Legislating dogs ::

The most common types of breed-specific legislation adopted by cities to regulate dangerous dog breeds, primarily pit bulls, are breed bans, prima facie legal designations and sterilization laws.

Pit bull bans

Denver, Colorado

The most controversial pit bull ban in the U.S. was enacted by the City and County of Denver in 1989. Over the course of 25 years, the ban has withstood numerous battles in state and federal courts. On each occasion, the City and County of Denver has prevailed. The litigious history of the ban, and Denver's consistent victories, has helped many cities adopt similar laws. The Denver pit bull ban is undoubtedly the beacon that illustrates the legal viability of breed-specific pit bull laws.

Model Pit Bull Ban Ordinance: Download IMLA Model Pit Bull Ban Ordinance

Council Bluffs, Iowa

Pit bulls are not only problematic in large cities; they threaten mid-sized cities and small towns as well. Located in the heartland, Council Bluffs, Iowa has about 62,000 citizens. After a series of devastating attacks, beginning in 2003, Council Bluffs joined over 700 U.S. cities and began regulating pit bulls. The results of the Council Bluffs pit bull ban, which began January 1, 2005, show the positive effects such legislation can have on public safety in just a few years time:1

Council Bluffs: Pit Bull Bite Statistics
Year Pit Bull Bites % of All Bites
2004 29 23%
2005 12 10% (year ban enacted)
2006 6 4%
2007 2 2%
2008 0 0%
2009 0 0%
2010 1 1%
2011 0 0%
2012 1 1%
2013 5 6%
2014 1 1%

Prima facie legal designations

Little Rock, Arkansas

Some cities adopt pit bull ordinances that prima facie designate the breed "potentially dangerous," which triggers special rules for all pit bull owners. Little Rock requires these owners to obtain a potentially dangerous breed permit, a city license and a window sticker on an annual basis and to provide proof that the dog is sterilized and microchipped. Pit bull owners are also prohibited from using invisible fences and households are limited to two potentially dangerous breeds per home.

Little Rock also prohibits the tethering of all dogs to a stationary object. The combination of the city's "potentially dangerous" designation for pit bulls and anti-tethering law has led to excellent results. One year after the passage of the 2008 ordinance, Little Rock Animal Services Director Tracy Roark said that chained pit bulls are no longer seen along streets in center city Little Rock and "pit bull attacks have been cut in half." Roark credited the new law for these results.2

Fayetteville, Tennessee

Other cities adopt ordinances where pit bulls are prima facie designated "dangerous" or "vicious," which usually sets the bar higher than the "potentially dangerous" label. Fayetteville, for instance, declares all pit bulls "dangerous" and requires the dogs to be muzzled when off property and when penned outdoors, contained in a structure with secure sides and a top or all sides must be eight feet high. Owners must also post a Beware of Dog sign and carry $100,000 in liability insurance.

Pit bull sterilization

San Francisco, California

A law that began in San Francisco now has cities across the country considering a similar option: Mandatory pit bull sterilization. Cities troubled with high pit bull bite counts and shelter occupancy rates are trying to combat both problems at once with this law. In January 2006, San Francisco enacted its ordinance. After 18 months of passing, pit bull impoundments declined by 21%; shelter occupancy rates fell from three-quarters to one-quarter and pit bull euthanasia dropped 24%.3

It was reported in 2010 that pit bull biting incidents had significantly decreased in the city as well. Sgt. Bill Herndon of the San Francisco Police Department's vicious dog unit said the numbers and severity of pit bull attacks are down since the ordinance was enacted. The same article reports that pit bull euthanasia has since dropped to 30%. Rebecca Katz of the San Francisco's animal control department said, "We've seen it as very effective from an animal welfare perspective."4

Learn more about each breed-specific ordinance type in our Breed-Specific Legislation FAQ.

Generic dangerous dog laws

The State of Texas

Other municipalities opt for "tough" generic dangerous dog laws instead of breed-specific laws.5 Such laws hold dog owners criminally negligent after a serious or fatal dog attack. The key word in this instance is "after," which is why we call them "hindsight" laws. Policymakers hope that after enough people are sent to prison, there will be a deterrent to dog owners, whereby forcing them to be more responsible. The downside is that many new victims are created in the process.

In 2007, the State of Texas passed such legislation. Under Lillian's Law, owners of loose attacking dogs face 10 years in jail if the attack results in serious injury to a person and 20 years if the attack results in death. Lillian's Law, however, does not abolish the One Bite rule in Texas. Conviction is unattainable unless the dog was at large and there is proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the owner knew or should have known the dog was going to cause severe bodily injury or death.6

See: Dog bite attorney Kenneth Phillip's website for additional discussion about Lillian's Law.

  1. Statistical information provided by Council Bluffs Animal Control Department, February 2015.
  2. Indianapolis ordinance puts restrictions on pit bull breeds, by Mary Milz, Wthr.com, April 7, 2009 (www.wthr.com)
  3. S.F. Sterilization Law Successful in Reducing Pit Bull Population, by Marisa Lagos, The San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 2007 (www.sfgate.com)
  4. Auburn seeks ways to prevent another pit bull attack: Council weighs options in the wake of maulings, Ed Fletcher, The Sacramento Bee, January 30, 2010 (www.sacbee.com)
  5. Texas is one of nineteen U.S. states that prohibit local governments from enacting breed-specific ordinances. Learn more about state preemption laws.
  6. The first conviction under Lillian's Law occurred after the death of Tanner Monk. In 2011, the 11th Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of the dogs' owners, Jack Smith and Crystal Watson.