Legislating dogs ::

Laws most often adopted by cities to regulate dangerous dog breeds, primarily pit bulls, include: breed bans, prima facially labeling breeds and regulating the spay/neuter status of breeds.

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 60,000 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%

Pit bulls prima facially labeled

Little Rock, Arkansas

Some cities adopt pit bull ordinances that prima facially label 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 that prima facially label the pit bull breed "dangerous" or "vicious," which usually sets the bar higher than the "potentially dangerous" label. Fayetteville, for instance, presumes pit bulls "dangerous" and requires the dogs to be muzzled when off property and when penned outdoors on property, 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 spay/neuter laws targeted at pit bulls. In January 2006, San Francisco enacted such a measure. After 18 months of passing, pit bull impoundments declined by 21%; shelter occupancy rates fell from three-quarters to one-quarter and pit bull euthanizations dropped 24%.3

It was reported in 2010 that pit bull biting incidents had significantly decreased in San Francisco 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 euthanizations have 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

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 jail, 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 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 that his dog was going to cause death or severe bodily injury.6

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

  1. Revised statistical information provided by Council Bluffs Animal Control Department, May 2012.
  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
  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
  5. Texas is one of eleven U.S. states that prohibit breed-specific 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.