The ABA Responds to Canine Profiling

Photo by: Melanie Clayton

On June 11, the Campbell Law Observer published my article, “The Problem with Breedism.”  As the owner of a bully breed mix, I had a clear bias in writing that article and I offer no apologies for my stance.  Now, a few months later, I offer an update on the issue of breed specific legislation (“BSL”) in the United States.

It pleases me greatly to be able to say that the American Bar Association (“ABA”) resolved the following at their August 2012 meeting:

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.

The Tort Trial and Insurance Protection Section submitted its report to the House of Delegates, urging adoption of a resolution that removes the heritage of a dog from consideration in dangerous dog laws.  The report first addressed the legal landscape, stating that breed discriminatory laws “usually come after a well-publicized and emotional dog bog incident… and are best described as ‘panic policymaking.’”  “Because these laws are enacted out of emotion, lawmakers often fail to consider the effects of provisions that impact the property rights of responsible dog owners…”  The report further stressed that such rights are protected when dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners are targeted instead of breed-based focuses.

The report addressed several issues with BSL, listing due process issues as the primary concern.  The vagueness of the slang-term “pit” creates a standard that “fails to provide adequate notice to owners that they may own such a dog.”  The vagueness also results in arbitrary enforcement of BSL as it allows too much discretion by officials in identifying a dog that falls within the definition, according to the report.

The fiscal impact of breed-specific legislation was also cited as a concern.  Several studies were researched in reaching the conclusion that breed-specific legislation is simply too expensive to enforce.  One study estimated that should the United States enact such laws, enforcement would cost $459,138,163 annually.

Other issues addressed in the report were the studies indicating BSL does not improve public safety, the difficulty in identifying dogs of unknown origin, and the hardships placed on responsible owners by such laws.  Of particular note within the report are the hardships placed on those with disabilities who use mixes or dogs that could be identified as a “pit” as service animals.  (Some locales have BSL which does not make exceptions for service animals.)

The report concluded by presenting an alternative to BSL, encouraging law makers to focus on dogs proven to be dangerous, as well as reckless and irresponsible owners.  The ABA seems to embrace two of the most common anti-BSL slogans: “Deed not Breed” and “Ban Bad Owners.”  While not binding, this resolution is extremely persuasive and much welcomed by this responsible dog owner.


Avatar photo
About Tommi E. Powell, Former Senior Staff Writer (8 Articles)
Tommi graduated from Campbell Law School in 2013 and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004 and a Master of Arts in English with a multicultural concentration from East Carolina University in 2006. Prior to attending law school, Tommi worked for the American Kennel Club, where an interest in animal law developed. She worked as an extern for the Water and Land Section of the Environmental Division of the North Carolina Department of Justice.
Contact: Email