.

The numbers of attacks and amounts of payout increased twice as fast in states that prohibit breed-specific ordinances.5
And finally, the author fails to mention that the reason so many states have passed preemption is because the advocates of fighting breeds realize that public sentiment is not on their side. Polls have consistently shown that over 60% of the public do not want to live next door to a pit bull. The advocates of fighting breeds cannot appeal directly to the electorate, but they have ready access to state legislatures, which are easily overwhelmed by the persistent, intimidating lobbying of pit bull advocates.

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1 Attitudes and Laws Against Pit Bulls Soften; Bill Draper, Associated Press, March 11, 2014. The AP url address bar carried the phrase US pit bulls rethinking bans.
2 AKC bred dogs now represent only about 15% of the canine population. See American Humane Assoc. Pet Population Fact Sheet.
3 See The AKC Self-Destructs
4 Follow the money trail.
5 Animal People, July 22, 2013

Preemption and Insurance

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
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