Obama Blasts Legislation Targeting Specific Dog Breeds

The President stands up against canine prejudice

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image: american pit bull terrier
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An American pit bull terrier

President Obama is looking more and more like dogs’ best friend.

In the same week the First family welcomed its newest member — an adorable Portuguese water dog named Sunny — Obama also tried to take a bite out of laws that target specific dog breeds. In response to a petition against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) posted on We The People, the government’s official site for citizen suggestions and commentary, the Obama administration came out unequivocally against the mostly-local laws:

We don’t support breed-specific legislation — research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at twenty years of data about dog bites and human fatalities in the United States. They found that fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog bite injuries to people and that it’s virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds.

The response also noted that the CDC suggests “a community-based approach” as an alternative, and more effective, method of preventing dog bites. “Ultimately, we think that’s a much more promising way to build stronger communities of pets and pet owners,” said the statement.

In addition to the CDC, organizations like the American Bar Association and the American Humane Association have also come out against BSL.

That the administration replied at all to this petition is perhaps the best evidence yet, other than the family’s two dogs, that the Obama’s care deeply about canine rights. We The People’s Terms of Participation clearly state that an administration response is only required once a petition reaches 100,000 signatures. This particular petition had only 30,000 supporters, meaning the administration voluntarily chose to make a public statement on the matter.

(MORE: The Softer Side of Pit Bulls: A Reviled Breed Gets a Makeover)

Breed Specific Legislation has been implemented in hundreds of municipalities across the U.S., including Prince George’s County, Maryland, located just a short drive away from the White House. The county has banned pit bulls outright, and according to the Maryland Dog Federation, those found within the county are usually either put down or donated to families in other areas. However, there is strong opposition to the laws, and the same federation reports that 17 states have banned legislation that single out specific types of dogs.

In addition to going against neighboring counties, Obama has also placed himself squarely in opposition to many in the United States military. The Marine Corps bans “large dog breeds with a predisposition toward aggressive or dangerous behavior,” including pit bulls, from on-base housing, and many Air Force, Army and Navy installations have followed suit. (The anti-pit bull website DogsBite.org catalogs exactly which bases and municipalities have banned certain dog breeds.)

Will the administration’s stance convince states and military authorities to drop Breed Specific Legislation for good? At least one anti-BSL activist thinks it will help.

“The White House is such a bully pulpit for important issues,” Lisa LaFontaine, president of the Washington Humane Society, told the Huffington Post. “And certainly for them to come down against this type of discrimination I think will give pause to any communities that are thinking about putting something like this in place, and certainly will fuel the work that’s already being done by advocates to overturn legislation that already exists.”

“It’s a really happy day,” LaFontaine added.

MORE: The Great Pit Bull Makeover