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Breed-specific Legislation for On-base Pet Owners: Way Off-base?

Breed-specific legislation affecting military pet owners can have serious consequences for dogs targeted by these laws. Dogs wreaking havoc on a neighborhood is a real and serious issue for some communities across the country. In response, lawmakers have enacted Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), more commonly known as "breed bans," which effectively outlaw certain types of dogs.

BSL originated in the 1980s, with pit bulls as the primary target. As the result of serious and even occasionally fatal dog attacks, BSL swept the nation, infiltrating communities that felt compelled to regulate ownership of entire categories of dogs perceived as "dangerous." More recently, BSL is affecting military families ? and pit bulls aren't the only type of dog landing on the "not wanted" list.

In fact, there is no single breed known as a "pit bull;" it is a commonly used term to describe a range of animals, including American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and other breeds and breed mixes.

In 2009, the Department of the Army detailed a new policy for military families living on-base. The memo aimed to create uniform rules across Army bases and make moving for military families easier. Breeds deemed "aggressive or potentially aggressive" were forbidden, and the list extended beyond the much-maligned pit bull.

One of the only solutions for military families with a banned breed is off-base housing. A family living on-base with a banned breed may be grandfathered in, but they cannot take their pet with them if they relocate to another base that bans its breed. And while many families live off-base to avoid the base ban, municipalities are increasingly enacting BSL. Families are then forced to surrender their dogs, often to shelters already overflowing with "forbidden" pets who have almost no chance of adoption.

In a recent and widely reported story, MLB pitcher Mark Buehrle moved his family from Miami-Dade county rather than surrender his dog, Slater, who was subject to the county's breed ban. Of course, most people can't just pick up and move quite so easily, but the loss of a resident with a $58M, four-year contract no doubt caught the attention of Miami-Dade authorities.

To animal and anti-cruelty advocates, BSL is often seen as an impulsive reaction by politicians to show that they are doing something after a dog attack occurs in their community. Yet the problem really begins not with the pet, but with people.

Currently, there is a lack of regulation in dog breeding, placing overbred animals into the hands of irresponsible pet owners. Most aggressive dogs are a product of their owners: a dog who is bred illegally can lack proper training and socialization, increasing the chance that it will bite someone out of fear or anxiety. The offending dog is often confiscated and put to death.

Reckless breeding isn't the only issue, however. Dog fighting remains a disgraceful "sport" in spite of being illegal in all 50 states. Animals raised to fight, including those used as bait dogs, are innocent victims of criminal behavior. Yet, they are the ones to suffer horrific abuse and, often, death. Those that are rescued and, if possible, rehabilitated, often have lifelong emotional scars.

In addition, banned breeds aren't the only animals to occasionally attack, suggesting that breed specific legislation is, perhaps, too breed specific. According to the American Humane Association, no less than 25 dog breeds were involved in 238 bite-related fatalities in the United States.

Many proponents of BSL believe legislation should focus less on breed and more on behavior. The ASPCA advocates for breed-neutral laws, and cities like Toledo, Ohio and Calgary, Canada are implementing legislation that holds the owner accountable on an incident-by-incident basis. In addition, the American Kennel Club (AKC) is working to enforce non-breed specific dangerous dog ordinances.

Animals impacted by BSL are being persecuted due to preconceived notions and stereotypes that aren't necessarily accurate traits of the breed as a collective whole. Military families with banned dogs are feeling the effect of BSL two-fold: unable to live on-base due to military pet regulations, and unable to live off-base because of municipal breed bans. The issue is further complicated when service members deploy and seek to foster their pets, since BSL limits where these pets can be cared for while awaiting their owners' return.

The implications go beyond those in active duty. Recent stories highlight disabled veterans with banned-breed service dogs running afoul of local breed-discrimination laws. At Pets for Patriots, we believe that every dog deserves a loving home, regardless of its pedigree.

Is your dog deemed dangerous? Find out if your branch of service or military base has put out the "not wanted" sign for your dog's breed.

[For more military base news and guides, visit the Base Guides.]

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