Editorial: Punishing pit bulls or people?
Friday, Jan 21 2011, 5:36 pm
A Star editorial
Government has a knack for using tragedy to justify tyranny.
Deranged gunmen open fire on innocent victims and lawmakers restrict responsible citizens’ Second Amendment rights. Would-be terrorists smuggle explosives onto commercial air flights, so travelers endure body scans and patdowns.
In Shelby, the City Council might consider placing restrictions on pit bull owners in response to the tragic mauling in Waxhaw last week that took the life of a 5-year-old girl. Councilman Joel Shores has recommended that the board examine pit bull-specific animal ordinances that he believes would help protect children from aggressive dogs.
Shores said some North Carolina cities require pit bull owners to muzzle the dogs when walking them on a leash, set rules for the size and type of cage they must be kept in and even make residents buy liability insurance in order to own pit bulls. While these rules stop short of an outright ban on the breed, they still interfere with private property rights and penalize responsible dog owners for others’ failings.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study on human deaths from dog bites in 2000 and concluded that the data didn’t support increased regulation of specific breeds.
“Because of difficulties inherent in determining a dog’s breed with certainty, enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional and practical issues,” concludes a CDC report on the study. “Fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and, therefore, should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs.”
Prince George’s County, Md., spends more than a quarter-million dollars each year to enforce its pit bull ban, but a 2003 county study showed that “public safety is not improved” and “there is no transgression committed by owner or animal that is not covered by another, non-breed-specific portion of the Animal Control Code,” according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The ASPCA opposes breed-specific legislation because the laws “have a tendency to compromise rather than enhance public safety.” The restrictions shift animal control officers’ focus away from behavior and enforcement of leash, licensing and anti-tethering laws and onto the arbitrary breed-specific rules, the group says on its website.
While pit bulls, Rottweilers and other large-breed dogs have a protective nature and can be prone to aggression, nearly any domestic animal is capable of attack. Responsible owners can raise the dogs to be loving and affectionate, and it’s not fair to burden them with more restrictions because other dog owners elsewhere have trained their pets to be vicious.
Perhaps the best dog bite deterrent would be criminal negligence laws and severe penalties for dog owners who fail to prevent unprovoked attacks on other people. Instead of placing a burden on all pet owners, these laws would target only the irresponsible ones. If an owner knows he could go to jail when his dog mauls a small child, he’ll be more likely to take preventative measures.
Not one of the new laws mentioned as a possible solution is palatable. Forcing people to buy insurance and special cages violates their rights as property owners and their freedom of choice as American citizens. Making pit bull owners muzzle their pets without saddling owners of other large dogs with the same wrongheaded restriction is simply discriminatory.
It’s understandable that Shelby city leaders would be concerned by the recent dog attack in Waxhaw. But feelings of sorrow and anger and confusion just aren’t good enough reasons to pass new laws — especially when all available evidence shows that such laws would do more harm than good.
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