Animal Welfare · Legislation · Pets

Rescue Responsibility: What is BSL?

According to the ASPCA, BSL, or breed-specific legislation, “is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.” Actually,, has a more realistic description listed on their website: “BSL is an ethical failure. BSL is a public safety failure.”

aspca bsl
via the ASPCA

What Exactly is BSL?

Did you know there are laws out there that declare certain breeds (entire breeds) to be vicious? Due to their supposed dangerous personality, these breeds can be banned from entire towns and cities. Want to know what the ordinances are in your state? Check out’s list. For example, in Tennessee, there are 39 cities and counties that have targeted certain breeds, aiming to ban them entirely or place restrictions upon them. These restrictions can range from anything to required spaying or neutering, to keeping the dog muzzled in public.

So, we know BSL is based upon a dogs breed. The most common bully breeds targeted are those under the “pitbull” umbrella. Here’s where things can get complicated. What is a pitbull? According to The Happy Pitbull, the core breeds include the American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier, but satellite breeds include the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the English Bull Terrier. The Dogo Argentino looks similar to a pitbull – should they be banned or restricted? Other breeds targeted include Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Dalmatians and more.

via The Happy Pitbull

Unfortunately, any mix of these breeds can be restricted or banned, even if they just resemble one. These laws and restrictions are put in place as more of a quick-fix. The justification is: this breed is considered a bully breed, there’s the potential of it being dangerous, let’s ban it. Let’s put restrictions in place. However, this usually ends up with the “good guys” being punished, while bad dog owners with a dog who may or may not actually be dangerous, are able to go free – just because their dog isn’t considered a “vicious” breed. It’s unfair to lump an entire breed into one category.

Consequences of BSL

The end-game of these laws and ordinances is to keep humans and other animals safe. But what about the well-being of those animals we are restricting?

When a law or restriction is put in place, there’s a chance there are families in the area that already own a loved pet. Suddenly it’s considered “vicious” and needs to be banned. What would you do if you found yourself in this situation? Many times, families do what they can to keep their pet in the home. While these owners are trying to keep their pet’s best interest at heart, this can cause the pet to suffer by requiring them to stay hidden within the home and around town. This can lead to lack of exercise, nutrition and proper socialization. In addition to possibly saying goodbye to their loved pet, many owners find themselves met with further complications, such as housing or legal issues.

Opposing BSL

Every rescue organization, shelter or group that I have come across opposes BSL, as it is an unfair process that unnecessarily targets dogs solely due to their breed (or what it looks like their breed may be). For example, Best Friends Animal Society’s position statement on BSL is: “Best Friends opposes breed-discriminatory legislation (also called breed-specific legislation, BSL), which arbitrarily targets particular breeds. Breed-discriminatory laws are not only ineffective at improving community safety, they are extremely expensive to enforce and deplete needed resources from animal control.”

Even President Obama has voiced his opinion on BSL, stating:

“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…As an alternative to breed-specific policies, the CDC recommends a community-based approach to prevent dog bites. And ultimately, we think that’s a much more promising way to build stronger communities of pets and pet owners.” (via The Huffington Post) perfectly summarizes just a few examples of why BSL is wrong:

Why is BSL Wrong

Other Options

Instead of putting these restrictions and laws in place, it’s important to keep the focus on proper handling and owning of dogs – no matter what the breed is. Enforce leash laws in the town – don’t enforce an entire ban on a certain kind of dog. Make sure low-cost spay or neuter services are available. The ASPCA includes further alternatives to BSL. Most importantly, enact laws that:

  • “Hold dog guardians financially accountable for failure to adhere to animal control laws
  • Hold dog guardians civilly and criminally liable for unjustified injuries or damage caused by their dogs”

What are your thoughts on BSL?


2 thoughts on “Rescue Responsibility: What is BSL?

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