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Overview of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) Ordinances

Charlotte Walden


Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
07/2012
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Overview of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) Ordinances

Some municipalities and counties believe that certain dog breeds pose a hazard to the health, safety, and welfare of their inhabitants. For example, in the Melvindale, Michigan's legislative findings, the city asserts that pit bulls, due to the severity of their bite, pose an undue risk to its inhabitants. So, in order to protect their residents, municipalities and counties may pass an ordinance that prohibits certain breeds within their jurisdiction. These ordinances are known as Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL).

The most commonly banned breeds are:

  • American Pit Bull Terriers,
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers,
  • American Staffordshire Terriers, and
  • Bull Terriers.

Other breeds known to be banned by BSL include:

  • Rottweilers,
  • Chow Chows,
  • German Shepards,
  • Canary Island Dogs, and
  • Doberman Pinschers.

While American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Bull Terriers are commonly banned by being defined as “pit bulls,” a municipality or county, like Hesston, Kansas, may ban these breeds without defining them as “pit bulls.” On another hand, other municipalities and counties, like Ottumwa, Iowa or Reynoldsburg, Ohio, may even ban “pit bulls” without listing which breeds are encompassed in that term and without defining what that term means.

In addition to banning specific breeds, municipalities or counties will often ban dogs that contain some lineage of the banned breed. For example, a municipality or county, like Fruitland, Idaho, may ban any dog mixed with a banned breed that contains an element of the banned breed so as to be partially identified as being a banned breed. Likewise, a municipality or county, like Cameron, Missouri, may also ban any dog that has the appearance and characteristics of being predominately one or more of the banned breeds. While some ordinances, like those of Melvindale, Michigan, may create guidelines or may use American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club standards to help determine which dogs are banned, the overall vagueness in defining which dogs are banned by an ordinance is often what makes BSL so controversial. 

In the event a municipality or county determines a person’s dog is banned by an ordinance, an owner may want to contest that determination. In order to commence such a hearing, some ordinances, like Morgan City, Louisiana or Central Falls, Rhode Island, will set out the procedures that an owner must follow in order to contest that determination. Please note, however, that in the instance where someone has previously registered his or her dog as a “pit bull” with the city or the county, a city or a county, like Pittsburgh, Kansas, may not allow that person to contest that his or her dog is a “pit bull.” In such cases, the dog will be banned from the city or the county without a hearing.

Though dangerous dog, dangerous animal, and vicious dog determinations are distinct from BSL, these determinations are sometimes used to ban specific breeds. For instance, in Buckley, Washington, the ordinance bans breeds defined as “pit bulls” by listing “pit bulls” as a dangerous dog. In doing so, some cities or counties, like Clayton, Missouri or Newaygo, Michigan, may allow owners of “pit bulls” to contest that their dogs are dangerous or vicious dogs/animals. In these cities or counties, if, after a hearing, a person’s “pit bull” is determined not to be a vicious or a dangerous dog/animal, the “pit bull” will not be subjected to the ban.

Once a dog is determined to be a banned breed, the ordinance will offer a list of verbs to indicate which activities are prohibited. For instance, in Morgan City, Louisiana, a person cannot “own, possess, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, or sell within the city any pit bull.” While the activities listed in the Morgan City ordinance are not included in all BSL ordinances, this ordinance demonstrates the range of activities that can be prohibited by BSL. Controversially, however, when a municipality or a county prohibits a banned breed from being transported within their limits, that city or county's ordinance, like the one in Denver, Colorado, may require the owner of a banned breed to acquire a transport permit before the dog can be transported through the municipality or the county. Likewise, other municipalities and counties may require an owner of a banned breed to follow other guidelines before his or her dog can be transported through their jurisdictions.

While some cities may ban the transportation of certain breeds within their limits, other cities may allow banned breeds to be transported within their limits upon meeting certain conditions, such as whether or not the prohibited dog is being transported to a veterinary clinic located within the city or the county. Other exceptions to the ban include, but are not limited to:

  • Competition dogs brought into the jurisdiction for a dog show,
  • Police dogs,
  • Service dogs, and
  • Grandfathered dogs (i.e. dogs that would have otherwise been banned by an ordinance but were registered with the city before the ban went into effect).

If an ordinance provides an exception for grandfathered dogs, the ordinance will offer a list of requirements that an owner of a grandfathered dog must follow in order for the exception to apply. Some of these requirements include:

  • Liability insurance (which can range anywhere between $50,000 to $1 million),
  • Photo identification,
  • Vaccinations,
  • Tattoos,
  • Microchips,
  • Signs,
  • Specific collars,
  • Muzzle and leash requirements,
  • Indoor and outdoor confinement specifications,
  • Certain reporting requirements (i.e. in the event of the dog’s demise, sale, or birth of a litter),
  • Finally, if a person violates an ordinance that bans specific breeds, he or she may be subjected to fines and jail time, while his or her dog may be subjected to impoundment, permanent removal from the city or county or even death. 

While the ordinances on this website are a representative sample of the many ways BSL can be constructed, this website does not contain every BSL ordinance that exists within the United States. If you are curious to learn whether or not your city or county has a BSL ordinance, or if you are curious to learn how your city or county has constructed its BSL, it is best to contact the city or county of interest to receive such information.

 

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