Arizona has just become the 20th state to completely do away with breed-specific legislation — laws that ban or otherwise regulate dogs by breed.
Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1248 into law on Friday last week. The law, which takes effect in August, forbids Arizona’s cities and counties from enacting or enforcing breed-based dog regulations.
BSL still in effect in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country — though it’s on the wane. With Arizona’s new law, 20 states now have so-called “BSL-preemption” laws. Utah, the 19th, enacted its law in 2015.
There’s a reason for that. Groups like the like the ASPCA, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the American Kennel Club — and even the White House — condemn these laws as ineffective at promoting public safety and expensive to enforce. The laws have also been found to raise serious problems for families, dogs, communities, and the rule of law.
BSL most frequently targets Pit Bulls — even though there is no standard definition of what a Pit Bull is; the term generally refers to dogs of any breed with a blocky head and muscular body — but may also target Rottweilers, Akitas, and a number of other types of dog.
“In America, responsible dog owners should be able to love and care for any breed of dog they choose. It’s that simple,” said Best Friends Animal Society senior legislative attorney Ledy VanKavage.* “We are sure more states will follow suit.”
Kris Diaz — co-founder of the BSL Census, which tracks and maps breed bans in the United States — tells BarkPost that nine communities in four states have scrapped their breed-specific laws this year alone, while just one small town in Indiana has enacted a breed ban.
“2016 is continuing the trend of the previous years where BSL is being overturned and rejected at rates far exceeding any passages,” said Diaz.
However, this isn’t all good news, since Arizona’s new law comes with a pretty big downside: Along with BSL-preemption, SB 1248 also preempts local jurisdictions from requiring pet stores only to sell rescue animals.
This does away with laws in Tempe, Phoenix, and Tucson prohibiting pet stores from selling commercially-bred dogs and cats, and means other jurisdictions in Arizona can’t pass similar anti-puppy mill protections — found now in an increasing number of cities and counties across the country, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia. These laws are widely cheered as helping end inhumane breeding operations, while also getting more shelter pets into homes.
State senator Steve Farley called this part of the bill “an absolute farce,” and said Arizona’s governor is “embracing ‘puppy mill’ standards.”
The Humane Society of the United States initially opposed the bill, but later took an official neutral position. HSUS Arizona director Kellye Pinkleton tells BarkPost her organization changed its stance with the addition of the BSL-preemption provision, on top of some other protections — like requiring pet stores to provide the name of an animal’s breeder, and enhanced penalties for stores caught selling animals from unlicensed breeders or breeders with USDA violations.
Despite this new law, the Humane Society is working with other community groups at continuing to raise community awareness about puppy mills, and encouraging folks to adopt pets instead of buying them, regardless of the law.
“We are not done,” Pinkleton said.
Abby Cohen, founder of the Arizona-based nonprofit Standing Proud Pit Bull Rescue, said she’s relieved she doesn’t “have to worry about BSL happening here” — but also fears more animals, including Pits, will inevitably land in shelters, as a result of the law.
“Where do we go from here?” said Cohen. “Hopefully people just choose to adopt.”
Featured image via Flickr/Sparky, used under a Creative Commons license
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*Full disclosure: This journalist’s brother is also an attorney with Best Friends, working on issues relating to Pit Bulls. As has been said before: our parents are proud, and confused, by their children’s parallel dog advocacy careers.