The Federal Government on Breed Discrimination

August 21, 2013  

photo with credit 2

The White House has issued an official statement against breed discrimination:

“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.”

Exactly!  Breed discrimination costs a lot of money, a lot of lives, and yields no result in regards to public safety.  You can read more about the White House’s response here.

This is not the first time that the Federal Government has taken a hard stand against breed discrimination.  The US Department of Justice has refused to allow federal legislation to fall victim to local breed discriminatory policies.  In regards to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the DOJ states:

“… if an individual uses a breed of dog that is perceived to be aggressive because of breed reputation, stereotype, or the history or experience the observer may have with other dogs, but the dog is under the control of the individual with a disability and does not exhibit aggressive behavior, the title II entity cannot exclude the individual or the animal from a State or local government program, service, or facility.”[1]

The use of the words “reputation” and “stereotype” further support the truth that scientific support for breed discrimination is lacking.  The DOJ takes an even bigger bite out of breed discrimination by affirming:

“The Department does not believe that it is either appropriate or consistent with the ADA to defer to local laws that prohibit certain breeds of dogs based on local concerns that these breeds may have a history of unprovoked aggression or attacks.  Such deference would have the effect of limiting the rights of persons with disabilities under the ADA who use certain service animals based on where they live rather than on whether the use of a particular animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”[2]

The DOJ’s focus on whether a particular animal poses a threat sets a good example.  This Rule also allows for state and local governments to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a particular animal poses a threat based on that animal’s actual behavior and history, “not based on fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave.”[3]  This is a great model for any locality – each dog is an individual and should be evaluated as such.  And again, the DOJ using words such as “fears” and “generalizations” shows how scientifically baseless these policies are.

The DOJ’s policy has come into conflict with local discriminatory policies.  When James Sak, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago police officer, moved to Aurelia, Iowa with his pit bull type service dog, the city wanted to have the dog removed according to its breed discriminatory policy.  Judge Bennett, in his order granting Sak’s preliminary injunction allowing him to keep his pit bull type service dog at his home, said: “This is one small, but vital step for Sak, one giant leap for pit bull service dogs.”[4]  The city eventually settled with Sak, allowing him to keep his service dog and reimbursing him for his legal expenses.  The battle was fought with taxpayer funds that could have been used to actually make the community safer through effective breed-neutral dangerous dog laws, instead of targeting a harmless service dog.[5]  This is an example of how breed discriminatory policies do little to protect the public, while wasting public funds and targeting innocent individuals and their dogs.

Here’s where the Feds still have work to do: military housing.  A 2009 Marine Corps Order (P11000.22 Ch 6) imposes a breed discriminatory policy: “Full or mixed breeds of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and canid/wolf hybrids are prohibited aboard Marine Corps installations.”  Similarly, the Pet Policy for Privatized Housing Under the Army’s Residential Communities Initiative (RCI) Privatization Program of December 2008 forbids “any dog of a breed (including a mixed breed) that is deemed aggressive or potentially aggressive” in privatized housing.  For purposes of this policy, aggressive or potentially aggressive breeds of dogs are defined as Pit Bulls (American Staffordshire Bull Terriers or English Staffordshire Bull Terriers), Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Chows, and wolf hybrids.

We need to bridge this discrepancy between the White House and our military.  Breed discrimination is a personal and emotional issue for many of us.  But legally, breed discrimination is about our constitutional and property rights – the same rights that our military members have sacrificed so much to protect.

Click here to sign a petition to the White House asking the government to assure our military members discrimination-free housing.

[1] 28 CFR Part 35, CRT Docket No. 105; AG Order No. RIN 1190-AA46, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services,

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] James Sak and Peggy Leifer v. The City of Aurelia, Iowa, US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, Western Division, No. C 11-4111-MWB, Memorandum Opinion and Order Regarding Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction

[5] Coleman, Stacey.  “Aurelia City Council Reaches Settlement on “Pit Bull” Service Dog Case,” Press Release, Animal Farm Foundation, July 12, 2012.

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3 Responses to “The Federal Government on Breed Discrimination”
  1. Steven Owensby says:

    Where do I sign?

  2. Kathy Zurolo says:

    A dog is a dog. Behavior is individual.