Letter to Florida House Committee on Agribusiness Regarding Rep. Thurston’s HB 101 Which Would Overturn State Prohibition of BSL
March 12, 2008
P.O. Box 1406 Newport, WA 99156
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Judy Schreiber, Assistant to the Chair,
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Elizabeth Pensgard, Executive Secretary, Illinois Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hermine Stover, Media Liaison, Director at Large, CA, email@example.com
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Arizona Director, John Bowen, email@example.com
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Iowa Director, Leisa Boysen, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mississippi Director, Dan Crutchfield, email@example.com
Nevada Director, Ken Sondej, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tennessee Director, Gina Cotton, email@example.com
Texas Director, Alvin Crow, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Denise Grimsley, Chair
Rep. Bryan Nelson, Vice Chair
Rep. Debbie Boyd
Rep. Bill Galvano
Rep. Bill Heller
Rep. David Martin Kiar
Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera
Rep. Ralph Poppell
Rep. Juan C. Zapata
Dear Chairwoman Grimsley, Vice Chair Nelson, and esteemed members of the Agribusiness Committee:
It was with great disappointment that I first learned that the state of Florida is considering overturning its prohibition of breed-specific legislation per Rep. Thurston’s HB 101, a bill which is currently in the Agribusiness Committee. Allowing municipalities to pass breed-specific legislation in Florida is fraught with many complications and following are just a few of them:
First, making proper breed determinations is a considerable and overarching problem with breed-specific legislation since most Animal Control officers cannot distinguish American Pit Bull Terriers (APBTs) from American Bulldogs or Boxers, or Rottweilers from Coon hounds or Dobermans, just as a few examples. Animal Controls have even labeled Labradors as “pit bulls” which is all the more reason not to leave breed determinations up to Animal Control officers. They simply lack the skill to make proper breed determinations. This is no slight on Animal Control, however. It is difficult even for experts to properly determine breed at times, particularly with mixed breeds.
Second, singling out specific breeds under a ban or for some other breed-specific restriction has been ruled in some courts to be an equal protection violation under the 14th amendment. There is no scientific proof that any one breed is more dangerous than another only that some breeds are more popular at the time or that irresponsible owners may be disproportionately attracted to some breeds. Since it has not been proven that any one breed is inherently dangerous or vicious, there is no rational basis for banning any one breed. And ban one or several breeds and irresponsible owners either ignore the ban or switch to another breed. As such, restricting some owners of specific breeds while not others (all other dog breed owners) when there is no proof that any one breed is more dangerous than another violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.
Third, because it is at this time impossible to definitively prove breed heredity beyond a shadow of a doubt, BSL also infringes on citizens’ due process rights. Every citizen has a right under the due process clause of the 14th amendment to attempt to affect the outcome of a municipal or state-imposed deprivation of property (in this case, citizens’ dogs). When BSL is imposed and the owner is penalized yet it cannot be determined that the dog is indeed the banned breed in question, particularly in the case of mixed breed dogs, the dog owner’s due process rights are infringed upon.
Additionally, while HB 101, by Rep. Thurston’s account, was supposedly inspired by several of Thurston’s constituents’ complaints about “pit bulls,” it is of great concern that PETA has gone on record to support this bill. According to WBBH NBC 2 in Florida, PETA maintains that the bill “would prevent irresponsible dog owners from deliberately raising certain breeds to be vicious.” Following this line of thinking to its inevitable conclusion, no one would be allowed to have domesticated pets because all breeds are exploited or mistreated by a very few inhumane and unscrupulous individuals at one time or another. It should come as no surprise then that PETA spokespersons have in the past said things like,
“Pet ownership is an absolutely abysmal situation brought about by human manipulation.” Ingrid Newkirk, national Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Just Like Us?” Harper’s, August 1988, p. 50.
“For one thing, we would no longer allow breeding. People could not create different breeds. There would be no pet shops. If people had companion animals in their homes, those animals would have to be refugees from the animal shelters and the streets. You would have a protective relationship with them just as you would with an orphaned child.” Ingrid Newkirk, national Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), The Harper’s Forum Book, Jack Hitt, ed., 1989, p.223.
“In the end, I think it would be lovely if we stopped this whole notion of pets altogether.” Ingrid Newkirk, national Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Newsday, 2/21/88.
“Let us allow the dog to disappear from our brick and concrete jungles–from our firesides, from the leather nooses and chains by which we enslave it.” John Bryant, Fettered Kingdoms: An Examination of A Changing Ethic, Washington People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA), 1982, p. 15.
Animal rights activists and sympathizers often say that these quotes are outdated and therefore benign, but the agenda to end domestic pet ownership little by little is clearly still viable, as bills like Rep. Thurston’s PETA-backed HB 101 show.
Perhaps the one-breed-at-a-time approach to an end to domestic pet ownership is precisely why PETA has repeatedly called for “pit bull” bans. In the case of the “pit bull,” however, calls for a ban are actually a call for a ban of a handful of breeds since the slang term “pit bull” is not a breed recognized by any breed registry and actually can refer to as many as 30 breeds. It is precisely because the slang term “pit bull” can refer to so many breeds that bite stats for “pit bulls” are so high. And when Rep. Thurston cites his constituents’ complaints about not feeling safe around “pit bulls” are we to take their word for it that these complaints all refer to the same breed, the non-existent “breed” “pit bull”? Allowing for a mere “pit bull” ban alone in Florida municipalities would amount to a free-for-all to ban any medium- or large-sized breed that anyone anywhere in the state of Florida felt threatened by since technically any medium- or large-sized breed can be called a “pit bull” given how quick the media is to label any attack by a medium- or large-sized dog a “pit bull” attack. Do you own a medium- or large-sized dog? Do your constituents? Are you worried that ownership of yours or your constituents’ beloved pets is in jeopardy?
Ultimately, the greatest actual threat to the public as regards dogs is free-roaming dogs of any breed, but with proper Animal Control enforcement of existing laws, the free-roaming dog problem could be substantially reduced. To ban or restrict specific breeds, however, leaves the public with only a false sense of security since any breed can bite or attack. As such I must ask that you not vote HB 101 out of committee.
For your further consideration, enclosed herein is a copy of Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States’ position statement on breed-specific legislation which cites specific case law. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to e-mail me.
Thank you very much for your time.
Executive Secretary and Illinois Director, Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States
Director, Responsible Dog Owners Group of Illinois