A few weeks ago I attended a “town hall meeting” in the city council chambers of a neighboring town. The purpose of the meeting was to get residents input on prospective dog ordinances the mayor and council were considering. Rumors and speculation had been flying for months that this small city would become the next municipality to ban American Pit Bull Terriers and other “bull” breeds. I had even heard from area veterinarians and some of my clients that any dog weighing over 50 pounds would be banned from the city. So, armed with lots of information, I arrived early on the appointed evening.
The auditorium quickly filled to standing room only, and I learned that residents of the town would be allowed to speak first. Since they pay the taxes there, that seemed only fair. Unfortunately, because so many residents turned out to give their input on this issue, none of the non-residents had time to speak. That included me, area veterinarians, groomers, shelter personnel and another training school owner. Disappointed, I gave my stack of papers to the mayor, and urging him to call me if I could help in any way, left.
I don’t live in this town, and my training school is not there, so why should I be concerned about legislation that may pass there? Why does it matter to me what other cities do or how they word their dog ordinances? It matters to every one of us, because when one town is able to pass anti-dog or breed specific legislation, it makes it much easier for the next town down the line to do the same. We all know it is much easier for us to stay informed and step in before these kinds of ordinances are passed, as getting rid of them later is always more difficult.
What can we, as dog professionals, do to stay on top of proposed restrictive legislation in our towns? For starters, make sure that you are the go-to guy locally when it comes to all things dog. Being the “dog lady” or “dog fellow” is a good thing if you want to hear what is going on. You want to be the one the mayor calls up for information and advice. You want the newspapers and TV channels to seek you out for interviews, because you are the local expert on dogs and dog and people problems. Together with other dog professionals in your town, you can be the one to provide accurate information on the subject of loose and unattended dogs, unaltered dogs, and dangerous dogs. You will be the one to point out that the vast majority of dog problems are, in reality, problems of owner responsibility. As the local expert, you will be able to offer positive solutions to a serious problem, using resources and laws the city already has in place.
Read your local newspaper, and go to council meetings from time to time. Get to know your animal control officers, shelter staff, and police. Be aware of proposed legislation before it gets drafted into law, so that you can counter it. Be prepared to make your city government aware of the many resources out there which can help them write good laws that hold all dog owners responsible for the behavior or their animals, and thus don’t penalize everyone for the actions of a few.
Unfortunately, breed specific dog laws will continue to be written and passed as more of us try to occupy less space, and busy or irresponsible dog owners make the majority pay for problems they create. City leaders, in an effort to make our owns safe, will be all to willing to listen to those who want to get rid of all dogs of a certain breed or size. Staying aware and involved, being vigilant, and always being prepared to counter their arguments with good information will keep most “bad” legislation from ever seeing the light of day. The NADOI web sit at https://nadoi.org has some good resources in addition to our Position Statement on breed specific laws.
What happened in my neighboring town? Fortunately, the city fathers listened to reason and some good ideas, and no anti-dog laws were passed, at least for now.