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 30 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 900 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 Total Bites Pit Bull Bites % of All Bites
2004 125 29 23%
2005 115 13 11% (year ban enacted)
2006 138 6 4%
2007 97 2 2%
2008 97 0 0%
2009 97 0 0%
2010 97 1 1%
2011 85 0 0%
2012 71 1 1%
2013 86 5 6%
2014 79 1 1%
2015 97 5 5%

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 ordinance for these results.2

Dodgeville, Wisconsin

Other cities adopt ordinances where pit bulls are prima facie designated "dangerous" or "vicious," which sets the bar higher than a "potentially dangerous" label. Dodgeville, for instance, declares pit bulls "vicious" and requires the dogs to be muzzled when off property, and when penned outdoors, contained in a secure 6-sided structure that is locked. Owners must also carry $50,000 in liability insurance. Pit bulls are prohibited from being kept in multiple dwellings in Dodgeville.

Other cities do not prima facie designate pit bulls "potentially dangerous" or "dangerous," but maintain similar requirements. The city of Omaha, Nebraska requires owners of dogs designated "dangerous animals, potentially dangerous animals and pit bulls" to carry $100,000 in liability insurance. All pit bull-type dogs (American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, American bulldog, presa canario and more) must be leashed and muzzled when off property in Omaha too.

Pit bull sterilization

San Francisco, California

A law that began in San Francisco now has other cities considering a similar option: Mandatory pit bull sterilization. Cities burdened with high pit bull biting incidents 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%; pit bull 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 at large 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, October 2016.
  2. Indianapolis ordinance puts restrictions on pit bull breeds, by Mary Milz, Wthr.com, April 7, 2009 (wthr.com) (Archived by WebCite at https://www.webcitation.org/6xb9TMrRL)
  3. S.F. Sterilization Law Successful in Reducing Pit Bull Population, by Marisa Lagos, The San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 2007 (sfgate.com) (Archived by WebCite at https://www.webcitation.org/6xb9elTpr)
  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 (sacbee.com) (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5sPLO97oa)
  5. Texas is one of over 20 states that prohibit local governments from enacting most or all forms of 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.