Earlier this week, dogsbite.org issued a press release supposed "data" showing that breed specific laws work.
You can read the press release here, or go over to their website and get their support points -- which mostly consist of a handful of quotes from newspaper articles.
Of course newspaper articles without real numbers in them aren't really data - data would involve actual numbers and results. What may be more troubling, is when you look at the examples they give, when you look at the actual DATA, they have actually proven themselves to not be effective at all - -and in many cases, made things LESS safe, not more safe.
Thankfully, as best I can tell, no media source has actually picked up this press release -- so I think people are finally catching on to the reality that they really aren't all they claim to be.
Now, before we dive into the numbers, I want to be fair about what I think the role of a successful ordinance should be:
1) Improve the overall public safety from dog bites - thus, dog bites, particularly major ones. This should include bites from ALL types of dogs, not just one type. If the general opinion among experts is that dog bites are caused by reckless owners, then we need to stop dog bites regardless of what type of dogs they choose to own. Plus, if enforcement resources are over-extended in one area anc cause them to slough off in another, that is not good either. So total dog bites should go down.
2) Protect animals from people -- whether it be protecting animals from cruelty, or from being killed in the shelter.
3) Be cost efficient - there are many, many services that cities provide, and dog bites are a relatively minor problem compared to other more major ones. So an efficient use of tax payer funds should be considered here.
In their press release they mention "success" in 13 different North American cities -- of those, I have the actual data behind 7 of them. So for now, I'm going to leave off the other 5 but I kind of have a feeling once you see the trend in the 7 that I have real numbers for, you'll probably get a feel for the accuracy of their report.
Council Bluffs, IA
Their claim: success, because the number of 'pit bull' bites has gone down from 19 to 0.
Reality: Here are the total # of dog bites in Council Bluffs by year since 2003. The ban was passed in 2005.
2008: I don't have 2008 number
So the year with the highest number of bites was after the ban, and the lowest was before the ban. And pretty much everything shows that numbers are leveling off right around where the average was before the ban. It certanily isn't a sign of a steady decrease. The breeds involved have changed with now the majority of bites coming from Boxers, Labradors and German Shepherds -- all larger breeds of dogs than 'pit bulls'.
Their claim: based on a quote from a newspaper article is that the number of pit bull bites has gone down and the number of complaints have dropped.
Reality: San Francisco's law is not a ban, but does mandate that all 'pit bulls' be spayed or neutered. And I wrote a detailed report on San Francisco's "success" here. According to the numbers I received from the San Francisco Animal Control, the number of 'pit bulls' euthanized did decrease in the first 18 months of the ordinance being in effect (some friends I know in the Bay Area note that this hasn't necessarily been the case, but I'm just reporting what I have).
Meanwhile, the total number of bites increased by 13.4%. This is considered success by dogsbite.org.
Meanwhile, a Professor at the California State University- Sacramento also did research on the San Francisco case - -and her results were similar to mine.
Their take: They again declare success based on a decrease in bites by 'pit bulls'.
In 2006, Omaha had 916 reported dog bites.
In 2007, they had a 10% decline to 821.
Through June, 2008, the city was 14% below the 2007 pace. However, by the end of the summer, they had passed their new breed-specific ordinance and by the end of the year, they finished 2008 with 808 bites, just 1% below their 2007 numbers (with 41 more bites in the last 6 months of the year than they had in 2007 before the ordinance was discussed).
In 2009, bite numbers increased 9% to 875 bites.
And the cost to get the increase in dog bites was an additional $75,000 a year paid to the Nebraska Humane Society to enforce the ordinance.
They say: Success, because animal control officer Tracy Roark says that pit bull bites have decreased and that you don't see pit bulls chained up all over the city any more.
Reality: Again, this is a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance for 'pit bulls', not a ban. In the first six months of the ordinance being passed, the city saw a 44% increase in the number of pit bulls killed at the shelter (nearly 400 total dogs).
Bite numbers declined about 9% -- so that impact there was positive.
The cost was about $100,000 in increased animal control fees for the city.
They claim success based on some rough numbers published in the Toronto Sun Newspaper.
Reality: There has been no statistical change in the number of dog bites in the province of Ontario since the ban went into effect. The numbers have simply fluctuated by about 1-1.5% per year since the ban went into effect.
Meanwhile, cities throughout the province have killed over 1,000 'pit bull-type' dogs and spent a fortuneharrassing people with look-alike type dogs, and struggling with the unenforceable law. Several municipalities in Ontario have simply decided to no enforce the ban and ignore it.
This one is one of my favorites. This law has been declared a 'success' because in the year after they passed the ordinance mandating that all 'pit bulls' and Rottweilers be spayed or neutered, the mayor of Lancaster credits the ordinance with a 45% decrease in violent crime in the city and a 41% decrease in gang crime.
I'm not sure how he thinks a dog law solves gang crime, but hey, to each their own.
Reality: Lancaster, CA was incorporated as an actual city in 1977 -- and had 37,000 residents at the time. 23 years later, the city had 114,000 people and the 9th fastest growing city in the US. By 2009, it was estimated that the city had 145,000 residents.
With the rapid growth came the growth in crime -- this isn't uncommon as cities usually don't expand services like police enforcement as fast as the city grows. By 2002, the city had a huge crime problem -- in 2002, the city had 1,362 violent crimes in the city. At the time, the crime index for the city was 465 (the natoinal average is 320).
By 2008, in spite of 27% population growth, they were down to 1,190 violent crimes and a crime index of 392. So crime has been falling significantlyin Lancaster for over a decade. Not because of a dog law, but because of stepped up enforcement efforts to stop crime.
The 2009 decline in violent crime was a continuation of this nearly decade long trend in lowing violent crime in the city. Meanwhile 1,138 dogs were killed in the shelter because of the law.
These are their "success stories".
Breed specific laws don't work to save animals' lives. They don't work to protect the public, and they don't work to save the public money.
They just don't work. And the dozen people out there who are trying to convince people otherwise are disingenuous and relying on annecdotal data vs real data. Let's make decisions on real data.
For more, see more thoughts on this PR release at No Pit Bull Bans