Laws are designed as a framework to get everyone in a society to act a certain way. They are important to providing structure to a society -- and to prevent people from creating an undue burden on the rest of society. But at what point do laws get away from their original purpose, and only become used to punish people that don't abide by them?
And unfortunately, when it comes to animal welfare laws, our form of punishment always leaves the animals paying the price.
Back in 2008, Sioux City, IA passed a ban on 'pit bull' type dogs. Dogs of this type currently in the city could be licensed and kept with a strict set of guidelines until the animal died - -at which time the owner could only replace the animal with a different type of dog.
So, let's assume for a minute that the city passed this law with the best set of intentions* and passed the law for the sake of improving pubic safety. That by mandating that people license their dogs, they are able to better keep track of the dogs to improve public safety -- and, if the dog is responsible for a bite or attack, can hold the owner accountable for the incident.
That could make sense. So the goal is to get people to license their 'pit bulls' in the short term.
Well, last week, the deadline in Sioux City passed for re-licensing pit bulls. So now, anyone who licensed their pit bulls before, but failed to in year two, will have their 'pit bulls' confiscated by the city and killed. The police are even going door to door looking for the dogs.
Well, one could easily argue that using police resources to look for dogs is a poor use of public resources -- and that rounding up dogs actually makes the city less safe, vs more safe -- especially in a city that has higher than average numbers in virtually all property crimes (although very low in most violent crimes). And if the goal was public safetywas the goal of the law, using police resources on dogs that are not posing safety threats doesn't seem like it meets the intent.
But it goes further than that.
Last night, Gerald Robbins, a Navy Veteran who served 3 tours of duty in Afghanisatan and Iraq, and is now attending college at Morningside College in Sioux City, approached the city council about re-licensing his 'pit bull'. He claims that he had been so busy studying that he forgot to licence his dog and that he doesn't watch TV or read the newspaper (many younger people don't), so he was approaching the council 4 days after the deadline to license his dog after a couple of friends mentioned it to him.
Now, is the goal of the licensing program to ensure that the dogs are licensed? In which case, the city should take Robbins' money and let him keep his dog. Or is it to punish him (and kill his dog) for missing the deadline?
Sioux City decided it was punishment, and denied his appeal. It doesn't matter that the man WANTS to abide by the law -- or for that matter that his dog has not reportedly shown any signs of aggression or being an actual threat to society (there's that safety issue again). Nope, it matters only that he missed the deadline by four days, and now, the city says his dog must die. "You're still in violation of the law" said City Attorney Andrew Mai.
*I think one could easily argue that the law was never REALLY about public safety and has always been about punishment. There is no evidence that BSL actually improves public safety. However, a six year old girl was bitten by one of the over 500 'pit bulls' in the city -- and because of it, the city decided that ALL 'pit bull' owners should be punished for the offense. Never mind that 99.8% of them did nothing wrong.
Whatever the law may have been about before (public safety, holding owners accountable if the dog is a probelm), the law is now about punishing someone they wish to punish. And sadly, that often seems like the case.
And this is how it goes with Mandatory spay/neuter ordinances as well. While many well-meaning animal welfare people often push for laws that require people to alter their pets -- the intent of the law ends up getting lost and is replaced by punishment -- and usually, it is the dog that loses.
People push for MSN laws because they want to use them to encourage/force people to alter their pets. They think that by doing so, they can end unintentional litters and keep shelters from filling up. And spay/neuter is a good thing, right?
But what happens when someone violates the law? What if they are new to town and don't realize it's a law (it is still, fortunately, a very uncommon law)? What if they can't afford the surgery? What if for legitimate health reasons they choose to not alter their pet (at least at this time)?
Instead of working with the owner to get them to just alter the pet (the supposed purpose of the ordinance), the law becomes about punishing them for not following the ordinance in the first place -- regardless of the reason. So just like the man who was four days late in licensing his dog, they are found to be "in violation of the law". The dog is confiscated and then either becomes part of the shelter system OR take up a kennel in the shelter that a homeless animal would have had access to (vs the animal that actually HAD a home). Either way, shelter killing goes up. Which is exactly what has happened in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Little Rock.
At what point did we just forget the entire intent of the law, and just decide that punishing (and killing animals) was the final goal?
Sioux City. Let the man keep his dog. In fact, anyone you find that has a dog should get to keep their dog if the dog is well cared for. Rounding up and killing animals that are not causing problems is not improving public safety, it's wasting taxpayer dollars and police resources rounding up and killing people's pets that have not shown themselves to be problems. That's not public safety. That's seeking to punish.