Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How Can We Fight Unfair Dog Laws?

First, it is obvious that you need to lobby for new, fairer dog laws. This is just going to take a lot of personal handshaking and convincing. I don't see any way around this. I think you have to lobby businesses, the relevant non-profits, the breeders and the legislatures, regardless of the location.

Second, you will have to continue to eat away at the current, unfair laws in the courts. I believe that the courts are a good battle ground. The problem is that we have all been fighting on the defensive for so long. We need to start filing amicus (friend of the court) briefs, and aggressively support key defendants, and bring out own suits to make our own case law that highlights favorable dog treatment.

Third, you need to get public support for a change in the law. This involves becoming more visible… arranging public demonstrations of how good all these so-called “bad” breeds really are. Going to town with your dogs. Getting on TV and in the news. Sending out press releases whenever something GOOD happens. And publicizing the unfair treatment our dogs are getting in the legislatures, in the cities, and in our courts. You might sometimes need to make a stink.

Fourth, you need get the breeders to self regulate with TEMPERAMENT TESTING! If we start implementing temperament testing standards, public demonstrations, we can start proving the temperament of our dogs. IF WE DON'T SELF REGULATE, IT WILL BE IMPOSED UPON US. The pit bulls need a major public opinion shift. This will only come through a long, concerted PR campaign. The handwriting is on the wall, you had better do something now before it is done to you. The courts and legislatures are going to impose temperament testing of some sort on us unless we do it for ourselves first. And you can bet that then the tests will be politically motivated instead of based upon sound behavioral science. For example, does anyone think that it would be good to make it that no dog could ever bark or threaten back if it was threatened? That would change the nature of all of our dog breeds, and wreck some of them completely. It would also have unintended consequences such as the seizure and destruction of many good dogs, like what happened in Germany over their pit bull banning hysteria. If you are familiar with what happened, once the government stepped in to ban certain breeds, they implemented draconian seizure and temperament testing requirements. On the other hand, if the breed clubs were to implement reasonable temperament testing requirements on their own, and be self regulating, this kind of thing would be thwarted. Believe me, this is going to be imposed on us in the future, one way or another.

I really don't dislike the way the AKC or FCI deal with dog issues. I think that it is time to meld the obedience part with the conformation part when deciding what dogs should be determined suitable for breeding purposes. All the pieces are already in place, so no one loses anything. And we all have everything to gain. Yes, this would make it more difficult to breed a champion, but that has its benefits as well. Isn't it infuriating for a good breeder to enter their dog in a competition, spend all that money and time and effort and heart, only to be beaten by a lesser dog just because the judge had a personal bias against your dog? Wouldn't it be better to include some objective standards into the standard, so that the lesser dogs would be forced out? Also, the better breeders would then benefit more because others would flock to them to obtain dogs that could meet these higher standards. I think the playing field isn't differentiated enough these days. It would be beneficial to create more of a hierarchy so that it is clearer which dogs, lines of dog, and breeders are better than others. You also need mechanisms to publicize the results for potential buyers. There would be economic benefits for all breeders, to make it worthwhile for them to participate. Let’s say that two horrible dogs mate and somehow a great dog pops out. That dog then is put into a dog show and competes with a lot of other great dogs... but... the horrible dog is eventually mated and then it throws horrible pups. That kind of thing damages the breed in terms of conformation. It also damages the breed in terms of temperament, since those horrible dogs might also have had temperament problems. As we all know, everyone flocks to breed with the big champion dogs... and sometimes these dogs have had terrible genetics and hurt the breed for generations. This could be entirely avoided, plus the top breeders should be rewarded for their wise selective breeding practices. Even hobbyists could still produce champions if the standards were set higher.

I have always felt that you could plausibly argue in court that a certain dog wasn't truly Breed X, because its pedigree didn't include dogs that had the required temperamental characteristics. In other words, I don't think a “pit bull” should be called a pit bull unless the pedigree has proven, tested pit bulls in its pedigree. Proven dogs would be those that had been shown and obtained a passing temperament evaluation by an agreed upon tester. Thus, a dog wouldn't be a pit bull if the pedigree didn't have approved pit bulls in the pedigree. Then, you could argue that this dog was no better than a mutt (sorry for demeaning mixed breeds here, but get the gist of what I am saying)... thus you couldn't blame the breed.

On a related topic, I think that we should also have a "senior’s champion" class. These would be male dogs that were at least 10 years old. They would have to be x-rayed and health-tested all over again, they would have to pass the temperament tests again, and they would have to compete on conformation again. Then, these dogs should be bred. We could start increasing the longevity and health of our dogs if we could verify that these dogs maintained good health and temperament into old age. Think of the dogs you've seen that looked great at 2 years, but at 5 years started going blind, or developed other health or temperament problems. A senior’s champion competition would lead us out of even more problems. These dogs would also be judged by their offspring. There could be a rating system for the quality of dogs that these older dogs produced over their lifetimes.

Fourth, you need a letter writing (email and snail mail) campaign to keep your issue alive in the press. You also need to involve a wide variety of local dog chapters as local "foot soldiers" to give you some kind of grass roots support. I would also try to get some celebrity support. We need some celebrities that will stand up and get some PR against unfair dog laws.

Fifth, I favor a change in the approach for dealing with dogs. I advocate passing a law that lists reasonable exceptions to when a dog SHOULD bite. I advocate a law that imposes proportionate penalties depending upon the severity of the incident. I propose that a law have a clear due process clause. I support a law that bans drug dealers from owning dogs for 5 years, if they used dogs to assist them in dealing drugs. With these four provisions, you can make a hard hitting law to go after the truly dangerous dogs, while at the same time avoiding Breed Specific Laws. I have posted at this blog an article detailing "When Should A Dog Be Allowed To Bite? These are the exceptions that I feel should be incorporated into any dog bite law. People need education on the fact that there can be dangerous dogs of ANY breed, therefore the idea is to reduce the breeding and creation of poor quality dogs to reduce most problem incidents, get more people to socialize and train their dogs, and improve owner/ handler education.

Sixth, you need to adopt a set of principles for how a dog bite law should be drafted. Such a set of principles can also be found at this blog, "How To Make A Fair Dog Bite Law” I was the primary author of this set of principles.

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