Breed Bans Are a Moral and Practical Mess

By on November 12, 2015 with 34 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Breed bans sever the human-animal bond and cause harm to people just as they do to dogs. And they are virtually impossible to enforce in a fair way. But there is building momentum against the idea of judging a dog based on what he or she looks like, rather than how the animal behaves.

The HSUS is playing a leadership role in raising awareness about the unsound line of argument behind these propositions and working to unwind them where they exist.

Since January 2012, more than 120 U.S. municipalities have rescinded their breed-based laws, including Wilmington, Del. and East Dubuque, Ill. One recent victory also came in Lincoln County, Ky., where a tragic incident led officials to draft a particularly harsh breed ban. HSUS Kentucky director Kathryn Callahan jumped into the fray and succeeded in influencing local officials and reminding them that bans like the one proposed are not effective for dog management. In fact, they will just create more human and canine victims in the months and years ahead as families are forced to give up their pets.

Nineteen states have prohibited local governments from passing breed-specific legislation and this year, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturned a circuit court order to destroy a dog based on the presumption that the dog’s breed is inherently dangerous. We’re hopeful that this court ruling signals the end of breed bans anywhere in the state.

Our team is now focused on repealing existing ordinances where they are doing the most harm, such as in Prince George’s County, Md. and Miami-Dade County, Fla., which both forbid private ownership of pit-bull-type dogs.  We are also addressing the patchwork of ordinances in states such as Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and others where dogs may be welcome in one county but not in the next.

Massachusetts now has a bill pending that would prohibit insurance carriers from denying coverage based on the dog’s breed, and similar bills are being considered in other states. In fact, one of the nation’s largest insurers, State Farm, already recognizes that a dog’s breed is not an issue and has long had a policy of not discriminating against dogs based on breed or appearance.  After Ohio repealed its statewide pit bull ban in 2012, State Farm reported a decrease in the number of dog-bite-related claims in the state.

In addition to getting breed specific laws and ordinances thrown out, The HSUS recently announced another tool to fight breed discrimination: our Pets Are Welcome campaign. It includes a component to end harmful breed-ban policies in the rental housing industry. Our team is actively reaching out within the corporate housing sector, and working with companies to convert their policies from “pet-friendly” to Pets Are Welcome, meaning there are no breed, weight, or other arbitrary pet restrictions. More than 437 properties and over 100,000 units in 19 states have now established Pets Are Welcome policies, validating the idea that it’s just good business to be inclusive and to handle animal-based problems on a case-by-case basis and not with a peremptory policy against entire categories of domesticated animals.

Through the years, we’ve seen hysteria about certain breeds, but breed bans are cumbersome and wrong-footed ways to deal with problems that inevitably arise when there’s a dangerous dog incident or an attack. The view that dogs should be judged entirely on appearance is an archaic one, and a spectrum of organizations, from The HSUS to the American Veterinary Medical Association to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, do not endorse breed-specific legislation.

We are more sensible than this, and it’s time to wipe away the remaining policies, reward responsible caretakers of pets, and do what’s right in safeguarding the human-animal bond.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Anon says:

    Of course you’re not going to support banning pit bulls, most the dogs in shelters are pit bulls, without pit bulls you would lose millions of dollars a year in profit

    • Cory Smith says:


      I am the director of pet protection and policy for The HSUS. There is no national animal shelter data available on dog breed and there is limited state or local data on dog breeds in shelters.

      The Humane Society of the United States does not oversee animal shelters – each one is an independent entity. I’m not sure what profit you are referring to but The HSUS does not profit from animal sheltering activities.

      Thank you for your comment.

      • Julie Wall says:

        I’m disappointed HSUS are catering to 1.5% of the U.S. population who own pit bulls and who could careless about public safety.

        • lynnf says:

          You are making a lot of assumptions about the number of pitbulls and families that own them. Can you provide any documentation for your figures?

    • Terri Lindsey says:

      Wow, you are incredibly uninformed. Shelters and rescue groups are so underfunded as to be forced to have bake sales, car washes, dog washes, and simply beg for donations. Banning pit bulls doesn’t eliminate them. The irresponsible owners simply go underground and the dogs get no socialization or medical care. The responsible owners move and take their dogs and their tax money with them. Even identifying a breed of dog in a shelter is nearly impossible unless it is a pure bred dog. And besides, The HSUS doesn’t run shelters anyway.

    • Fred says:

      This could be the most obsurd and ignorant statement I have ever had the displeasure of reading!

  2. Mark Adrian says:

    When you say “human animal bond” you really mean “human pit bull bond”. Animal advocates know that pit bulls kill more animals and people than all other breeds or type of of dogs combined.

    • Cory Smith says:


      Most dogs never bite and fatal dog attacks are incredibly rare. The only reliable information about the very few fatal dog attacks which tragically occur each year says that breed was not one of the factors identified.

      Breed-based policies aren’t founded on science or credible data, but on myths and misinformation surrounding different breeds. Their impact on dogs, families and animal shelters, however, is heartbreakingly real. Find out more at

      Thank you for your comment.

      • Julie Wall says:

        I’d love to know how you discredit a website that is nothing but a collection of information from thousands of independent sources. Are YOU suggesting each individual source cited has been discredited? If so, how exactly? And by whom? I always see the claim that dogsbite is somehow inaccurate but have yet to actually see any proof.

        If you find anything false on, let them know with evidence. They will be glad to remove. is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to reducing serious dog attacks. It is the only nonprofit committed to putting the safety of humans before dogs, as it is the only source of information on this topic that is not owned, controlled, or funded by dog breeders, owners, veterinarian or animal welfare groups. is a non-profit organization to raise dangerous dog awareness, promote safety and archives ALL serious dog attacks. The related blog and Facebook group sometimes include commentary in a post, but the primary focus and bulk of a post in evidentiary, factual and statistical details. Though pit bull fanatics would have you believe the entirety of the site is fabricated or invalidated because the founder is a pit bull attack victim, the truth is that;
        Victim’s status should not be grounds to disqualify the experiences and professionalism as it pertains to their particular issue. If anything, are not victims of domestic violence best testimony about what it entails? Are mother against drunk driving (MADD) not well versed in the horrific aftermath of drunk driving? Is their data gathering any less valid just because they lost a loved one?

        Even so, issue with the founder itself is not relevant here because the charity organization is composed of data and facts not issued by her individually but by other people and groups (detailed below)
        It provided accessible and easily traceable citations for every assertion.

        It cites hundreds – if not thousands – of external sources. It’s a collective of external information, much like a library. To discredit the information therein requires going to any of the numerous external sources cited above and discrediting each to invalidate data of epic proportions. credentials include their statistical data cited in a scientific peer-reviewed medical journal, The Annals of Surgery, and supplying the amicus brief in the landmark Maryland Court of Appeals decision Tracey v. Solesky, which declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous.” The high court sided with not the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who supplied the brief to deny the near fatal pit bull mauling victim any compensation.

        Research and statistical data from has exceptional credibility with appellate court justices, surgeons and medical practitioners, attorneys who champion and represent dog mauling victims, the many local, national and international news agencies which cite their data and of course the victims themselves. (See official response:

        Also, as J. Thomas Beasley states in his new book, Misunderstood Nanny Dogs?, she does not let the name calling stop her, nor would it stop any organization dedicated to saving human lives from the most miserable and preventable death imaginable — bones snapping and muscles ripped away in the vice-like grips of the powerful jaws of a pit bull.

        “Albeit enlightening, it is difficult to comprehend the absolute venom that is directed at Ms. Lynn and her charity organization by people who oppose any restrictions on dogs. Her name is like a battle cry to the anti-BSL (“breed specific legislation”) crowd. This woman was attacked by a dog, and she fights for other victims of dog attacks, yet her largesse is met with intense, and often hateful vitriol. But Colleen doesn’t let them stop her.” – J. Thomas Beasley

        • Cory Smith says:

          The HSUS wholeheartedly supports reasonable, breed-neutral regulations for dogs. No community with breed-based restrictions has ever eliminated a breed or type of dog from its population. BSL is an inhumane, costly, and ineffective approach to dog management. Find out more at

        • creem says:

          the pitbull data that is commonly referenced, for example, from the dogsbite website, is based on fatalities in news reports. what this tells us is that yes, more dogs kill people than we should ever allow. but these statistics lack context. and we need that to draft useful solutions.

          the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a peer-reviewed and vetted publication, has what I think is a more useful study, “Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009).” These non-human animal experts, reviewed by other non-human animal experts, concluded, “Most DBRFs were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these. Study results supported previous recommendations for multifactorial approaches, instead of single-factor solutions such as breed-specific legislation, for dog bite prevention.”

          and that annals of surgery article was completed by trauma surgeons, not anyone in the field of veterinary science. they just reviewed medical records: “Our Trauma and Emergency Surgery Services treated 228 patients with dog bite injuries; for 82 of those patients, the breed of dog involved was recorded (29 were injured by pit bulls).”

          and then: “We reviewed the medical records of patients admitted to our level 1 trauma center with dog bites during a 15-year period. We determined the demographic characteristics of patients, their outcomes, and the breed and characteristics of the dogs that caused the injuries.”

          how were they able to determine the rest of the breeds of dog? based on bites and wounds? it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible for animal experts to do that, even with photo comparison. this study didn’t even mention the use of investigative reports or animal experts identifying the breed of dogs. it is an incredibly flawed and inflammatory article.

          and on the topic of Ohio vs. Anderson (1991) that is constantly cited. well, there’s this quote, which throws it in major doubt: “Dog warden Tom Skeldon, the driving force behind Ohio’s BSL, testified before the court in Toledo vs. Tellings (2006) that ‘even if a dog was 50 per cent pit bull, if it did not ‘look like a pit bull,’ the owner would not be charged. On the other hand, if a dog did ‘look like a pit bull,’ it would be classified as a pit bull and the owner would be subject to the ‘vicious dog’ laws.”

        • Mike Okey says:

          I have read Cory Smiths comment. No where does he mention the hate group DBO. Yet Julie break stick wall somehow sees a personel attack on a bogus web site. The foaming cult members are spiraling down the drain.

        • Debbie Christianson says:

          Really Julie Wall??
          The only thing questioning info on dogsbite will get you is blocked from further commenting.
          Ask a perfectly legitimate question and if it doesn’t fit with the dbo agenda bam you’re outta there

        • Julie Jo says:

          Dogsliedotorg is a joke and make up their stats just to suit their dog hating agenda. It is a sad fact that they want all dogs eradicated. Every breed. They hide behind victims of dogs attacks and use them as a cover to hide their total contempt for all breeds of dogs. A dog is just a dog and it IS in how you treat and train them. That is the real truth Ms. “I want to shoot every dog I see” Breakstick. I mean seriously? SMH

      • Julie Wall says:

        I know you are trying really hard to discredit the media. The media does not identify the dog breed in the attack, the owner does.

        Media reports have always been used as proof and data. Media reports are a traditionally well respected, bona fide source for epidemiologists and historians of every subject on earth. Researchers in 39 countries uncovered the same data independent of DogsBite and Merritt Clifton and arrived at similar conclusions about pit bulls.

        the media prints anything false they can be sued. I try to print a letter to the editor saying. ‘Asheville Humane Society who partners with the ASPCA rehomed a pit bull that savagely killed a child.’ The editor made me take out ” ASPCA” because of fear of getting sued.

        From a friend that used to be a reporter,” The information that reporters receive is from the local police department. They may choose to interview witnesses who might have been on the scene, but the basics come from the only source that matters and that’s the police. So that’s a whole lot of hogwash. Reporting isn’t essay nor persuasive writing. It’s just the facts.And we’ve been following dog attacks long enough to see that if the media has nothing released from the local authorities, their article will be sparse. That’s because they are waiting on the police department to release a report on the incident. Without it, they would be crazy to run anything they hear from any “secondary source.” That’s not how newspapers work.”

        • Brian Adamson says:

          Julie Wall, The media is not above running a story based on hearsay. If they get something wrong they just update the article with the new information. The corrections are not always made either. What is funny though is how the media is supposedly so trustworthy when they label a dog involved in an attack as a pit bull, but when they report the dog as being any other breed or a mutt? All of the sudden the media has been paid off by the pit bull lobby and they can’t be trusted. Even when the dog in question is reported to be, oh I don’t know, a Belgian Malinois for instance, and there are pics of the dog as well, your group will say the dog is part pit bull anyway. Even when presented with the dog’s pedigree, their bloodline going back many generations, you all claim that the papers must be fake. A rottie involved in an attack on it’s new owner last week resulted in the owner’s death. DBO, DF and their members determined that the dog was not a Rottie, but a Pit/Rottie mix and promptly added it to your fatality list as a pit mix. This is the norm at DBO and with all of your friends as well. How credible is information that is collected and presented in this manner? News flash… It is not even remotely credible and neither are you.

      • Joey Pitt says:

        Here in Canada husky types have been responsible for more fatal attacks than all the other breeds put together.

    • Terri Lindsey says:

      Simply not true. In fact American Pit Bull Terriers score higher in temperament tests than Golden Retrievers. APBT’s score 86.8% and Golden’s came in at 85.2%. This is according to the American Temperament Test society. Look it up. According to 1-800-Pet-Meds, you are more likely to die from Flaming NIghtwear than a dog bite, any dog, but specifically Pit Bull type dogs.

  3. Lisa says:

    How do you plan to reward “responsible” pet owners and what do you do about “irresponsible ” pet owners, those whose dog has taken a human life?

    • Cory Smith says:


      Of the 70 million pet dogs in the U.S. the vast majority are living happy, healthy lives in the good hands of their owners.

      Most states and many cities and counties have regulations in place for handling dogs with truly dangerous behavior and holding owners accountable. Fortunately, this is a small fraction of owners and dogs.

      Breed-based policies aren’t founded on science or credible data, but on myths and misinformation surrounding different breeds. Their impact on dogs, families and animal shelters, however, is heartbreakingly real. Find out more at

      Thank you for your comment.

    • Terri Lindsey says:

      You reward the good owners by simply allowing them to live in peace with their pets. We need no more reward than that. As far as the “bad” owners, it, of course would have to be handled on a case by case basis, but Pit Bull advocate that I am, any dog which attacks and kills a person, unprovoked, has to be put down. On the same note, any one who abuses and neglects an animal under their care and control, should not be allowed to possess any animals, not even a fish. You can’t really do that on a first offense, but it should definitely be three strikes and you’re out, whether it is three animals or three separate incidences.

  4. Marie chriscoe says:

    I am not saying that any breed be banned. I am saying that some dogs should be labeled dangerous and laws enacted to protected the public.
    I have the right to go to my mailbox without my neighbors Pitts attacking me. Don’t I?
    All the propaganda about bully dogs being as safe as all other dogs is contributing to deaths and severe attacks with large medical bills. In my case it was ” the first bite rule” so I was left with a $4000.00 ER Bill.
    Money that I don’t have.
    I think you need to do a lot more research on this. 10 children have been killed by bully breeds in U.S. And Canada this year. And more adults than that.

    • Cory Smith says:


      We are terribly sorry to hear you were injured. Of the 70 million pet dogs in the U.S. the vast majority are living happy, healthy lives in the good hands of their owners.

      Most states and many cities and counties have regulations in place for handling dogs with truly dangerous behavior and holding owners accountable. Fortunately, this is a small fraction of owners and dogs.

      Every person has the right to feel safe and secure from any and all dogs. This is why consistent enforcement of leash laws, restrictions on tethering, and greater access to pet care services, resources and information are critical elements for any community. With millions of dogs in our communities there have to be standards for behavior and safety.

      There is no credible evidence that one type of dog is more dangerous than another. Breed-based policies aren’t founded on science or credible data, but on myths and misinformation surrounding different breeds. Their impact on dogs, families and animal shelters, however, is heartbreakingly real. Find out more at

      Thank you for your comment.

    • Mike Okey says:

      Fear and misinformation is the biggest factor.

  5. Liz Adams says:

    HSUS position change on pit bulls and fighting breeds in general is alarming and disturbing. The public is at risk due to pit bulls from completely unknown or fighting backgrounds infiltrating every walk of society and the human, pet, livestock and wildlife death toll rises every year. You say BSL is irresponsible when in fact, not enacting any kind of protections for people from dangerous breeds is irresponsible. Why shouldn’t we offer full disclosure of dogs and what they were created to do? Why shouldn’t we require owners of volatile breeds to be restricted through insurance, spay/neuter, containment and/or muzzling mandates? While people are overpopulating the US with pit bulls under zero scrutiny and foisting them off on unsuspecting families hand over fist, the dogs and humans will continue to fail. It’s at our and our pets’ peril that you promote unlimited ownership of fighting breeds. Irresponsible owners happen, deaths via horrific dog maulings should not. Yet they do by the dozens annually along with egregious injuries that take life times to recover from. I’ve stopped donating to you due to this issue and your current stance. In my opinion, people and other pets matter too.

  6. Dixie Lee Howe says:

    Thank you Wayne, Cory and all the HSUS for your vital work to obliterate animal cruelty in all of it’s many forms! We appreciate you!

  7. Dan Adams says:

    Great article, thanks! Let those of use truly concerned with public safety continue to educate ourselves and our communities about the correct way to deal with dangerous dogs.

    Let the pro-bsl folks bark incessantly at the end of their chains.

  8. Fran says:

    Thank you HSUS for this intelligent article and please ignore the fear-mongers. While they love to stereotype and profile, they are a small minority.

  9. Lp justice says:

    To the hate group who thinks that all dogs who look a certain way are Inherently bad based on incidents involving certain dogs that resemble them in looks, you are so narrow minded and misguided, you are also doing the opposite of what you propose to stand for. You want safer communities and for people to be informed about safety to prevent dog bites. Well that’s what we all want. The problem is you’re going about it in a way that is detrimental to this goal. To tell people that one specific type of dog (i.e. Pit mixes) are the only dogs you should supervise around kids and the only ones you should take caution with in certain situations is counter productive. Because ALL dogs should be supervised with kids especially In unfamiliar environments for the safety of all involved. You see giving people the false security that “as long as your dog is something besides a pit mix that all is fine to leave unsupervised with a child” is really not a responsible statement. Because any dog can and other types of dogs do bite… And bite severely enough to cause permanent damage. Any dog, not just pit bull type dogs. Please be more informative to your followers dbo .

  10. Valerie W says:

    While I agree that it is impossible to “ban” certain dog breeds, statistics show
    that “pit bulls” are victims of animal abuse more than any other breed.
    Laws need to made–AND ENFORCED–against “chaining” dogs for long
    I think there needs to much more crack downs on illegal dog-fighting.
    The difference in licensing fees for altered/unaltered pets needs to be
    MUCH greater (ALONG with more free/lowcost spay/neuter clinics).

  11. Shari says:

    Punish the deed, not the breed!

  12. Shari says:

    Let me sum it up: punish the deed not the breed! I have 2 wonderful rescue “pitties” both whose biggest threat would be licking someone to death. No real idea about their past but they have never even met a stranger they weren’t best friends with. Soooooo wrong to judge a whole breed. I was just denied homeowners insurance yet again because I told them I had mixed/terriers, which is what they are listed as on my vet records. When will the insanity stop??

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