No military family wants to be forced to choose between affordable on-base housing and a beloved family pet. Sometimes troops must relinquish animals is because of inconsistent military pet policies, including unenforceable military breed bans.
Breed bans in the military started around 2008 because of horrific deaths and injuries to children residing in military housing. They were a knee-jerk reaction to keep residents safe. However, the decision to blame the breed instead of holding the owner responsible is a worse outcome for pet families and their animals.
This is because unenforceable breed bans don’t solve the underlying causes of dog attacks. Irresponsible pet owners and their failure to control and train their animals are where the military should focus its efforts. Each military branch determines which dog breeds to ban. In the Navy, the decision is made at each installation. To complicate this policy further, the housing insurance companies contracted by the military also weigh in on the decision and sometimes ban additional dog breeds.
The result of these policy decisions is a complicated mix of banned breeds and numerical limits which vary depending on where the family lives and their branch of service. The inconsistencies don’t take into account the many families that live in military housing not associated with their branch of service. Also, this destructive policy places a burden on local shelters and rescues near military bases forced to take in animals military troops must leave behind.
This harmful policy must end. Here are the facts:
The methods to identify a breed are suspect, further complicating breed bans. DNA testing is not accurate. In many cases, residents sign an agreement with housing simply stating they don’t possess the banned breed. The Army and Air Force bans Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Chows and Wolf hybrids. The Marine Corps bans Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Wolf hybrids. Navy policies vary by installation. Some commercial housing offices have additional breed restrictions beyond this listing, causing more confusion. Purebred registrations have no scientific method to verify breed information. Shelters adopting animals to troops are left to guess the lineage of a mixed-breed animal, a subjective opinion at best.
The U.S. Army's veterinarian community determined breed bans are written in the absence of professional veterinarian or animal behavior advice. In a memorandum distributed Army-wide on February 3, 2012, Col. Bob Walters, director of the Army’s Veterinarian Service Activity, stated there is no scientific method to determine a breed and that breed bans are unlikely to protect installation residents. The letter recommends generic, non-breed, specific dangerous dog regulations with emphasis on identification of dangerous and chronically irresponsible owners. Our community must have measurable, objective criteria for determining dangerous dogs that are based on the dog’s behavior and actions.
No evidence exists that breed-specific policies make communities safer for people or companion animals. Prince George’s County, Md., spends more than $250,000 annually to enforce its ban on Pit Bulls. In 2003, a study conducted by the county on the ban’s effectiveness noted that “public safety is not improved as a result of [the ban],” and that “there is no transgression committed by owner or animal that is not covered by another, non-breed specific portion of the Animal Control Code (i.e., vicious animal, nuisance animal, leash laws).”
A CDC study determined that factors beyond an animal’s breed might impact a dog’s tendency towards aggression, including chaining/tethering, lack of neutering or abuse. The study found that unneutered males were involved in more than 70 percent of dog bite cases and these animals chained or tethered were more than twice as likely to bite as an unrestrained animal. The vast majority of dog bites were from animals maintained for guarding, protection or victims of abuse or irresponsible pet owners.
Effective solutions have remarkable results. Calgary, Alberta enacted a breed-neutral Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw in 2006. The program required license and permanent identification for pets and education on spay/ neuter, training socialization, proper diet and medical care. By educating its citizens and applying enforcement when needed, Calgary achieved a combined record of compassion for animals and safety for human citizens without equal anywhere in the world. In 2009, 86 percent of the dogs handled by Animal Services were returned to their owners, with fewer than five percent euthanized.
Low-cost solutions include a policy letter standardizing pet numerical limits and abolishing breed bans. Commands could provide spay/neuter education, access to pet resources at family service centers and pet information at PCS, deployment and indoctrination briefings. We need strict enforcement of dangerous non-breed specific pet policies, which hold the owner accountable for the pet’s behavior.
Because there is no accurate way to determine a breed, the policy can't be enforced. Military animal control officers and game wardens have told me they don't support breed bans because they can’t enforce them. Communities are lifting breed-specific policies because they know there's no scientific way to identify a breed. The policy unfairly punishes breeds of well-behaved dogs.
But it's not just about the breed bans. It's about having a pet policy that is consistent no matter what you move and what housing you're in. If these breed bans were so effective, it would be the exact breeds from duty station to duty station, but it isn't. That practice undermines the premise of the rule. Breed labels have no scientific basis, are not supported by any animal experts and must be abolished. In partnership with not-for-profit Dogs on Deployment, we have launched this petition. We plan to take this to our military leadership and share with them these concerns and we need your help.
Sign the petition here: http://www.change.org/petitions/standardize-military-pet-policies
Like the Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/StandardizeMilitaryPetPolicies
Theresa Donnelly is an active-duty Navy Lieutenant with 16 years of military service, having done 10 years enlisted with multiple overseas deployments. She is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, an online pet resource for military families living in Hawaii. The blog and Facebook page provide information on moving with pets in the military, boarding information, pet policies in state and federal governments, and overall ways to celebrate the human-animal bond. She routinely partners with local and national animal nonprofits that place special emphasis on military and their companion animals, such as Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @tdonnelly76.